Updated: Jan 22, 2020
“Embrace the glorious mess that you are.”
“Hi I’m Tracey and I used to be a glorious mess. Now I’m a work in progress.”
This is how I would introduce myself if there was a recovery group for adults dealing with the consequences of the dumb decisions they made in their teenage years.
I’m no longer a teenager, but I still remember those years as a teenager; continually battling my parents’ expectations, desperate to be my own person but not knowing how to make good decisions on my own, not finding my ‘people’ and feeling the pressure to be like others in order to have some ‘people’, seeing the emotional pain that others were experiencing at the hands of the ‘cool kids’ and not being able to fix it, feeling like no-one really wanted to listen to ME.
My parents’ approach to parenting (which I thought was normal at the time) was based on an isolationist policy, where I was expected to shun friendship, keep people out, but always, always, always ensure my parents were conveyed in a positive light.
I found it stifling, negative and it did nothing to prepare me for leaving home at age 18, which I was desperate to do. I joined the military mostly on the basis that it allowed me to move away from home straight after high school, and they offered to put me through University.
Now, as a parent of a teenager and a young adult, I am pulled between not wanting them to go through my experiences as a teenager, knowing that they need to make mistakes in order to grow and learn, and trying very hard not to revert to my parents’ parenting style.
“What if I fall? Oh but darling, what if you fly?”
J.M. BARRIE, PETER PAN
There is so much I would love to have told my teenage self, because no-one was giving me advice or direction. And I desperately needed it.
So here’s what I would tell that naïve, lonely and awkward me:
“Be brave. Without bravery, you will never know the world as richly as it longs to be known. Without bravery, your life will remain small – far smaller than you probably wanted your life to be.”
Trust your gut – you knew that being around people, observing behaviour and helping people was fascinating to you; don’t believe that to be like this shows weakness because it is linked to emotion. Take note of what you take notice of – these are the beginnings of your ‘purpose’ and what motivates you.
Think big – you had ideas of how you wanted your life to be, and to have a vision does not make you big-headed or selfish. Apply for that scholarship, plan that overseas trip, and explore that innovation that you think can help people. By thinking small, you are only punishing yourself.
It’s OK to say NO – this doesn’t make you ‘difficult’ or ‘stubborn’. You have the right to say ‘no’ to views and directions and opportunities. Take the time you need to make your decision and remind yourself that you are saying no to an opportunity, not the person.
Find your peeps – you may think that there is no-one that you gravitate towards, no-one that wants to be in your team. That doesn’t mean you will never find your people; you will; it might just take some time. In the meantime, make sure you like yourself and being with you. And when you are with others, think about how you feel when you leave them – if you feel energised, they might be your people; if you feel depleted, they are not your people. Stop trying to make yourself fit this latter group.
Pleasing others may not please you – you might want to say ‘yes’ to most situations and most people, but don’t let that turn you into a martyr or people pleaser. The way to avoid this is to be clear about your boundaries and your standards – know your deal breakers in terms of how you expect to be treated. And don’t compromise these for anyone.
“Watch for the people whose eyes light up when you talk about your dream. Those people are the people you keep.”
Above all, NEVER stop loving yourself, every glorious bit of your messy, unfinished self. Because the beauty in that will be revealed, if you give it time.
“To love yourself is a never-ending journey.”