One of my clearest memories from high school was an afternoon, sitting in the library with a group of friends, and chatting about what we imagined we’d be doing in the year 2000 (which, at that time, seemed a million years away).
Naturally, there were those over-achievers who believed they’d be running the country through well-paid political office (or, if they were class valedictorians, from the White House), curing cancer, or homeschooling their six adopted Russian children in their yurt. Others were a tad less aspirational, but still admirable. They saw their older selves teaching inner-city kids, or leading a church flock to salvation.
All I remember thinking was that I’d be 43 and it wouldn’t matter how I looked anymore, so I could stop dieting and toss my tight, junior-sized jeans and tiny cheerleading skirts forever. I’d live out my remaining days in muu-muus from Hilo Hattie’s, eating whatever I liked and simply tenting the 30 pounds I’d inevitably pack on as a result. At 43, I’d be past the age where it mattered. “Old age” had a clear upside. (Yes, I was shallow. I was also 15. But that’s redundant.)
When I look back on that moment, it always makes me laugh. God, I knew nothing, and didn’t have a clue about life outside of high school. They say “Youth is wasted on the young.” I agree. I often wonder how different our lives might be if we knew at 20 what we know at 50. The possibilities of youth, combined with the wisdom of age. Would our priorities have been different? Would our relationships have been healthier? Would we have been better parents? Better partners? Followed our dreams earlier?
If I could go “back to the future” and talk to my teenage self, here are some things I wish I’d known then:
1. Whenever possible, ignore means girls and their posse. At your 20th class reunion, Bitsy will be living in a trailer park with four kids and a sporadically employed husband, spending her days in wine-infused walks down memory lane, when she was all that.
2. Stop comparing. There will always be somebody younger, prettier, and thinner than you. Comparisons just make us more competitive with other women, and someday we might need each other.
3. Be kind. Karma is real. And she can be a bigger bitch than you.
4. Learn to laugh at yourself. If you don’t, somebody else will. If you can’t laugh at your foibles, you come across as an self-important douche with no sense of humor.
5. If you’re not happy, it’s your problem. Fix your own crap. Everybody else has their own to work out. Don’t expect them to work out yours.
6. Pick your battles. Is this issue still going to be important in 20 years? If so, suit up and fight it out. If not, let it go. And really, in 50 years, we’ll all be dead and none of this will matter.
7. No matter how wonderful you are, there will be people who don’t like you. Cut them loose.
8. Forgive. We’re all human. We screw up. Accept apologies when offered, and then forget about it. You’ll both be happier.
9. If you love someone, tell them. Even if they don’t say it back. Love is a gift, and nobody ever died from being too generous.
10. Share. If you have something that could make another person’s journey a little easier, share it. Trust that it will come back to you in ways you might not even imagine. You don’t need to keep score. The universe has a wonderful way of balancing the scales.
11. Learn from your mistakes and let go of “what you could have done better.” Learn something and do it better next time..
12. Make yourself a priority. Letting your loved ones run you ragged, sacrificing your mental and physical health to make sure they’re comfy and happy every minute of every day does not make you a good person. It makes you a doormat.
13. Chasing a goal can be as much fun as achieving it.
14. You’ll worry less about what people think of you if you realize how seldom they do.
15. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Even the people who love you can’t read your mind.
16. What’s the #1 rule of negotiation? Figure out what’s in it for the other guy. (Believe it or not, he doesn’t always care what works for you.) If you can do this, you can achieve world peace.
17. Never let fear of failure hold you back. Trying is half the fun, and failure makes for great stories at a party. People will always be more interested in your failures than your successes.
18. Surround yourself with people who love you, who encourage you, and who celebrate who you are. If they criticize, judge, or belittle you, they’re gone.
19. Be good to the people you love. We’re all busy. Take the time to give back. The world is full of old, lonely people who never took care of the people who loved them, and now nobody does.
20. Consider carefully what you’re chasing. Eternal youth? Not possible. Money? May cost you more than it gives. Fame? Fleeting at best.
21. Be the first to say “I’m sorry.” Even if they’re wrong. Sometimes you have to choose between being right or having a relationship with this person. Choose wisely.
22. Happiness is a decision. “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” (And life is just more fun if you’re happy.)
23. Remember, no matter what you’re going through, just breathe. This too shall pass.