My adolescence was far from the happiest time of my life. I was a socially-awkward teen growing up in a very restrictive, isolated environment out in the middle of nowhere (at least, that was what it felt like to me). I sought much of my solace, freedom and expression through my growing love for art and music, escaping into worlds of my own creation instead of dealing with the “real world” around me.
Looking back, some 20-plus years later, there are many things I wish I knew back then or could tell my 15-year-old self. This advice to myself might have made the difficult times a little easier to deal with. Then again, teenagers aren’t prone to listen to grown-ups so maybe I would not have even have listened to my more mature self at the time! Still, it’s interesting to think about, and perhaps provide advice to someone else going through adolescence today who might be facing similar issues to what I went through.
1. Spend more time with the people you love, and less time being angry at them.
We never know how long people we love are going to be with us. People like our parents and good friends whom we think will always be around – and maybe drive us crazy half the time – are easy to take for granted. Although we had a difficult relationship, my grandfather was someone I cared deeply about and he passed away when I was just 23. Today I would tell my 15-year-old self to try to be more forgiving of his problems and struggles, while still being strong about becoming my own person.
2. When you get to college, you’ll realize you’re not all alone.
As much as I felt like an outsider during all of my elementary through high school years, college was like a homecoming to me. From my first day at orientation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I knew I’d found home, and found a place full of people like myself who shared many of my same interests and did not judge me on the superficial things that seemed to matter so much in high school. We were all a bunch of awkward yet intelligent outsiders, and that’s what made it so wonderful. “Enjoy every moment of those four years,” I’d tell my younger self. “They will be some of the hardest yet some of the most memorable and formative years of your life.”
3. Take better care of your health now. It’ll be easier than trying to correct mistakes later on.
Early in my life, including through my teens, my weight could yo-yo up and down and I never developed good exercise habits. Because of this, by the time I’d reached my late twenties I was out of shape and starting to become dangerously overweight. It wasn’t until my thirties that I got my weight and my health under control via joining Weight Watchers, and I regret all those younger years I lacked self-confidence because of my appearance and weight and felt so frustrated over not knowing how to fix it.
4. Don’t let other people pressure you about what you should do with your life.
I always wanted to please my parents and was not a rebellious teen. I was always driven down the path that I would pursue a career in an acceptably difficult, “worthy” profession: medicine or science was specifically what my grandfather insisted upon, and he was basically like a father to me. And while I did enjoy and do well in math and sciences, by the time I was in graduate school I realized the engineering profession was not in fact how I wanted to spend the rest of my life. While I did not regret the incredible experience of going to a school like M.I.T. for my undergraduate education, part of me wonders today if I wouldn’t now have a more successful career as an artist if I’d gone to an art school instead. That would not happen for me until I was in my 30s and began taking continuing education classes to learn what I wanted to learn about the arts, but I missed the chance to develop connections within the art community earlier that could more easily get my work into gallery shows and better promoted.
5. Guys really aren’t that scary!
I had a very difficult time as a teenager dealing with boys. My self-consciousness about my appearance, earlier teasing as a younger child, and growing up as an only-child in a female-centric household made it difficult for me to feel comfortable talking and interacting with boys my age. This did not change for me until I entered college and, with a “clean slate” of no past histories with the people I was in school with, actually I ended up developing more close friendships with guys than I did with girls. Suddenly that opposite gender which had seemed so scary and intimidating to me earlier in life, and caused me so much social angst as a teenager, wasn’t so scary at all. If I could have been more relaxed about boys vs. girls in high school, maybe those years would have been less stressful to me.
6. Don’t stop doing the things you love now.
After I went away to college, I stopped pursuing some of the activities I enjoyed so much as a teenager, namely playing music and creating artwork. I just never seemed to find the time for them. It would not be until late in my graduate school education that I would rediscover my love for both of these pastimes, and it took considerable effort to get back into them after becoming “rusty” from all those years away from it.
7. That TV show you loved as a kid? Is going to end up impacting your life in ways you can’t imagine.
Seems crazy to say it, but it’s true. I adored The A-Team when it was on the air in the 1980s – in fact when I was fifteen years old it was just going off the air and I was devastated in more ways than I could admit to any of my friends. But about ten years later, I would end up discovering the world of media fandom through the internet. I’d find out that not only were there still A-Team fans out there but that they were writing their own stories about the continued adventures of the team members, meeting at conventions, and seeing the stars of the show! I would be inspired to take my own stab at fiction writing for the first time ever, produce fanzines, start a website fanpage for The A-Team which would get me coverage in national media and television, and meet friends who are still dear to me today. Fandom ended up playing a very large role in my life, as it still does today, and I just had no idea how wonderful fandom could be when I was 15.
8. Don’t think you have to settle, in order to settle down.
For many of my younger years, I hung up my hopes on a romantic relationship that I knew wasn’t ideal, but I thought it was the best I could hope to find – maybe all that I “deserved.” This on-again/off-again relationship kept me from opening myself up to finding better possibilities in my love life for a long time. Eventually I was able to let go of it, and sure enough soon afterwards found the person I’ve been with for six years and plan to be with for the rest of my life. I would like to be able to tell my 15-year-old self that I really am worth waiting for the right person and not to waste so much time on the wrong one when he comes along.
9. Country living isn’t as bad as you think it is.
Growing up, I hated living in the country. I felt it was so boring and so restrictive compared to the exciting world of the big city. My mother worked in New York City and when I visited there, it seemed like such a magical place when I was young. Yet after four years of college in Boston, and fifteen years in Philadelphia, in my late thirties I found myself desperate to get away from city living. Now I love the peace and quiet of my new home in a rural area of New Jersey, away from the hectic pace and worries of city life. If anything I live in a more remote and rural area than where I grew up, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
10. Believe it or not, some day you WILL be able to get to see your favorite band perform live.
And not only that, but you’ll get to meet your favorite musician in person, several times, and go on crazy adventures with fellow fans who will become some of your best friends for years to come. The Police (unofficially) broke up in the late 1980s, just about when I was 15, and I was heartbroken because I’d been too young to ever see them perform together. Yet twenty years later I would travel around the United States to see them reunite, going to fourteen concerts from the first announcement “rehearsals” in Los Angeles to the final farewell in New York City.
But those are stories for another time…and I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise of the details for my 15-year-old self!