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Looking back and looking at my nieces and nephew growing up in their late teens, I think back on the things I knew and the things I didn’t. I think of my mentality, my common sense, my beliefs. Now, I know better. Sometimes, anyway. But when I try to explain it all to them to save them the struggles I went through, it doesn’t work and I don’t understand it. But then again, I do.

1- at 16, everything is the end of the world. fights with friends, relationship break-ups, the argument on whether or not you’re in love or even know what it means, your mother not letting you go to that very trivial party. you never think you’ll get over anything, you’ll never survive. you feel stuck. this will surpass. you will move on. i’m not saying you’ll ever forget certain things, certain people, certain feelings, but you will not be stuck forever.

2- at 18, you’ll think you’re an adult. you’re not. you might be able to get a tattoo and buy cigarettes in some states but you’re far from being able to support yourself – buy a place to live, pay rent or a mortgage, make car payments, pay car insurance and a phone bill. you can also enlist or apply to be a cop at this age and those things will inevitably mold you into the adult you will become, but applying and enlisting also, does not make you an adult. adulthood is a frame of mind, a state of being, it is responsibility, and self-respect, and the ambitious will to always fight on, no matter how dark things get. it cannot be applied for.

3- high school will not teach you about life. it will teach you PEMDAS, history, how to read between the lines of literature, expression through music, art, and dance, the evolution of the world, and the strength of sports, but it will not teach you about life. you will not learn how to do your taxes or what taxes are. you will not learn about credit or mortgages. you will not learn how to upkeep a house or how to be a good person. you will study, you will work hard, you will learn – many useful and important things, including structure and friendship and love. but outside of those walls there is a whole other life. high school is a bubble and it doesn’t prepare you for college or what to do with yourself after graduation day. do your own due diligence and ask questions. do not think you’re owed anything because you went to high school nor because you graduated it.

4- you’re going to think you’ve found your forever love. maybe you have. finding love in high school is so looked down upon, especially by parents because you’re 16, how could you possibly know what love is. but you know what you feel right? people marry their high school sweethearts all the time but sometimes they don’t. do not base your entire life on who you love in high school because if it doesn’t work out five years later, you may end up regretting the chances you didn’t take and the choices you made because of the love you thought would last forever.

5- being able to drink and get tattoos, and stay out late, and go to parties is the highlight in your late teens, early twenties. you want to live and break free and break every rule your parents gave you. you become exposed to drugs and pot and people who will not always influence you to do the right thing. you only live once right? wrong. hopefully, you get to live every single day because you don’t make these stupid decisions to try, literally, everything once, and you realize that one time will make all the difference – it could get you fired or cause a break-up, it could hurt someone or hurt yourself. it could be the first time you see a disappointed look on your parent’s face, or worse, in your own reflection. you don’t realize how much your decisions will mold you into the person you will become. you don’t realize that 9 out of 10 times, saying ‘it’s one time, it’s harmless,’ means it isn’t going to be one time or it isn’t harmless, or both.

6- the things people say to you. the things people do. your advice, especially from those you look up to – they’re going to matter. especially when it’s the advice of a friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend. but the person to listen to is you. have enough self-respect to walk away from anyone who does not have your best interest at heart, have enough trust in yourself to trust your instincts, trust your own gut. these people may mean the world to you but they live their lives differently and they are different people. we all come to things in our own time, we’re all ready at our own time. and your friends version of cool shouldn’t define you. and your lovers version of ready shouldn’t make your decisions. love yourself first. get to know you first. and realize that the actions of others is not a cause of you nor the bar to set the standards for your life.

7- if you’re lucky, at the end of your life you’ll have a few good friends. at 29, i have less and less every year. when you’re young, you think your best friends will always be your best friends but who goes away to college, and who’s dating who, and who gets involved with what, and who’s off pursuing their dreams, and who moves away, and who gets married, and who’s having a baby, and who’s working and going to school – all of these factors change things. you’ll realize you had a lot of acquaintances in high school, a lot of fake friends and temporary people that will inevitably fall away as you get older. let them. now i’m not saying to not make an effort for people who matter to you or to not keep in touch, you just can’t be the only one. and you will make more friends, new friends, you will make friends for every different portion of your life – and they will fit well in the spaces they’re meant to. some will last and some won’t. don’t be afraid this.

8- work is just as important as school. if you start working younger, you learn self sufficiency and responsibility earlier which is a great thing. being cared for is easier and the world is scary but nothing beats experience and not having to depend on someone else financially. don’t grow up too fast but working while going to school – it builds character. it’s worth making time for.

9- don’t grow up too fast. there are no cool kids – there are only socially acceptable kids who think they’re superior because of their looks or their money or things that become invaluable in comparison with heart, integrity, loyalty, compassion. watch disney movies, have sleepovers, go to amusement parks, eat cotton candy, keep your favorite stuffed animal on your bed. eleanor roosevelt once said; “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” she was right. don’t rush to grow up and miss your childhood. don’t delete your inner child to be accepted by people who won’t matter a year from then. be who you are and don’t be in a rush to date and have sex and party. be a kid. because once you do grow up, acting like a kid is harder because you have real responsibilities.

