I realized recently that 30 years ago I was in my first semester of college. It’s so strange the way time passes, isn’t it? I was thinking that if I could go back in time and have a talk with my 18 year old self, what lessons would I share? What do I wish that I had done differently?
I wasted a lot of time when I was young in trying to fit in, or, in other words: trying not to stand out. I grew up in a tough trailer park near Detroit. If you stood out, you usually got beaten down. So I played it safe and blended in. This meant that it took many years to discover “the real me.” So the first thing I would share with my 18 year old self would be:
1) It’s ok (even preferable) to be different.
I also wasted a lot of time trying to please well-meaning family members who thought they knew what was best for me and my life. Like most American families, they did what they could to nip my artistic leanings in the bud. When I went away to college and said I wanted to major in art, they pretty much said: “Over our dead bodies.” I never took another art class after my first semester. I really wish I hadn’t listened to them. College is a time for exploring with reckless abandon. I squelched that in myself to keep the peace. So I would tell the young me:
2) Don’t waste time pursuing a life that others think you would be happy in. Tune all of them out and tune into what brings you joy.
One of my biggest regrets in life is losing a questionnaire that I created for my dad to answer about 25 years ago. In it, I asked him every question I could think to ask about my mother. She died when I was 2, and I don’t remember her at all. His answers were great, but somewhere in all my many moves I lost the letter. I always meant to recreate it with my dad, but he died before I ever got a chance to. Now there are all of these questions just floating around in my head, and I can’t remember my dad’s answers. No one else could have answered the questions like he did. My heart breaks writing this. I wish I had been more organized when I was wild and free and moving around so much. I wish I had kept a special box for letters like the one I lost. It’s silly, but sometimes I think that when I get to heaven, my dad will meet me at the Pearly Gates with that questionnaire in his hand.
3) Ask the important questions while the ones who can answer them are still alive. Save their answers so you never forget.
I cringe when I think of all the time I’ve wasted on bad relationships with men. Even when I realized they were bad, I often stuck with them thinking that love would make it all work out. What a rose-colored-glasses-wearing romantic ninny I was! Once your heart gets broken, like with any injury, you’re out for weeks, sometimes even months. And with each failed relationship, the self esteem takes a beating until all that’s left is a little piece of grizzle. I wish I would have let all those red-headed rogues I’m so fond of just pass me by. So I would tell myself to avoid them, tho I doubt I would have listened…
4) Romance is a distraction and love rarely lasts. Focus on your purpose and don’t allow it to be watered down or forgotten because some guy turned your head.
I’m not sure why, but I always seem to end up with cruel men. My dad was a very angry man, left on his own to raise me. But he was never cruel, and was always good about being the first to “bury the hatchet” whenever we had a fight. They say we are attracted to men like our fathers. I don’t really know if that’s true in my case. At any rate, I have become better at leaving at the first sign of cruelty. Maybe some bright day I’ll actually find a kind man to love. Until then, I would rather be alone. (even with the cold winter on the way and no one to keep me warm.)
I guess my younger self thought that was what she deserved. She had low self esteem and she liked bad boys. I wonder if I could have talked any sense to her about men…
5) Leave at the first sign of cruelty. Don’t stick around for more or you will lower your value in your own eyes. There is no shame in being alone.
I’m sure I could come up with many other words of wisdom for my younger self, but these were the first to come to mind. How about you? What would you say to your 18 year old self if you could?