I’m Talkin’ To You, 18 Year Old Self

Austin Kleon What We Are  (austinkleon.com)

Austin Kleon What We Are (austinkleon.com)

While scrounging around on my Facebook (yet again) for a writing prompt, someone (thank you, TB-F) suggested I ponder what I might tell my 18 year old self.  Especially in light of my recent high school reunion.  This is something that’s been done to death, but maybe if I steer clear of grandiose, deep and meaningful (ha ha!) generalizations  and stick to the personal, I just might be able to pull this off without my fingers sticking to the keyboard from all the syrupy-sweet-gooeyness.

We can’t change our past, and there are no magic times machines.  There isn’t much to be gained by looking past and wondering  what if?  But I’m going to try this anyway.

I don’t mean sun screen, although there is nothing funny about melanoma.  So yeah – 18 year old self, how about you lay off the baby oil?  While you’re at it,  get used to taking better care of your skin now.   (we’re good so far, but when you were younger would have been the best time to start a more careful skin regimen)

What else would I tell you, 18 year old me?  I wish I could tell you that you won’t be young forever… to be mindful of the great moments that you’ll later wish you remembered better… to appreciate this time and place when you are only responsible for yourself (and to actually act responsibly for yourself!)… don’t do things to avoid –  do things to embrace and to move forward… but I know that you (or any 18 year old) wouldn’t listen to these anyway.  Here are some that might have sunk in if this exercise were actually possible.  But probably not.  After all, you are 18!

Be true to your real self.

Travel. Wander. Explore.

Make a plan.  It doesn’t need to be totally fleshed out for a while, but make a plan that will start you off in a direction.  There will be a dean at school, he’ll suggest a University Without Walls build your own major sort of thing.  It will be tailor made and perfect for you.  Don’t blow it off.  And parlay that into a secondary degree.

Don’t listen to every little voice that tells you why you can’t pursue this thing or that thing.  (this one is probably why you never had a good plan – all the plans all were dashed out of the gate because someone would tell you why that wasn’t a good plan or goal or dream).  Don’t listen to these comments, just go and do!

Self confidence, self confidence self confidence.

Follow and nurture your muse.  Don’t stop writing.  (yeah, you stopped writing for almost 20 years!) You don’t want to be middle aged, meeting up with college or high school friends who always knew you’d be a writer but… you stopped writing.

Read good books.  Read more poetry.  Don’t let these intimidate your writing, let them inspire you.  Have I mentioned, nurture your creativity and for the love of all things holy, don’t stop writing?

Don’t go out with boys just because they like you.   Wait for and choose the one(s) you like first.  Be choosier.  Less is more.  Listen to your friend Ed, and get another hobby.  (Ok, Ed suggested you to take up macramé, but maybe you’d have more time for writing if you weren’t so busy “dating” the wrong boys?)

Speaking of boys… your high school boyfriend is a great guy.  Don’t do him wrong.  He might not be The One, but he is your first love.  Treat him right.  He deserves it.

There’s another boy coming along in a few years – he’ll freak out and run, and break your heart.  You’ll be friends later, but you will pummel him and slam a wall down.  Don’t do that and see what might (or might not) happen.

Figure out a way to make some sort of peace with Mom and her Crazy.  It won’t ever happen entirely, but she’s not going to be around all that much longer, and there are things you will want to know that you’ll never get a chance to ask.  Don’t be so angry with her, because too many years later after she is gone, you will realize it wasn’t entirely her fault.  By then you and your own family will be dealing with their own version of Crazy Mom.

Dad’s a rock, you have great communication, and a loving mutually supportive relationship … but try as hard as you can to look at him realistically.  Learn to stand up to him.  Spend as much time with him as you can, because it turns out he won’t be around as long as you’d hoped, either.

In light of the above, forge a tighter connection with your brother.  It would have served you both well, and have been a source of family love.  Of your birth family, it will be just the two of you for many, many years.

You’ll live two towns over from Mama Rose (grandmother) for 6 years.  Get off of your ass and go see her more often.

Apropos of your family, boys, responsibility, dreams, and Crazy – be way more selective about your therapists!  The jokes about The Good, The Bad and The Mediocre will grow stale long before you find a good one.

Don’t be so wishy washy about letting important people slip out of your life.  Stand up for perceived wrongs.  Always be there as much as you possibly can for the amazing ones who stay.

Continue to create chosen family.  They will save your soul.

Don’t wholesale discount your religion.  You will come back to it later, finding a place that fits nicely within your values and philosophies.

Accept and love your body.  You look so much better than you think you do.  Ignore someone’s (cough Dad cough) comments about having no ankles and being a little heavy.  You are curvy, you’ve got great “curves”, and you might as well play them up now, sister.  Not to mention, your body will grow and feed your two amazing babies.

Jump at some terrific opportunities that land in your lap.  But don’t wait for the ones that land in your lap, go find others!

Be bold.

Look around you.

There’s more I would love to tell you in your mid-twenties, before you turn 30.  I’ll be back another time with that advice.

Advice for the rest of you – go now and Google Austin Kleon, and How To Steal Like An Artist.


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