10- you’re beautiful. the world won’t always see that. people will talk about you behind your back, people will hurt you. no matter who you are, what kind of person you are, some people are cruel. some people are bullies. some people lie and cheat and make up rumors. and that shows the kind of person they are but never does it determine who you are, until you react to it. be better. know your worth. do good. know you’re beautiful and that stupid boy or lying girl cannot for one second, strip away how beautiful and special you are. the thing is, you’re out there busy trying to prove it to the world – to friends and lovers – who should see it without requiring you to prove anything. the only one who needs to see it is you.

11- cultivate your curiosities and do the things you love to do. try different sports, engage in different artistic expressions, get a new hobby every week. these things are so important because these hobbies and passions when you’re younger will become your talents and your dreams. it will show you what you’re good at and it will teach you new things and it will help you determine what you want to do with your life, what you want to be when you grow-up. so join those clubs in high school, do outside charity, join a dancing school or a baseball team. learn new things so you can learn about you.

12- don’t take your family for granted. between school, friends, boys, girls, who needs family right? WRONG. spend time with your family before you grow up and life gets so busy for everyone that you work just to make time to see them. family is the one constant thing we have in life. they almost always love and support us unconditionally – you will not find anyone else that is a guarantee like that in life. don’t be so self absorbed that you miss the bigger picture, that you miss birthdays to go to the movies with your boyfriend or you miss the holidays to go out with your friends. because one day, you’ll miss the moments you can’t get back with your family, and those other moments, they won’t even be a thought in your head.

13- a bad grade doesn’t mean you’re stupid. school is hard. no one is good at every subject. some people are bad test takers, some people can’t concentrate, some people find it hard to study or just simply don’t understand the material. ask for help. there is nothing stupid about that.

14- keeping up with the trends is SOOOO important right? what color to dye your hair, the perfect haircut, the clothes, what celebrity is dating who. these things don’t matter. they’re entertaining and they’re interesting but they don’t matter. paint your nails all different colors, grow out your hair, dye it blue, wear clothes from a thrift shop. because all the things you were too ashamed to wear, to be, to try on… those are the things you’ll end up doing by 21 to find yourself. because at 21, you’re not going to care if your shirt was the same one that Christina Aguilera had on or if your makeup inventory was as up to date as Kylie Jenner’s brand line is. These things don’t matter. All that matters is that you like something and you wear it. All that matters is that when you look in the mirror, you love the person looking back at you. Those thrift shops all your friends made fun of, so you never tried on clothes from there are the ones you’re going to love as you get older because it’s where all your one of kind items come from. and you know what, they’re going to end up asking you where you bought your shirt not where Christina got hers.

15- college is important. it’s not high school all over again. it’s hard. and it’s definitely harder. go to a community college until you figure out what you want to do but if you already know what you want to pursue, then go to a college that is good for that. don’t pick a college based on your friends or how many parties they have per year. you can pay to go to a bar but you can’t pay someone to let you be an architect or instruct dance or be a cop or be a lawyer, or anything else. if you don’t want to learn then don’t waste your time or your money and go find a job until you’re ready to get your head in the game. high school is preparing you for the opportunity to get into any college you want from the very first day you begin, by leaving it up to you to get recommendable grades. don’t take your education for granted. i have a bachelor’s degree in English writing and literature and i am a studio manager for a wine bar/art studio. i both love my job and will never regret my degree choice or education. i always wanted to work for a book publishing company and while never successfully getting into one, the education i received, the things i learned about writing, about literature, about different areas of study, those are things that have only improved my dreams and artistic abilities.

16- “no matter how dark it gets or how dark it seems, there will always be light.” yes i am quoting batman. because it’s true. there are so many factors that cause depression and anxiety nowadays. suicide and bullying wasn’t non-existent when i was in school, people were just more silent about it. the same with self gender preferences and same sex relationships. things were just more private. no matter how invisible you feel, you’re not. someone notices you. i promise you that. i promise you’re not alone. the heartbreak, the pain, the loss, the person who’s misunderstood, the person who’s always being hurt, the broken, the confused – you are not alone. “there is always help to anyone who asks for it.” yes i am also quoting harry potter. find your healthy form of therapy; art, sports, meditation, talking to someone. there’s nothing crazy about any of it – not the way you’re feeling or getting help for it. the problem is we’re told so many things when we’re younger so we live trying to conform and trying to ‘live the right way.’ but the things that were carved into our brains when we’re young, they’re not always the right thing. you’re not crazy because you’re different and there’s nothing wrong with you because you’re sad. but you don’t have to bleed to feel alive.

17- if they’re physically hurting you, they don’t love you. if they’re emotionally abusing you, the relationship is not healthy. if they’re cheating on you or lying to you, they do not love you. if you’re the other girl or the other guy, they don’t respect you or love you, and not only are you hurting but you’re hurting the person they’re with. these things aren’t normal and they aren’t okay. you may love or want someone so much you don’t care about the person they’re with if you can be with them, but you should care because how would you feel if it was you and someone was breaking up your relationship or kissing the person you thought loved you. how bad would that hurt. look at it from the other perspective. so important. if they’re hitting you, it’s not love. you didn’t make them do it, you’re not to blame. if they’re calling you names constantly and making you feel worthless, it’s called toxic, not love. if they’re hurting you in any way, if they’re cheating on you, it isn’t love. they have a problem and it is not your fault. do not continue to give your love to someone who is hurting you, and at the same time, try to convince yourself that it is love. it’s not. love shouldn’t hurt.