Nineteen is a good age to be mixed up. It’s not any better—or easier—than being mixed up later on in life, but at least you’re young enough to learn from your mistakes and grow and change. It’s been a while since my undergrad, certificate in Publishing notwithstanding, and with the passage of these years, there are many things that I wish that I could have told my nineteen-year-old self. Here are ten of them.
1. It’s O.K. to fail at things
Remember that time in Psychology class when your friends got their tests back and they cheered at receiving top marks? This was accompanied by the feeling you had when you looked at your failing grade in bewilderment, wondering where you went wrong. By this time, you already knew the sting of failure, having endured an excruciating experience when taking Linguistics. But as those doors closed, other doors remained open for you; you realized that your strengths are in language, literature, and writing and always have been. Remember that failure, as much as it sucks, is a learning experience, and try not to be hard on yourself when it happens.
2. Please don’t cut your own hair
Self-expression is cool and all, but please, please don’t do this to yourself. It’s especially important that you don’t cut only two front strands of hair and leave the rest long. It’s not a good look for you. And no, feeling sad is not an excuse. Please, just go to a hairdresser and get your hair cut by someone without kitchen scissors. There are other ways to express your uniqueness, I promise.
3. The hipster music you found on Internet Archive doesn’t make you “deep”
It’s good to have distinct musical taste; everyone does. It’s a bad idea, however, to over-identify with that music to the point where your musical taste encompasses your entire identity. Knowing about obscure bands doesn’t make you special or profound; it just means that you spend too much time searching for obscure music in the first place. There’s more to you than your taste in music. Try to be more open to other kinds of music; it will expand your mind and nourish your creativity.
4. Don’t overthink your art
You’re not going to be a professional artist and you’re only creating to express yourself. Try not to be too critical of yourself; this only serves to paralyze you. Instead, accept that you will sometimes make things that you will like, and just as often you will create abominations that make you cringe. On top of good days and bad days, some days be just be “whatever”. That’s fine, too. Accept where you’re at creatively each day and move on.
5. Journaling is a great habit and you should keep it up
What better way to organize your own thoughts than jotting them down in a cheap notebook? Journaling will be a source of clarity, peace, and inspiration to you, so keep it up and see where it goes. And remember to do it consistently. You will notice patterns in your behaviour that relate to what you’re writing and thinking, so be vigilant of this and use it as a means to improve your outlook, self-talk, and self-awareness.
6. Making music is your best friend
It’s such a fulfilling and positive hobby to create music, so keep it up! And, similar to point #4, don’t overthink it; just start and see where it takes you. Again, this is a hobby, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself and instead use music creation as a way to energize yourself and play.
7. Reach out when you need to
Don’t think that family and friends see you as a burden. They are always willing to listen and talk when you need advice, and no nineteen-year-old’s problems are unsolvable. Note that not everyone is in a place to listen to you as they have problems of their own. And that’s all right. Respect their boundaries and talk to someone else.
8. Continue to push yourself out of your comfort zone
Your shyness is one of the biggest hurdles you will overcome, and although it will get better with time, it will never get easier. So, continue to put yourself out there. This doesn’t mean that you should become someone you are not in the hopes that you will be liked and accepted. To the contrary, it means expressing yourself and your opinions unapologetically, listening to other people, and communicating with kindness and empathy. Life requires you to adapt and show different sides of yourself depending on who you are with, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Learn to compromise, but also learn where you shouldn’t compromise—identify your deal-breaker values and stick by them.
9. Breakups are not the end of the world
This year, you ended your first long-term relationship. There were a lot of tears, there was some depression, and an unfortunate haircutting incident (see point #2). But you will get through it. You will focus on school, work, and friends. You will pick up new hobbies. You will find new places to explore. Life goes on.
10. Try not to compare yourself to others
It’s all too easy to compare yourself to others and find yourself lacking, but this is a dangerous game to get into. Doing so doesn’t honour the effort it took for you to get where you are now. If anything, this way of thinking will halt your progress and make it impossible to achieve personal bests—life is, after all, about personal bests, not what other people are doing. While you should certainly congratulate others for their accomplishments and successes, realize that these things look a little different for every person. And that includes you.