Last week, my friend did a write-up on her amazing blog. (Seriously, check her out.) She talks about thinking back to high school and wondering what advice she’d give her younger self–not out of regret but because #wisdom, hello.
And I am all for this. Because, honestly, I find human nature a really interesting thing. Science, evolution, biology, psychology–it’s all mesmerizing stuff. And how strange for us as a species to be so conscious of our lives. Looking forward, looking back, we have this mental and emotional acuity to dissect and discover things about ourselves from things we cannot change and things we haven’t even done yet.
It’s very *mind bomb* stuff. And I do think about my past, where I came from, why I am the way I am. Mostly, I have no answers. Nothing tangible at least. But I think we all have a bit of that Boy Scout mentality: we want to leave things better than we find them, whether that’s us, the world, each other. And so I look back at my life and wonder what could I have done differently–not to bemoan my choices and wallow in pity, but because…you should be able to learn something, right?
And, you know, I’ve had a pretty good life. I was lucky to get through junior high unscathed. Mostly because my “junior high” was spent playing make believe in my backyard and waking up to do science experiments in my PJs. See, I was homeschooled for four years. And there were a lot of ~elements~ to that that really enforced certain stereotypes. (I am, at heart, an awkward recluse.) But the positive? I learned to make friends with people I hadn’t known forever, people older and younger, people from different (sort of) backgrounds with different (real different) sort of dreams. I learned to think on my own, to motivate myself, to think outside of test answers and text books. I learned to do hard things–like perform in plays and academic decathlons. Like a total nerd.
Then I went to high school and I learned to come out of my shell. To trust myself. And I did things my own way. High school drop out over here! I was proud of being different, which I think is a unique way for a teenager to feel. Did I get some unfortunate haircuts? Yes. Did I do some unfortunate stuff? See photo above. But, still, I felt confident, and I’m grateful for that confidence. I’m only sad that it was fueled by so much…anger. Looking at my home school days, my high school years, and even my time at college, I resented a lot of things.
And it wasn’t exactly arrogance. I wasn’t that confident. I didn’t think I was better; in fact, I really struggled to fit in. But I was just…mad. I was mad at myself that I couldn’t figure “it” out. I was mad at this idea that I was supposed to fit some sort of “it.” I was mad that I could feel so proud of myself and still be so insecure, so worried, so self-conscious of how I compared. I was mad that I didn’t compare. I was mad that I couldn’t put into words what really infuriated me. And while I’m all for the vast array of human emotions, I really think that one is just a waste. Madness. It isn’t righteous indignation or justified rage. It’s chaos, folly, foolishness. And it’s completely unproductive.
Moving to New York was a metamorphosis for me. Mostly because I knew no one and, more importantly, no one knew me. I could be me–and decide who that would be–without the pressure or fear of someone outing me as the shy, awkward, adorakble type. No one could yell, “Hey, this isn’t the you I knew from high school!” And it was easy to no longer be mad because it suddenly dawned on me…this is my life; I have all the control. Life happened. Adulthood came at me fast. And I realized very quickly that all is never as it seems. Everyone is coming at this life with different experiences, expectations, and biases. Even when you think you’re the same, everyone’s a little different. And that’s a good thing.
Since then, I’ve worked hard to just be happy and let that reflect in my confidence. I’ve been myself. I’ve let things go. I’ve relaxed. I’ve realized people are pretty cool, even the annoying ones. Because how crazy, how strange, how odd that we share this planet and have mutually agreed to live in this sort of psychosis that is the human experience. And, really, humans have been around all of five seconds so how can anyone be surprised that we’re still trying to figure it out? Including me.
So, all this comes back to one thing: what would I have had my teen self do differently?
- I would allow myself to feel sad. I always wanted to be so strong, so above it. I told myself I didn’t want to walk, I didn’t want to go to prom, I didn’t want that date with the cute foreign exchange student. It’s a survival instinct but a stupid one, because it’s okay to be vulnerable.
- I would just let everyone be–especially the people or the lifestyles I didn’t agree with. Because I didn’t have to hate them in order to love me. I didn’t have to believe I was better and they were bad. That’s just stupid. Love and let live, younger Shelby.
- I would have cared more about my studies. Not for grades or accolades (lol as if) but because, looking back, I really just coasted. It was easy for me to get by (not a brag) but I rarely applied myself to see what exactly I was capable of.
- I would be less scared of judgment. Tell myself to have more fun than the haters. I wish I’d known that anyone willing to judge you is too preoccupied doing that to have their own interesting life, so you may as well show them up.
- I would remind myself that it’s okay to love things everyone else loves. It doesn’t make you unoriginal, and even if it does it doesn’t make it wrong. Wicked is good, okay! Harry Potter was always cool! Taylor Swift was queen long before 1989! Always be unapologetically you because that’s helplessly original even if everything you love is ~basic~.
- I would tell myself to stop being so stubborn. I thought things were very black and white: swearing was bad; Thomas Jefferson was perfect. I didn’t give myself room to consider the nuances. Which made me pretty naive, even when I felt so enlightened.
- But I would also want to stop apologizing for my opinions, or putting everyone’s feelings above my own. I didn’t always take myself seriously or demand respect because I was scared of putting people out. But it’s like the Good Book says: “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”
- And I would grow my hair out. Because having long hair doesn’t automatically make me like everyone else; there are other ways to stand out. More flattering ways, too.
- Also, I would definitely spend less time in Wet Seal. Honestly…Shelby…no.
Do I have it all figured out now? HELLS NO. I may have less moody bangs and I’ve finally moved on from shimmer lip gloss, but I’m still not perfect. But the thing I’m most satisfied with right now is that I’m okay with that. Perfection is a construct; this is real life–and it’s so much more interesting.