Hi, Past Sarah. It’s me, Future Sarah. Er…Present Sarah? Either way, I’m addressing Past Sarah. I’ve got some things to tell you that might help you out…or, barring the fact that time travel isn’t possible (at least, that I know of), hopefully this advice can help some other people. So listen up, whippersnappers!
You are not a special snowflake. No, seriously. I don’t want you to take that to mean that you don’t have great things to offer the world, or that you aren’t a worthwhile human being…just that you are not the Most Special Person to Have Ever Specialed. Stop doing things you’d criticize other people for doing because you think you or your situation is “different.” You’re not, I promise. Either don’t criticize other people for doing that thing you do/did, or don’t do it.
You’re going to feel better about your appearance while wearing sweatpants at age 23 than you will while wearing anything at age 17. Don’t beat yourself up so much about your appearance.
Don’t knock down other people to feel better about yourself. Be happy that you did well on something, don’t be happy because you “beat” someone else’s score. Most things are not a competition; don’t act like they are. And even when things are a competition, it’s okay to not win.
Encourage other people and be supportive of things they do, even if they aren’t things you necessarily like. Be encouraging of people even when they’re doing something better than you.
People will do things to you without your consent. They will say things that will make you uncomfortable. This is not your fault. You are not dirty or unclean because of this. You couldn’t have done anything to prevent this. It’s okay to tell people who care about you that this happened. They won’t think any less of you. (But if you don’t want to tell anyone, it’s okay, you don’t have to.)
Those people who do things to you against your consent? Don’t give them the time of day. Seriously, you don’t owe them shit. No, it doesn’t matter that so-and-so bought you something expensive. No, it doesn’t matter that what’s-his-face is friends with all your friends. If someone isn’t going to respect your boundaries, they are not worth being friends with.
Someone doesn’t have to rape you to have ignored your consent. If you tell a guy not to kiss you and he does, that is not okay. If you asked someone not to do X and they do it, they are not respecting you and they are not worth keeping in your life. Seriously.
If a partner hits you, don’t stay in a relationship with them. No, it’s not “different.” Don’t make excuses for people because you love them (or think you do). If it would be unacceptable for someone to do to your best friend, it’s unacceptable for them to do to you.
In general, just don’t make excuses for shitty things people do to you.
But on that note, lighten up a little. You don’t need to stop being friends with someone because they “sleep around” or because they smoke weed. You don’t need to be friends with everyone, but you’ll probably be a little less lonely once you get off your high horse.
Don’t stay in relationships if you aren’t happy! If you can’t come up with several good reasons why you want to be in a relationship with someone, end it. Don’t let someone manipulate you into staying in a relationship you don’t want to be in.
It’s okay to ask for help! Accept that you can’t do everything, especially not on your own. It’s also okay to admit that you’re struggling, even if there’s no way someone can help with it.
Don’t quit things you love because people are shitty about them. You will absolutely regret it later in life. Don’t quit theater because you didn’t get a part in a play. Keep making art, even if your “friends” are shitty and judgmental about it. It’s a lot harder to restart a hobby after you’ve quit than it is to keep at it. It doesn’t matter if you’re not the best at everything, because it’s not a goddamn competition. If it makes you happy, do it. 17 year old me won’t know who this is, but just remember: haters gonna hate.
Speaking of, don’t be a hater! Don’t be mean to people for things you disagree with. Eventually you’re going to do things like have sex outside of marriage (gasp!), smoke weed (double gasp!), or have internet friends. Those are all okay things to do. It’ll be easier to accept doing them if you aren’t a jerk to other people about doing those things.
It’s okay to go to a fancy private (read as: expensive) school, but you’ll also get a fine education at a cheaper school. You’ll probably be happier post-graduation if you choose the cheaper school. Bills are not fun.
Study abroad as much as possible! Go for a year (or more) if you can. Don’t worry about leaving your friends behind. The good ones will still be around when you get back.
Appreciate your family. Be nicer to them. You don’t have to be best friends with them, but you know…don’t be an asshole. They’re your family. They love you and they’ve got your back.
Try to enjoy things while you still can. Some of your best memories will be from times when you were miserable. You thought about quitting that summer camp job every single week, but some of your best memories are from there (and you go to be Ice Cream Sundae’d, which was pretty cool– that’s what the featured image is).
You’re going to love all the music you made fun of people for liking a few years down the line. Yeah, just wait until you’re 24 and your iTunes library is mainly Fall Out Boy and Britney Spears.
Overall, be a nice person, but also don’t take unnecessary shit from people. Knowing where that line is will take some practice. You’ll overreact to some things, and you’ll let some things slide when you shouldn’t. Do your best, respect yourself, and apologize when you mess up (which will be frequently).
Above all, just remember: no matter how hard things get, this too shall pass (this video won’t exist pre-2010, but it’s Ok Go, which is a great band, and also it’s a Rube Goldberg machine, so yeah, check it out).
Oh, yeah, and write more in your journal. Or better yet, send more Future Me emails. Future you is going to LOVE reading those.
Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for now, Past Sarah (or Present People Who Could Use Advice). What advice would you give to your past self?[Edit: My friend Dena has pointed out that I simplified abusive relationships. I’m only speaking from my experiences, and mine were fairly straightforward. Not all abusive relationships are marked by physical abuse, and not all situations are as simple as “leave if someone hits you.” I apologize if I came across as glib or demeaned in any way people who have gone through abusive relationships.]