Dear 16-year-old Caroline…
It’s me, A.K.A. you, but 11 years older and a whole lot wiser. First off, stop going in tanning beds right this minute and don’t let anyone talk you into getting bangs. Just trust me. With that out of the way, here are a few other things to keep in mind as you navigate the insane world of high school, college, and early adulthood. Seriously, even if you don’t take advice from anyone else, listen to some advice from YOUR DAMN SELF.
There’s something to that peaks and valleys metaphor.
Yes, duh, you already know that your life will have plenty of peaks and valleys. EVERYONE experiences both, and you’ve heard that a million times. However, one of the most important things you’ll ever learn is that everyone will have their highs and lows at different times. When you’re up and your friend is down, love on them a little extra and don’t flaunt your good fortune. When you’re down and they’re up, congratulate them and cheer for them, even if (deep down) you feel painfully jealous. Don’t be a fair weather friend. On that note, pay attention to the people who support you in the valleys and celebrate with you during life’s peaks. They are the MVPs.
Don’t ignore your gut feelings about certain people and situations.
One of the worst habits that you’ll pick up – and maintain through college – is silencing your intuition and discounting your gut feelings. You’ll get into the habit of drinking your way through uncomfortable or anxiety-inducing situations, which doesn’t lead to anything good. If it feels painful to show up to a certain party or place without pregaming… maybe that scene isn’t for you. If you can’t hang out with someone without a buzz, that person probably isn’t meant to be in your life. When something makes you feel uneasy, don’t be afraid to say no thanks.
That being said, don’t avoid every situation out of your comfort zone. Give everything a chance! It’s perfectly normal to sometimes feel awkward and out of place. In fact, a lot of these situations will challenge you and help you grow… but not if you’re blindly masking your jitters with alcohol. Trust me on this one.
Trust your timeline, and scratch the idea of the “perfect story.”
Your life is not going to be picture perfect, and you’re going to be better for it. Scratch the idea of marrying a high school or college sweetheart – trust me, you’ve got someone better in your future. Change your image of success. Get over the idea that you must check off a certain achievement by a certain age. Seriously, just kill the idea of having a neat and tidy little path, because that’s not going to happen. Between you and me, that would be so boring anyway.
Embrace who you are & don’t be afraid to be vulnerable.
The first part is the biggest cliché… but it’s overused for a reason. It’s so easy to look around at the people who surround you and make a laundry list of traits that you think you need to have. Be “chill” with guys so they’ll like you. Be loud and unfiltered for laughs. Be mean so no one messes with you. Be cynical, because that’s “real.”
Sure, sometimes you can be those things. Sometimes you’ll naturally be the loudest girl in the room, and sometimes your sassy or cynical side comes out. However, don’t feel like you need to be a certain way 100% of the time. Don’t play a role. It’s okay to also be sensitive, sappy, quiet, and vulnerable. It’s okay to admit you have hurt feelings instead of going on the attack. It’s okay to ditch the Chelsea Handler persona and just be you.
Invest in your friendships. Be obsessively grateful for the people in your life.
You don’t do everything just right, but you do have a knack for picking good freaking friends. Cherish the people in your circle. Of course there will be bumps in the road, but those friends will be invaluable when you need them the most. Tell your friends how much they mean to you, and tell them often. It’s inevitable that friendships will naturally fade away over time, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t real. One day, you’ll miss the times when friends would enter your childhood home without knocking. Love on your tribe.
You have the best parents in the world.
You cannot comprehend how lucky you are right now. You will not fully comprehend the gift you’ve been given until years later, when you get out into the “real world.” Your parents have given you everything you could possibly need and more – show your gratitude. Thank your mom for editing your papers and hug your dad when he makes you chocolate chip pancakes. Bite your tongue when you’re in a bad mood and want to lash out. They will not be here forever, and one day there will be no more hugs or thank-you’s. Don’t have regrets.
Take note of the things you’re doing when you lose track of time.
Seriously, pay attention to the stuff that gets you excited. Chase those things. Grow your passions and build your life around the stuff that you love, rather than pursuing the stuff that looks good on paper. Spoiler alert: You really can make a career out of the stuff you love doing, and that doesn’t need to be a 9-to-5 office job. Think outside the box.
It’s OK to be the person who cares more.
There is nothing embarrassing about expressing your genuine emotions. It’s okay to be the person who is most enthusiastic or most smitten. It’s perfectly fine to tell someone if they hurt your feelings. It’s okay to tell someone what they mean to you, even if it might not be returned. It’s okay to feel things intensely, and your feelings are valid. Show up and put your cards on the table, and don’t apologize for caring a lot.
You don’t need to have an opinion on everything, and you’re NOT always right!
You have a big mouth and you… enjoy being right. That hasn’t changed in 11 years. However, you don’t need to have an opinion on everything and life definitely isn’t always black and white. Some of your core beliefs at 16-years-old will change as you gain life experience and see more of the world. You are very sheltered, and you’re very wrong about some things. I BEG YOU, learn the value of keeping an open mind and a closed mouth.
I’m now 27 years old and learning more every day. When I start to feel like I have everything figured out, I get a new wake-up call that reminds me I don’t. Let yourself evolve. Celebrate your victories but don’t get cocky. Mourn your losses but don’t be a victim. You couldn’t guess in a million years what the future holds for you, but I promise it’s better than you could ever imagine.