What I Would Tell My 12-Year-Old Self
The lights were so bright. I tried to keep my eyes from squinting, aware that the camera was on me. My interview was going fairly well, I thought, but I was looking forward to its end. The top of the chair was pressing most uncomfortably into my spine and I wondered if the microphone attached to my blouse could pick up the rumblings in my stomach.
“What advice would you give teenage girls?” the host of the program asked.
I paused, the rhythm of our back-and-forth banter jolted. Thoughts raced through my head. I felt suddenly overwhelmed by the weight of the ramifications my answer might have on girls I would never meet, girls whose struggles I didn’t know. There were so many things I wished to tell them, so many things I wished someone had told me, but the pressure to condense everything into a soundbite stifled me.
I can’t remember what I said to the host. Probably a mumbled something about being true to yourself, as it’s honest advice I give anyone at any age, advice that I continue to give myself. But her question lingered in my mind for days. What advice would I give teenage girls?
As an actress whose audience demographic is mostly made up of young women ages 10 – 25, this question comes up occasionally. When it does, I don’t take it lightly. I’ve never been comfortable with advice-giving (probably because I’m not very comfortable with advice-taking). I like to encourage people to come up with their own advice, because that, I think, is the best and most honest advice: think for yourself, so you can stay true to yourself without clouding your truth with others’ opinions. But since a lot of you have asked, I decided it was time to go on the record and share some nuggets of insight with you that I wish someone had shared with me.
I thought, What would I say to my 12-year-old self if I could time travel?
- Be very careful when deciding your firsts, for they set the bar of your future baggage. Whether it’s your first relationship or just your first sexual partner, consider their significance when you go through these rites of passage. Your first romantic and sexual experiences will influence your standards for years to come, whether they’ll be high or low. Your firsts will impact your future relationship strengths and insecurities. So be discerning who with and how you choose to set your bar. Know your intentions, don’t give in to pressure, and be honest with yourself and your partner(s).
- Never judge yourself. Nothing is good or bad, only good or bad for you. Feelings of inadequacy are bred by comparison. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else, and don’t beat yourself up for not being perfect. Perfection is being true to your own Self, and that truth will be different than anyone else’s. When you realize that you have been less than true to yourself, it’s okay; gift yourself with grace, and you will gift others with compassion, too.
- Trust your intuition. It’s never wrong. Don’t confuse intuition with judgment. Judgment comes with condemnation; intuition comes with honesty. Sometimes you will have a sense about something you can’t pin, like the feeling someone is not being truthful about who they say they are. Don’t overanalyze it, just trust your instincts. Get out of a place if it feels unsafe, even if you feel like an idiot for leaving without a “logical” reason. Leave someone’s company if you feel endangered or uncomfortable, and know that you don’t need to justify why. Just say you have to go, and go. We have our intuition for a reason. Heed it.
- Know your motives. In every situation, ask yourself: What are my motives? Are you acting out of fear, or are you acting out of wisdom? The line between the two can be very fine. When your motives are based in fear, vengeance, image, and insecurity, let those be indicators that you’re about to do something that is not in accordance with your true Self. When we are not true to ourselves, we often bring greater suffering upon ourselves and those around us. When your motives are based in wisdom, love, acceptance, and honesty, your actions will be in accordance with your true Self, and you will gracefully withstand any ramifications that may come your way. Only you know what your motives are, despite outward appearances. Don’t worry about what other people will think.
- Stand up for yourself. Don’t let people use you. Don’t feel bad for saying, “No.” You are one person and you can only be spread so thin. When you feel like someone is taking advantage of you, say so. Ask for what you need instead of silently wishing someone will know. People are not mind-readers. When you say yes, mean it. When you say no, mean it. If you aren’t sure yet, say you’re not sure yet. Don’t allow yourself to be guilt-tripped. Recognize manipulation when you sense it, and have the courage to clarify everyone’s intentions and do what’s best for you.
- If you’re the one with the problem, remove yourself from the situation. This applies to both people and surroundings. When it comes to people, don’t try to change them, as you yourself don’t like it when others try to change you. Instead, be honest about what you’d like to be different, and if the answer’s no, move on. Give people chances to grow and evolve, but also accept where they’re at. If you can’t, and it’s too big a problem in a relationship for you to be true to yourself in, take yourself out. In terms of your surroundings, if you don’t like the environment, leave it. For example, if you don’t like the loudness of a party, leave; don’t expect others to stop their way of having fun because you are uncomfortable. Neither do you have to sit there feeling miserable. Just leave, or reconcile yourself to keeping a good attitude if you stay, because you do so at your own will. Unless someone is physically forcing you to do something, the choice is always yours.
- Develop good financial habits. Get a job as soon as you can. Money equals independence. Stash 30% of your paycheck right away into a high yield savings account. Learn what a high yield savings account even is. Create a budget for yourself and stick to it. Get a credit card as soon as you can to start building good credit—but only if you can pay it off in full at the end of every month. Accruing good credit will help you get what you want later in life, like an apartment, a car, or an iPhone. Never go into debt. If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it. Save up or move on.
- There is no God. At least not in the way you were taught there was. So you can let go of your guilt and fear, and know that you have nothing to be ashamed of. Hell doesn’t exist. You are free to wear whatever you want, sleep with whomever you want, use whatever words you want, listen to whatever music you want, talk to whomever you want, love whomever you want, and explore whatever you want. If there is a God who is truly loving, He wouldn’t want you to live in fear. The Bible is man-made, man-edited, man-translated, and man-abused. Find inspiration there if you wish, but don’t let it be the literal rulebook you were taught it is. (*Remember, this advice is what I would tell my younger self. I know the existence of God is a hot topic, but I had to include this because of how deeply Christianity damaged me throughout my teenage years. By all means, believe in God if you want to.)
- Give yourself permission to change your mind. Be true to yourself, I cannot emphasize that enough. But allow your true self to change. Allow yourself to grow, to become radically different. Who you are today is not who you were five years ago. Who you are five years from now will not be who you are today. It’s okay. Your goals, values, and beliefs will shift, as well as your appearance, your sense of style, your college major, your friends… Don’t feel obligated to stick to any of these that no longer serve you as you evolve. Don’t set yourself up for hypocrisy and shame by claiming labels and making promises. If a conviction feels true to you now, let it be true now. If it’s still true in five years, let it be true then; if it’s not, you won’t feel tempted to beat yourself up for failing to live up to proclamations you made in the past.
- Question everything. The sooner the better. When something you’re being taught doesn’t add up, say so, and ask for further explanation. Don’t respect authority for authority’s sake; respect those who take the time to listen to you and do their best to answer your questions. Learn to challenge respectfully, and allow yourself to be challenged. Learn to question everything so that you aren’t blindly misguided, deceived, and manipulated. Question the answers to your questions, and question yourself. It will be harder than just believing what you are told, but far more rewarding.
There you have it, folks! But I’d love to hear what you’ve learned through your experiences. What do you wish you could tell your 12-year-old self?