Everyone goes through that one super awkward year as a kid where you wish there weren’t photos to prove it ever happened. Well, for me, that one awkward year was more like five.
In middle school I was this shy, nerdier girl who rocked Justice and silly bands like it was high fashion. I had braces, joined a chess club, and binge read the Harry Potter series multiple times… get the picture?
By junior high and high school, I began to realize that my middle school self was not the ultimate definition of “cool”. I started to feel this pressure to fit in and be less “nerdy” so that boys would like me and I could have more social friends. While this helped me to come out of my shell more, I never fully felt like myself.
I often think about where I am right now in terms of confidence and identity. College has really helped me become my most authentic self. Though there are always new things I’m learning about myself and working on, I feel like I’m finally finding my footing.
Lately I’ve been reflecting on my middle school to college trajectory and all of the ups and downs that happened in between. But that’s just life I guess. I think about my younger self and just want to give her a hug because the reality is that growing up is awkward.
Here are some things I wish I could tell my younger self:
1. Friendship quality over friendship quantity
I used to give way too much energy to people pleasing in hopes of being well-liked. While I do think it’s important to be kind to everyone I meet, at the end of the day, my closest friends are who I lean on most. I’ve come to realize that I seek depth and comfort in my friendships, and that my closest friends are the people that I can be my most authentic self with. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy socializing in larger settings, but my guess is that a random college frat boy at a party isn’t really going to offer me the same emotional support a close girlfriend will. Quality friends will make you feel secure and supported, which is one of the many reasons why they are so priceless.
2. Progress is not linear
Whether its mental health progress, body progress, or work progress, the path towards success isn’t always a straight shot. My younger self used to feel so defeated when setbacks occurred, and I would often lose hope. While setbacks are obviously no fun, I’ve learned that they occur more often than not. I still get frustrated when things aren’t going my way, but I’ve learned to take a step back, breathe, and reassess how I can get back on track. Progress looks different for everyone, so understand that hard work will pay off, there may just be some bumps along the way.
3. Your opinion of yourself matters most
In a society that revolves around social media and image, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in what other people think of you. I think this stems from craving acceptance. When I think of my younger self, I wish I could tell her that it’s more than cool to like chess and Harry Potter. Even now, I have to remind myself that external validation does not magically create self-confidence. Self-confidence can only be achieved by the healthy relationship you develop with yourself.
4. Tell people how much they mean to you more often
Something I realized in college, and especially during this pandemic, is that it’s important to let the close people in your life know how much you value them. You can ask any of my friends and they’ll tell you that I’m not the most gushy or affectionate person, but I’m learning. Now that I’m older, I realize how fast-paced life can be and how things can change in a flash. Expressing gratitude is always a step in the right direction.
5. There is more than one right path
I’ve always been a perfectionist. When I was younger, I had my whole life planned out. When I was four years old, I wanted to be a princess. When I was nine, a dolphin veterinarian… not just any veterinarian, a dolphin veterinarian… there’s a huge difference. Then when I was thirteen, I decided that I wanted to be a doctor. Now, at twenty, I really have no clue what my future career is going to be. The point of this shpiel isn’t to tell you how indecisive I can be, but rather how important it is to keep your options open. As a planner, this has been one of my harshest realities to face. I would tell my younger self to focus more on the present and your surroundings rather than obsess about the future, because things do not always go according to plan.
6. Welcome the change
Some people are genuinely excited by big moves and the one-eighties in life. However, I am most definitely not one of those people. I find comfort in familiarity and hate feeling out of place. I think I’m way more accepting of changes now, but my younger self gravitated to solely what I knew and never wanted to try new things. I’ve learned through some harsh lessons that plans change, other people change, and we are constantly changing ourselves. One-track mindedness can sometimes prevent us from opportunity. I would tell my younger self that change is scary, but is often a good thing that teaches us lessons and broadens our perspective.
Written by: Shei Marcelline