I was 18 years old in 2009.
I had just started college because everyone said to go (even though deep down I really wanted to be a wife, a mom, and an oil painter). I was a huge feminist because I had been programmed by the internet and my peers to think it was true, hip, and edgy. I had major body image issues because all the media I consumed told me I wasn’t perfect, and I had trouble liking myself.
But I was also very smart, fun to be around, a good friend, and very talented. I just needed to gain wisdom that only trials and time could offer me.
18-year-old me probably wouldn’t listen to my 29-year-old self’s earned wisdom, but if I could go back in time, here’s what I’d tell her:
1. Don’t Get into Feminism!
This is number one on my list because feminism was a big part of my life as an 18 year old, and it hurt me a lot. I would go online and read message boards where people told me that men are the privileged sex and that everything bad is a product of the patriarchal system. Feminist professors at college loved me, and they would confirm all my ideas about how the patriarchy oppresses women and how I was born into a system that hates me just because I’m a woman. What a sad worldview! It’s no wonder I struggled with depression and anxiety.
It took me years to undo that programming. It wasn’t until Jordan Peterson became popular in 2017 that I realized I had been lied to. A lot. Modern feminism really hurts women because it convinces us to work against our feminine nature.
Men are your complement – not your enemy!
I wish I could have a conversation with my 18-year-old self about this and point her in the direction of some media that offers an alternative viewpoint to all the bad messaging I was receiving. I’d tell her that men are your complement – not your enemy!
2. Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself.
When I was younger, I always wanted to be perfect. The pressure I put on myself made me miserable. I was very critical of my appearance. I hated my skin, I thought I was fat (even though I’ve never weighed over 112 lbs in my life), and I hated my clothes. I felt I was never good enough.
If I could go back, I’d tell my younger self to shut down the Tumblr account and stop looking at images that make you feel hard on yourself for your appearance! I’d tell her the media warps your mind, and comparison is the thief of joy.
What’s really important is to take good care of yourself and to be nice to yourself, like you would be to a friend. You can’t control everything about how you look, and acceptance will make you feel a lot better about what you can’t.
3. Learn Your Boundaries and Hold Them.
Can you believe that no one talked to me about boundaries until I was 26 years old?! If I could, I would go back in time and explain what it means to have boundaries to my teenage self. I would say it’s okay to say “no.”
You don’t have to say “yes” to everyone and everything. Saying “yes” to too much only makes you a doormat, and it makes it impossible to know who you are. “Boundaries are where I end and you begin.” You’ll learn who you are much better if you start to practice saying “no” to things.
You’ll learn who you are much better if you start to practice saying “no” to things.
Having boundaries and saying “no” aren’t selfish – they’re self-preserving. It can be one of the greatest acts of self-care.
4. Everything Changes, and Nothing Is Forever.
I can’t say I loved every minute of college. I didn’t like paying tens of thousands of dollars to live far away from home in a dorm room that was only several feet across. At a large school, I was often lonely and it was hard to find good friends. My coursework was sometimes very demanding, and everything felt so expensive.
At the time, I thought college would never end. Even one semester would sometimes seem like an eternity. If I could, I’d say: This too shall pass. I’d tell myself that nothing lasts forever and everything changes. You won’t be in college forever, and one day you’ll have a community again and a good job.
5. You Don’t Have To Believe Everything Everyone Says.
When I was 18, I was like a sponge. I agreed with almost everything I heard, and I was naïve to how much people lie. I thought everyone was honest and nice like the people I grew up around in my small rural town, and I wasn’t prepared to encounter people who had bad values or even lied about things to get their own way.
Be discerning, get to know people, and observe their life before you believe everything they say.
I’d tell my younger self that it’s good to believe the best of people, but be cautious and remember that not everyone has your best interest at heart. People will try to manipulate you with words to get you to do what they want you to do. Be discerning, get to know people, and observe their life before you believe everything they say.
6. Just Because Something Sounds Good Doesn’t Mean It’s True.
This bit of wisdom might have helped me with my feminist ideology, and it may also have helped me with my spiritual life.
I remember standing in my dorm room where my friends had just finished a very intellectual conversation in which they concluded that God must not be real and that atheism made more sense than following religion, even though we had all been raised with it. I had been a devout little girl, and praying made me feel better about life. After that conversation I overheard, I remember thinking they all sounded so smart. I thought “I guess I’m not believing in that anymore.” At the same moment, I felt a bad sensation in my gut, but I ignored it. After that, things got very very hard for me, and I battled anxiety for years until I revisited my spiritual beliefs again.
Ignoring my intuition just because the kids in my room sounded good was definitely not the best thing for me. If I could, I’d tell my younger self to not be so easily swayed by things that sound good, because things that sound good are not always true or good for you.
I’d tell my 18-year-old self to hold onto her personal beliefs because those belong to you and not to other people. Just because something sounds good doesn’t mean it’s right for you.
7. Face Your Worst Qualities.
When I was 18, I had trouble managing my emotions. I took everything personally, and if someone criticized me I’d have a meltdown. This would affect my relationships. I thought it was just the way I was, and I wasn’t very empowered to change my worst qualities.
If I could, I would tell my younger self don’t be afraid to look at the parts of yourself that aren’t so likable. There’s no need to feel ashamed of having a bad side because we all have one.
Facing our shadow side is the first step to having control over it.
Facing our shadow side is the first step to having control over it. If we’re brave and face ourselves with honesty, it’s the first step to learning to manage the parts of ourselves that are not so pleasant, and even overcome them completely.
8. Trust Your Gut.
Your intuition is stronger than you think! Those feelings you get are there for a reason – don’t ignore them, and try to discern what they’re telling you.
You will know when something is or is not right for you. Treat your gut feelings like a friend. It’s something that’s looking out for you, and that inner knowing feeling has your best interest at heart.
When I was younger, I ignored my inner voice/feelings, and later I (often regretfully) realized that it had been right all along. A part of getting older is learning to hone in on that feeling, so start to practice now!
9. You Are Gifted and Talented.
As a young creative, I was so hard on myself. I spent so much time beating myself up for my creativity, for not producing things that I thought were “good” enough.
I also wondered why I was the way I was. Why was I so opinionated? Why did I talk so much? Why am I always so expressive? Why can’t I just be quieter like other girls?
The things I struggled with were my unique talents to share with other people.
It took some time for me to see myself more clearly and to be gentler, and to see that the things I struggled with were my unique talents to share with other people. I would say to my younger self: You’re the way that you are because you have a lot to communicate to people and a lot of creativity to express. You just need to use it in a way that benefits others.
I’d tell my 18-year-old self that the things you’re hard on yourself for are your gifts, and you should embrace them and appreciate them.
10. Enjoy the Journey!
A lot of things may be hard right now, but you’ll never be 18 again, so have fun! It’s okay to not have everything done and figured out right now. Take your time, go slow, and trust the process of your life as it unfolds.
In life, we’re born with nothing and we leave with nothing. We can’t take our clothes, or our college degree, or our resume, or even our friends and family with us after we’re gone. The purpose of life is not found in material possessions or in our earthly achievements. The point of the journey is to develop ourselves and learn as much as we can along the way. All we take with us when we leave here is our spirit, so take good care of it and have fun, even in your trials!
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