Advice to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self/Sister

I’m happy to say my sister probably needs this advice far less than I did at her age, but because she is my closest link to my sixteen-year-old self, and I love her so, she will have to humor me through this…

I started this post earlier this week, inspired by Cheryl Strayed’s advice to her younger self at the end of Dear Sugar and my own desire to say something meaningful to my younger sister about surviving high school. It was intended to be my way of traveling back in time to fix all the perceived wrongs I witnessed and/or participated in as a sixteen-year-old girl.

However, after the list sat unpublished overnight, I decided it was more angry than inspiring, an outdated wish for more confidence and regret over things that could not be changed. See, as much as I wish I would have stood up for myself and others more, maybe it was the not standing up that needed to happen first. To be on the victimized side of rumors, to watch mentally challenged and effeminate students be taunted, to forego relationships because my friends did not approve, to ignore chauvinist boys who pushed too much or called me horrible names, was all part of my becoming.

Sure it would have been nice if I became confident and outspoken sooner, but maybe I needed to know what it felt like to not be those things first so that I could relate to my quiet students and collect more pieces of life and knowledge of myself. Going back and standing up would have felt good, but it was not realistic to who I was at sixteen. That was me and it’s alright. Forgiving myself for not being stronger is actually the bigger piece of advice than any list of all the things I wish I did. It’s okay to be sixteen, quiet, not sure, and sometimes disillusioned.

An afternoon coffee visit with an old friend from middle school made me realize that it was not just my high school experience that felt a little angry– it was hers too, at the very school I thought would make me happier. While this should come as no surprise, because half the people I know felt this way about their own high school experiences, it was somehow humbling to realize I might have been pretty much the same girl under any circumstances. Just part of the territory of growing up.

So, dear sister and sixteen year-old me, that’s my message. Instead of a long list of sixteen different pieces of advice, I leave you with one idea. It’s okay to be imperfect, emotional, sometimes angry, sometimes disillusioned, and not always possessing the confidence we know is inside us. That will come, just keep being you and hold on to all the happy moments, because there will be plenty.

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5 thoughts on “Advice to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self/Sister

  1. allaccesspass says:

    Excellent advice. Many times in the past I kicked myself for not being a stronger person in my teens and early twenties. I felt happy at the time, so really no harm was done. And if I wished my life had been different…so many things would be missing today (like my education and my kids). It seems silly or pointless to be mad at myself…I was, in fact, living the life I wanted…that my 16-year-old self wanted. The best thing we can do is pass on these lessons to other young girls…like your sister and my daughter. 🙂

    • oliviaobryon says:

      It’s so interesting to hear you say the same thing– I don’t know why we’re so hard on ourselves! And, I know exactly what you mean– it’s who we were that made us who we are now, so why would we want to change? Hopefully we can spread the word 😉

  2. Seb says:

    I can hardly remember being 16. You’ve done well!

  3. kingmidget says:

    Fascinating … when I saw the title I knew exactly what I would tell my sixteen-year-old self, or one of my kids, who both are in high school now. It would be this … don’t let the fear and insecurity you feel keep you from living life and experiencing things to their fullest. It’s my greatest regret that I did that for far too long. But, then I read your post, and I agree. All that I experienced back then in my insecure, no self-confidence world is part of what makes me what I am today and drives me to do the things the scared kid that still lives inside of me wouldn’t do. I wonder how I might be now if I had been more self-confident way back then.

    • oliviaobryon says:

      Yes, it’s interesting to think about. Of course it would be nice to have been more self-confident, but I also feel I gained perspective on life I wouldn’t have if I never knew what it felt like to be insecure or unable to stand up for others. I think having been that way makes me a more empathetic person. I imagine being less tolerant toward the insecurity of others if I never felt that way. Who knows, but interesting to think about 🙂

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