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What advice would you give to your teenage self?

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Me at my senior prom, 2001
Me at my senior prom, 2001

I hope I’m not too late to submit this post.

A little bit of background: my teenage years were not kind to me. I had huge, crooked teeth, but we didn’t get any good dental benefits until I was a senior. I tried desperately to fit in, as one is wont to do, but my clumsiness and overtly introverted vibe never quite attracted the cool kids.

I glommed onto T and her friends became my friends by default. They are all a part of my life to this day, so I got that going for me. It took us a while but A eventually became my BFF that survived the ravages of high school.

I spent all four years with the theater kids, thinking I would find my footing… and my people. All I came away with is a healthy sense of stage fright. I did gain great respect for theater life. A lot of theatrical terms were things I’d end up using in my short-lived filmmaking career so not all was lost.

I come from a family of musicians, so theater (we called it drama class) was a bit of a left-field choice. My thought process when I was selecting my freshman year electives was that if I forced myself to become another character I could overcome my inability to be myself. And that’s where I was wrong. In fact, it would take me another 20+ years to realize that.

So, to get back to the prompt, I would tell my teenage self that the You that you’re looking for will be on a constant journey to find out who she is. It will be a thrilling yet mortifying adventure of defining yourself by whatever job would pay your bills and the people you find there before you realize that you’ve been a pawn in someone else’s game the entire time.

You won’t find her upon graduation, you won’t find her five years out of high school, you certainly won’t find her by the time the ten-year reunion that you won’t attend rolls around. It’s a perpetual cycle of identity seeking that will open your eyes to the utter nonsense of Capitalism that you never knew you were a part of until you find yourself radicalized.

I’d tell her that you won’t be stuck in Modesto forever but you will find yourself constantly longing for the simpler times, bringing you back to the Bay Area instead. And even though you returned with your eyes wide open, it’s okay to admit to yourself that the California that you grew up with no longer exists and that there’s something far more beautiful waiting for you on the horizon.

I’d tell her that you won’t be married right away, if ever. You may not be a mother. You may not be a published author by the time that you’re 40.

And all of that is OKAY.

Because the You that you are and that you want to be aren’t mutually exclusive. They are one and the same, and that you should embrace that imperfectly perfect You.

tree branch