Everything is always clearer through the lens of hindsight. You are able to see what you would’ve done differently, where you went wrong, or why things happened the way that they did. But you are also able to see what you have learned, either from the experiences themselves, or just through the passing of time.
These are some things that I wish I had known at sixteen. Some of them I did know, but didn’t believe; others, I have only learned by growing up. Sure, it wasn’t actually that long ago… But in the years that have gone by since then, I’ve become a completely different person to who I was as a 16-year-old.
So this is my letter to a younger version of myself. Things I wish that someone had told me while I was going through the chaos of my teenage years. And hopefully, it’ll be an encouragement to you if you’re still in them. They don’t last forever.
(If you were in my life at 16, please know that I really enjoyed my teenage years and I’m so thankful to everyone who was a part of them. You all really helped shape me into the person I am now. This is just a case of “if I had only known then what I know now…”. But learning from the past is all part of the adventure!)
Validation is irrelevant
Don’t ever let other people define your worth. My teenage years were filled with people trying to fit into a mould of what was considered normal. But I have some news for you: there is no normal. The status quo doesn’t exist. Everyone is unique – each person has their own likes and dislikes, their own interests, their own dreams and desires. Instead of suppressing what makes you different, embrace it because it makes you different! You don’t need other people to approve. Do what makes you happy. In the wise words of Dr. Seuss, “those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind”.
Numbers do not define you
Society is constantly rating and ranking us, valuing us as people based on numbers on a page. Age. Height. Weight. IQ. ATAR score. Net worth. Income. I suppose at the forefront of my mind at sixteen was the ATAR. The score that determined your future. In reality, the only thing that the ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank – used for ranking students based on their performance in their final high school exams) determines is your university course. After your first semester, no one remembers their ATAR. It becomes irrelevant. And no matter how much pressure your schools and teachers will put on you, this score does NOT determine your future. So don’t let it rule your present.
It’s okay to feel
As a teenager, everything is up in the air – it’s a chaotic world, mentally, hormonally, and emotionally. Everything is magnified and intensified. But don’t try and suppress what you’re feeling. Embrace it, live it, the good times and the bad. Experiencing these emotions is what makes life so colourful. You need the dark times so that the highlights shine even brighter.
Heartbreak makes you stronger
Getting your heart broken is part of growing up. Whether it’s a relationship, a crush, or a friendship, people will let you down. Taking chances is important, but each time you do, you open yourself up to getting hurt. It’s scary. And it’s inevitable that some people will hurt you, whether it’s intentional or not. People will rip your heart to shreds, and then trample it into the dirt. But each time you have your heart torn in two, you learn to build walls – who to let in and what to let out. Being protective isn’t a bad thing. You’ll pick yourself up, carry on, and come out the other side so much stronger than you went in.
It’s not the end of the world
This leads into my next point. No matter how crushed, torn, bruised and broken you feel, life goes on. At the time it may seem like the end of the world, but when you look back on it as a much older and wiser twenty-something-year-old (I know sarcasm doesn’t translate into print…), you’ll realise how small and insignificant that moment in your life actually was. Or, better yet, how much you grew as a person because of it. Not to take away from the pain that you’re feeling now: yes, it’s real; yes, it hurts. But one day you’ll look back on that pain in an entirely different light.
It gets better
I promise you that it gets better. I don’t mean that life will get easier, that it’ll be all sunshine and rainbows from here on out. But you’ll be able to cope so much better with what life throws at you. The bullshit teenage years will end, and your adult life will begin. You’ll get to decide what you want to do, and who you want to be, and no one can tell you that you can’t chase your dreams. Life will begin.