This past week I took on a new role in my church as a leader with the teen girls in our congregation. This particular role is one that I haven't had since I was 19 and I've been grateful that they asked me to do other things. For the majority of my adult life, I didn't want to talk to the younger generation about being a single female in our religion or how to face life and prepare to be an adult. It's hard. It's totally stupid at times. Hell, being a woman is hard. So much pressure; so much ridicule. The sleepless nights over stupid shit that didn't actually matter. The list goes on and on. However, when the time came for me to take on this role, I felt like it was going to be OK, in spite of my utter fear and feelings of inadequacy. So far, I've only wanted to crawl in a hole maybe once or twice so that's good. The reality is this; being a teenage girl is tough in 2017. Social media distraction and drama; drugs; alcohol; figuring out what the hell is up with boys; finding your faith and relationship with God; learning to juggle homework, chores and hormones is hard.
As I sat across the room from fifteen of these beautiful girls, I thought to myself, "I don't ever want to be 16 again." But, I've also thought, "what would I tell my 16 year-old self about being an adult?" So, without further adieu, here are a few of my musings from the 30+ year-old version to the 16 year-old (wishing she was older) version.
1. Boys will always be weird; don't let it define your self-worth. I'm pretty positive that I still have to remind myself of this on a regular basis. The male world is a totally different breed than girl world and if we let it get to us, it's just a mess. I read the book "Men are From Mars, Women from Venus"a few years ago and it was a good reality check. Men are hardwired for such different things than women and they don't get it that we notice every little thing and wish they'd compliment our cute shoes and new hair, but really, they just want to eat a double cheeseburger, lift weights or make out. Eventually they will refine their tactics a bit and you'll find one who you can live with forever, but in the meantime, don't let their weird define your self-worth. You be you and he will be whatever it is he is and someday you'll find that guy who thinks you're the funniest, prettiest, kindest lady who says shit way too much and drinks Diet Coke more than water.
2. The sun will rise and set on a lot of bad days; hold tight and don't give up. I had no idea how hard my life was actually going to be in the near future when I was griping about having to share a car with my brother and spend time with my family. I didn't know that 2 years later I'd be in this dark abyss of scary as I hit an emotional low and was buried in depression. I didn't know that I was already experiencing things that were going to set the stage for the rest of my life, in good and bad ways. My version of "hard" was getting up at 6 am to go learn about Jesus and have pancakes for breakfast 3 out of the 5 weekdays. Actual difficult days rolled in after I graduated and I was really glad that I had gone to those 6 am classes about Jesus because it helped me hold on real tight when I wasn't sleeping at night and was afraid of what my brain was telling me.
3. Who you go to senior prom with will NOT matter when you're 35 so don't stress if you don't get asked. High school dances suck for everyone, but the popular kids. They just do. It's so much hype, stress and money and really it just does NOT matter in the grand scheme of life. I had one dance in high school that I was 100% happy and prepared to attend with my best guy friend. But guess what? I don't talk to him anymore, the dress is long gone, my hair looks way better, and I don't remember what I had for dinner that night. Dances aren't the defining moment of your life map so don't worry if that one guy in 3rd period doesn't ask you to the dance. He's probably just as wigged out as you are that he has to get dressed up, shower and buy you a flower.
4. Look for the good in all people; you never know who will remember what you said to them in the hall, how you made them feel, and how it might affect you later in life. Now that I'm living in my hometown as an adult, I'm quickly being reminded of the good, the bad and the ugly that went on in my high school years. I remember who was the total ass hat and the mean girl, but I also remember who was the popular kid with a good heart. On the flip side, I'm discovering the impact I had on people and albeit a little overwhelming at times, I'm grateful that I had parents who taught us to be good, kind, sans drama and non-judgmental. It's a tough gig being the token Mormon kid in a Catholic town, but I'm so beyond grateful that I had the diverse upbringing that I did. I love people for our similarities and our differences.
5. God DOES have a purpose for you and He is guiding your footsteps. Listen to your heart and soul and take risks to chase your dreams. There is one element of my teen years and early adulthood that I still have to consciously work through to get over. Some extra pressure and control that I'm convinced triggered the depression. I can't change it, but I have to wonder if I had been a little more confident in myself and better educated on Vitamin D levels and some other things that it could have gone better. But, the faith-based side of me also recognizes that everything happens for a reason and everything worked out and the pieces fell together. So, to 16 year-old me, don't forget that God is there, he knows and loves you. He is guiding your life, even when you want to poke your mother's eyes out.
