Dear Past Me,
Honestly, I can’t stand people who say that, if they could, they wouldn’t go back in time to change things they did because “it got me where I am today.” I can’t stand those people, and I know you can’t either. Because you are me, after all.
Sure, I like where I am now for the most part. I’m happy for a lot of the experiences I’ve had in my life. But there are also a lot of experiences I had that I would gladly undo or things that I missed out on that I wish I had done. So, me of yesteryear, here are some tidbits of wisdom I’ve picked up while being alive.
First thing’s first – life is too short to try to force yourself to like Animal Collective. Or Boondock Saints. Or seafood. Allow yourself to like what you like, and trust yourself to know what you don’t. This applies to music, but it also applies to jobs and friends and romantic relationships. You don’t have to like anything or anyone, and you’ll make yourself miserable trying to like things when you don’t.
Go with your gut. You have a better sense of what is good for you than you give yourself credit for. Get in touch with your intuition and trust it sooner rather than later, because it becomes increasingly harder to figure out what your gut is telling you on the other side of trauma.
Don’t let anyone treat you like shit. If being with someone makes you more miserable than it makes you happy, that’s not a person you need to be with. You’re not going to die alone if you let go of the toxic people in your life. You will find better people who care about you. This applies generally, but I know you need to hear it specifically about romantic relationships. Know this - there are worse things than being single, and being in an abusive relationship is one of those things.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. This advice applies across the board to anything you might ever need assistance with, but I’m especially talking about mental health. There’s nothing embarrassing about going to therapy or taking medications. There’s nothing wrong with feeling like you need someone to support you. Do yourself (and future you) a huge favor and get help when you need it and while it’s available to you. Seriously. You’ll have access to a free counseling center the whole time you’re in college. Take advantage of it.
It’s okay to not know. You don’t have to be an expert on anything, including how you’re feeling and why you feel that way. You don’t have to know what you believe, and you don’t have to have a strong opinion on everything. Uncertainty is scary, but it isn’t always bad. Give yourself time to figure things out.
Be more curious and indulge that curiosity. If something interests you, check it out. Google it. Read a book about it. Ask people who know about it. Someday you’ll be at a party with a bunch of people you go to grad school with who are having drunk conversations about theology (it’s more fun than it sounds, I promise) and you’ll wish you’d read more before going to grad school so that you could contribute. Just humor yourself whenever you want to learn.
Keep writing. Write about anything and everything. Journal. Write stories even if the idea is terrible. Write essays about whatever weird critical thoughts you have after marathoning a TV show. Jot down thoughts and reflections about things you read. You don’t have to write for an audience. Just write for you, and then share the things you’re comfortable with. Not everything is fit for publication, and that’s totally fine. Don’t let school be the only thing you have to keep you writing. You’re full of ideas. Don’t let them go to waste.
Talk less and listen more. Learn more about other people. Give them a chance to share their stories without feeling the need to add on or interrupt. You’ll develop deeper friendships this way. You’ll also begin to notice how annoying it is when other people don’t listen and just wait for you to finish talking so they can share. Aspire not to be that person.
Other women are not your competition, and being a woman isn’t a bad thing. I know, I know. “Boys are so much less drama.” “I get along with boys better than girls.” Whatever. I’m not saying that you have to drop all of your male friends or start exclusively wearing dresses. I’m just saying that there’s more to being a woman than you’re allowing yourself to believe, and you don’t need to shame yourself or others for being women. In fact, you’ll find that through building relationships with other women, you’ll become stronger. Don’t deprive yourself of that because of stereotypes.
Spend more time with your parents, especially your dad. Honestly. Even if you take your laptop into the family room and Facebook while your dad watches sports. Make sure to call frequently and talk to both of them whenever you live out of Jacksonville, and visit when you can. That time spent together will be really meaningful in the future when there isn’t any more time.
I’m sure there’s a million more things I could tell you, but I think that these are the most important. I hope these are things that will save you some heartbreak and give you some truly inspiring moments. I hope these are things that will help you become the empowered woman I know you can (and will) be with a lot more ease than I experienced.
Dori Schaffield spends her days working to promote interfaith cooperation with college students. She focuses her writing on personal experience, religion, critical gender analysis or occasionally a weird combination of the three.