Sunday, November 20, 2011

20 things I wish I'd known earlier

I've been thinking about doing this list ever since I read this blog post on The Lettered Cottage. Layla Palmer illustrated hers with wonderful photos and included some of her favorite quotes, and I loved it.  

So on the eve of my 64th birthday -- how did I get to be this old so fast! -- here are some things that I would tell my teenage self. I'm not putting photos here, but picture your own self as you were when you were a high school senior with all those dreams and desires and plans.

I probably wouldn't have listened carefully enough back then to have understood some of the ramifications of my actions and non-actions. And I probably wouldn't have believed some of the stories that I now tell about my life. But for what it's worth, here is what I would say now to my teenage self:

1. You are pretty, although I know you don't think so now. You're taller than average, yes, and you desperately envy the girls with the great hair and bubbly personalities who are "average" height and weight and build. But one day a man is going to fall head-over-heels in love with you and your long legs, your green eyes, your straight, fine hair, and your what-you-see-is-what-you-get personality, and he's going to tell you every day how loved you are, how pretty you are, and how lucky he is. You will feel like you won the lottery with him. Promise.

2. Your big voice that carries so far and that you try so hard to control will serve you well one day. People will want to hear your words.

3. Your mother and father love you more than you will understand for many years. Cherish the family times; listen to their stories; hug them every time you get the chance, and listen to their advice, even when it irritates the living crap out of you. One day you will miss hearing their voices so much that it makes you cry.

4.  Not everyone is going to like you, and you aren't going to like some of them either, and that's okay. You don't have to be a people-pleaser; in fact, you'll be better off if you just be who you are instead of who you think they want you to be.

5. Listen more than you talk: you'll learn more that way. Everyone has a story that they want to tell someone. 

6. And think before you speak: be sure the brain is engaged before the mouth opens. Your words carry a lot of weight: be sure your message is clear. You are very good at the quick, sarcastic comeback, but it can hurt others, and you really do not want to do that. 

7. Take care of your body: parts wear out faster than you'd think.

8. Moisturize your neck. Really.

9. Write. Keep a journal. Remember stories and practice writing them down. You'll make money from writing, and you're good at it, better than you think you are. You will want to write a book.

10. Be easier on yourself. Disbar that critical judge that lives in your head who tells you all the shoulda-coulda-woulda stuff. Be who you really are, and love yourself.

11. Be kind, even when you do not feel kindly. There is not enough kindness, ever. Thumper had it right: "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

12. Be careful with the alcohol, the chocolate, the rich, fried, buttery foods. It is all about portion control. And you'll never not love sweets, but you'll eat more veggies than you could ever think.

13. Practice gratitude every day. Even on the worst days you can find something to be grateful for -- a hot shower, a cup of Earl Grey tea in your grandmother's china teacup, clean sheets. It makes things easier.

14. Ask for help. You do not have to do it all yourself. You CANNOT do it all yourself, although you'll try and suffer for it until you learn better.

15. Cherish your friends, but be sure you know who they are. Not everyone is trustworthy: guard your confidences.

16. Children are a mixed blessing. You will love your children more than you could imagine, but you will also suffer great pain when things happen to them that a kiss and a hug can't make better. This will always be true.

17. Live each day as though it were the only one you have, because you never know if it might be. Plan for the future, but live in the moment. And let go what is past: you can't change what happened.

18. Time speeds up as you get older. Do things you really want to do sooner than later. Listen to that little voice way deep inside you: it will steer you where you need to go even if others are telling you differently.

19. Be patient. Wait for what is right. This will be a lesson that keeps coming back to you, one day at a time.

20. Do. Not. Settle. Not for a relationship, not for a job, not for a dream. Get clear about what you want, and then make it happen. You have tremendous power within yourself.

What would you tell your 17-year-old self?