Earlier this month marked a full decade since I graduated from high school. I graduated at seventeen and was heading off to Saint Michael’s College to study English and Secondary Education. I had wanted to become a teacher since I was in 8th grade and I got to go down to the 2nd grade during independent reading time to help them learn to read. I had my life all planned out, in only the way that a foolhardy teenager can. I was going to graduate from Saint Mike’s with honors, be married by 25, have my first child by 28, and have my first master’s degree by 30. This, of course, was going to be totally doable. Because why not?
Of course, life is not as accommodating to a teenager’s dreams and plans as I may have liked. These are the top ten things I would tell my 17 year old self.
STOP spending your damn money.
I come from a fairly privileged background. When my parents helped me pack my stuff up for college, one of the things they did was load my Knight Card (student ID that could be used like a debit card) with $500, aiming for it to cover my laundry for the majority of my 4 years at college. That likely would have, but I had poor impulse control. When faced with the ability to use that to pay for things I wanted (like school sweatpants or mozzarella sticks at 10pm), I opted for the things that would gratify me in the short term.
This continued even when I got a job working at Bed, Bath, & Beyond. I would neglect to bring food for lunch during a long shift, and instead of grabbing something healthy and inexpensive from the Hannaford across the street, I’d simply grab something (overpriced) from the front of the store. I can’t tell you how much I’d have saved by simply doing this.
You don’t need that. Really, you don’t.
Like what I said above, I spent my money far too freely when I was younger. I distinctly remember one day when I was feeling poorly (during what I now know to be a depressive funk), I went out and I dropped over $300 on household stuff. I fully subscribed to the idea of retail therapy and as such, I collected way too much stuff, most of which I hardly used, if ever.
It wasn’t until Mr. Grizzly and I had moved into our house that I really started thinking about minimalism and zero waste ideals. I had a huge yard sale, but it barely put a dent in our belongings. I should have learned how to have restraint earlier in my 20s.
Take a business class or two.
When I was 17, I had NO idea that I would ever start a business. It was nowhere on my radar. I have spent the last year really cobbling together information and taking classes to learn about how to run a business while still maintaining my day job teaching (y’know, that really easy thing). If I took a business class, it would have helped at least ease me into this whole thing.
Cherish being able to live with/near your friends, because that’s never going to happen again.
Oh my goodness, this one. Saint Mike’s is a four-year residential college, which meant that the friends that I made during freshman year were only ever a short walk away from me all the way through senior year. Once we graduated, we separated to various areas, and I don’t get to see them nearly as much as I’d like, especially since it’s hard to coordinate all of our schedules. I miss being able to sit down with a cold cider and just have Disney sing-alongs or deep talks. As I’m approaching 30, I envy my younger self for being so carefree.
Listen more. Learn about others’ experiences.
As I mentioned earlier, I grew up in a fairly privileged way. My parents are still married, they have owned the house I grew up in since 1998 and recently paid it off. I had it pretty good growing up. Of course in my teenage angst, I thought I was so poorly off.
I should have really listened to other people. The people who I surrounded myself with were largely people who had the same ideals as I did and had similar backgrounds. I had a little bubble of privilege. It wasn’t until I started going into classrooms and really seeing the diverse backgrounds that the kids came from that the wool started to come off of my eyes. I started to understand just how privileged I was, and I sought to understand others more deeply.
Go to the doctor about your mental health earlier.
(TW: Talk of mental health, suicidal ideation, and self-harm)
I have both anxiety and depression. I have known that I’ve had depression since at least middle school. During that time, I was having a really rough time. I didn’t care about anything, and the girl who ended up graduating from college magna cum laude while working 30 hours a week could barely pull a D in ELA.
Other members of my family were also dealing with their own depression, so I took it upon myself to just suck it up and deal with it because I didn’t want to burden them with my own mental health failings. During this time, I faced issues both with self-harm and suicidal ideation. I hid this fairly effectively from my parents, and they didn’t know about it until I told them after my high school graduation. I was relentlessly bullied, and I sought relief in the wrong places.
Although I stopped regularly self-harming when I entered high school, I would relapse a few times. It wasn’t until I was 25, a full 13 years after I first knew that I was depressed, that I finally sought out help with medication and therapy, and that was only spurred on by a relapse into ideation.
You are not ugly. Your weight does not define your worth.
I have always been on the larger side. I sometimes joke that I would fit right in with the Valkyries. I am 6’ (182 cm) and weigh about 240 pounds (~109 kg) at the moment, but I fluctuated between 210 and 220 when I was in high school. I really struggled with finding beauty in myself, especially since I felt I was so distinctly outside the beauty “norms.” This one. Oof. This is something that I have struggled with for most of my life. I was relentlessly bullied from third grade on. It lessened in high school, but it was definitely still there.
Mr. Grizzly has really helped with that, helping me gain more self-confidence so my bad body days are much fewer and far between than when we met.
Start a gratefulness practice early.
This one I have my Uncle Curt to thank for. When I was feeling super lost a couple years, he suggested that I start gratefulness. I had tried it before, but it never really stuck. When Mr. Grizzly and I incorporated it into our nightly ritual before bed, it started to reprogram my brain. I had to start looking for things to be grateful for, even when I was having a really rough day with my kiddos at school or having a silent meltdown in my brain.
Have faith. Things will eventually work out.
This ties in largely with my depression and anxiety. One of the things that comes so easily to me is catastrophizing. It’s still something that I struggle with controlling, but it’s gotten better with time. We have had a hard time but it’s eventually worked out for the best. It’s hard to see it when you’re in the thick of things, but it’s something that's worth remembering. Things will work out. Use that as a guiding light when you’re surrounded by a thick fog of difficulty.
Life isn’t going to be as easy as you think it’s going to be, but it will be worth it.
Life has been a real bumpy ride this last decade. While I’ve definitely had some amazing highs (getting married to the love of my life, buying our first house, starting and growing Stella & Sol), we’ve also faced some really intense shiz (Mr. Grizzly being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, trying to find a medicine that will work for him, an ongoing fight to get him onto disability, job insecurity). It will be a really rough ride, but I’ve gotten to know some absolutely amazing people, and I wouldn’t trade their friendships for anything.
What are the things you’d want to tell your high school self?