Today is my 32nd birthday, or as I’ve been thinking of it, my “double-sweet-sixteen.” And that’s gotten me thinking about my first sweet sixteen: who I was (and wasn’t), what I knew (and didn’t), and what I would tell myself if I could go back to February 2002.
With that as inspiration, I’d like to share the following list. Here are the sixteen things I would like to go back and tell my sixteen-year-old self:
- Be kind to your siblings. You will develop stronger bonds with each of them, especially when you just let go of the need to be “right.” And you will always need each other.
- This summer, you are going to have the experience of a lifetime: a month studying in France. Your mother is letting you fly around the world by yourself at age sixteen. If you ever doubt that you have a cool mom, just remind yourself of that.
- You won’t have weird white spots on your teeth when they take off your braces. Stop worrying about it.
- Try not to be discouraged when you don’t get the high school choir solo or role you had hoped for. There is so much wonderful, heartening music ahead of you, and you will learn the beauty of collaboration.
- Hold onto all those good friends in your birthday photo. Through living in different towns, different states, different seasons of life, you’ll stay close in different ways—but you have a fortunate habit of finding good, kind people.
- Appreciate the heck out of your exceptionally well-funded, well-staffed, safe school.
- The Columbine school shooting happened less than three years ago. 9/11 was six months ago. There will continue to be times when the world seems irreparably darkened, like cruelty and division will win. Keep looking to those who are helping others, who are giving of themselves, who are fighting hatred with love to make the world brighter. You will always be able to find those people, and you can always keep trying to be one of them.
- Treasure this time of living with your wise, gentle grandma. She is one of the best friends you’ll ever have. And you’ll keep wishing you could ask more questions of your grandpa, but even when you can’t literally “ask” them, they’ll keep getting answered.
- You will become a parent. It will be so, so different than you think it will be. It will be ten times harder, but a hundred times more joyful. It will make you think differently and more deeply about your own mother and what she means to you. It will make you a better person.
- You think those “going into labor/OMG, can we even make it to the hospital?” scenes in movies and sitcoms are humorous? Oh, just wait.
- Anxiety will happen to you. It will fold you up like a sheet of paper, and you’ll think it’s going to tear you in half, but you will remain whole. And as you learn to appreciate being whole, you will grow stronger.
- Don’t limit your beliefs. Study them. Ask questions of them. Grow in them.
- Keep writing. Keep reading. Most importantly, get better at listening to those who are different from you. If you’re going to be a storyteller, you must be a sincere listener first.
- Don’t worry; Hanson will keep making records. You maybe won’t keep chatting about their music on AOL Instant Messenger, Mmmbop5916, but you’ll keep on loving it—on CDs, on mp3finder, on iTunes, on Youtube, on Spotify… and on whatever comes next.
- You’re not going to find “the one” in high school like every single millennial teen movie insists you are. Calm down. That doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. (And P.S., in about two-and-a-half years, you’re going to meet “the one,” at a college you’ve never even heard of that will end up being one of the best places you’ve ever been.) Be patient with fate and true love and all of it, and don’t settle for anything less.
- Be patient with yourself. It will take at least another sixteen years before you really start to get better at this, but try. Keep going. You are not yet the person you are meant to be. And that’s good, isn’t it?