6. Set boundaries. Know where you stand so that the peer pressure can't break you. I am grateful to report that I didn't have issues with peer pressure while I was a teen. I can count on one hand the number of times I was remotely approached to step out of my moral compass. This is incredible because there was a LOT of shit going down during my teen years in this town and I feel like a flock of guardian angels were watching out for me. I've had to instill more boundaries and anti-peer pressure antics in adulthood than I ever imagined.
7. Laugh as loud as you want and sing at the top of your lungs if you feel like it. One of the most hurtful bits of criticism I ever received as a youth was that I laughed too loud. If I told you who said it you'd be super pissed and disappointed so we won't go there. But, I wish that I would've been a duck and let that hurtful comment roll off my back. The person who said it was more insecure than I knew at the time and had I known what I know now, I could have said to myself, "Screw that! I will laugh as loud as I want because it is my expression of happiness and I'm having fun and want to laugh." But, I didn't and here I am and I still remember how it made me feel and it was 20+ years ago. Laugh. Laugh. Laugh. Life is really sucky at times and you should always find those reasons to laugh because it builds your core muscles, strengthens your vocal chords and boosts those endorphins.
As for singing....I grew up in a very musical family. We're all trained singers, but we are all our own person with differing talents and imperfections. I have insane performance anxiety when I sing solo and a lot of it stems from feeling inadequate in the eyes of peers and family members as a teen. It's getting better, but I still get embarrassed when people notice my voice in group settings and say something. Generally their words are kind and complimentary, but I have this subconscious 16 year-old lingering that still wonders if she's good enough. Sing your heart out and dance in the car. It's the best therapy and vocal practice you could ever give yourself. I've learned more about my voice and its abilities by singing to the opera station on Pandora and it's helped me build confidence to sing in "full voice" whenever I feel like it.
8. Let yourself cry when you are sad or stressed. I've talked about this in previous blog posts so I won't dwell on it a lot. I would tell my 16 year-old self that crying is actually your stress release so when it happens, let it happen because it's your body trying to get all the toxins out after a tough situation or hard day.
9. Don't rush growing up. Let someone else cook your meals, wash your clothes and pay the bills for as long as you can. This advice is the one I find myself saying out loud and in my head the most when I have the chance to visit with teens and young adults in college. I see myself in the girls I work with at church because they are super excited to graduate and have 'freedom' and run away from 'methy Montana" to far-off places. I could not get the hell out of dodge fast enough when I graduated from junior college and I spent 13 years missing my home, family and friends terribly. While living in Utah, I missed three funerals of very, very dear friends who died suddenly and traumatically. Each of the days that I was told that they were killed are forever burnt in my brain because it rocked my world that I could not come home to properly say good bye and mourn their loss. That was the result of choosing to run away and now that I'm here in my hometown, I feel a certain sense of peace that I have the chance to correct some of that mental trauma because I can visit graves and see family members who remind me that all is well and life has moved forward. That's just one example of the things I experienced because of my running far away from home so quickly. Be still and enjoy the moment because they will dissolve no matter what and you don't want to regret if the last conversation was a good one.
10. Say, "I love you" freely and without embarrassment. I was terrified to show love as a budding 16 year-old. I let everyone around me call the shots on how I behaved in relationships. I regret it so much. I think about those who should have known that I really really loved them as well as those who I acted like I loved, but really I was going with the crowd. The lingering reminders are still there and I wish I would have fought for the love just a little bit harder. Don't be afraid to share your feelings and have your vulnerable side come out.
I think we can all agree that being 16 had its pros and cons and that it's a damn miracle that we survived. However, we still have the chance to learn, grow and influence those who are living it now. I'm really honored to work with these gems because they also remind me how lucky I was to have women full of integrity who held my hand and reassured me that it would be ok on the tough days. I'm grateful for the women who woke up at 5 am so that I could learn about Jesus at 6 am and I'm especially grateful for my parents who paid the bills, cooked the food and taught me to be kind to everyone.
The moral of the story: Be you. Laugh at you. Love you.
Until next time, my lovelies!
Be sure to read last week's post: "Let's Talk Mental Health."