We all say it.
In hindsight, I wish. In hindsight, if I had known. In hindsight, I would have.
So, in light of that, these are the lessons I would teach my younger self if I had the opportunity.
Life will not go as you plan.
We all have aspirations of what we want our life to look like as we grow up. As kids we say, I want to be a doctor, or a firefighter, or a zookeeper. Those dreams very well might hold up as we grow older and move through life. For the great majority, though, these things change. We go on to high school. We envision what our college years will look like. What we'll study, what friends we'll be "friends forever" with, the man we'll meet and the house we'll live in. We go to college, we graduate and we dream up being married and having kids and this dream job. This is all AMAZING, but it might not happen in the exact order, or as smooth, as you hoped it would. Life will throw curve balls. The boy you thought you'd marry breaks up with you, our dream job goes to another candidate, you don't get into the Master's program you hoped for, the doctor says kids aren't in your future. You have no idea what life will throw at you, but, that's okay. Let me say that again, IT'S OKAY that life doesn't go how you perfectly imagined it would. It's beautiful and perfect in its own way. Go with the flow, travel among the curves and embrace the fact that life has its own vision in mind.
Just because you choose one career now, doesn't mean you're stuck in it forever.
I used to worry beyond measure that I was making massive, unchangeable life choices when I went to college. Thinking whatever major I chose in undergrad was my end all, be all. My life's work chosen at the age of 18. I chose my major in undergrad because there was no math and no science courses. Yes, I was that person and that was my younger self's way of deciding things.
I ended up loving psychology, but when it came time for me to graduate I had multiple panic moments. I had no idea what I wanted to do as a career. I stressed over my future and what I wanted to do with my life. After some time off school, I ended finding something I would love to do - Global Health. Preventing diseases and putting in place measures to help protect those in less fortunate areas medically. Am I using this degree? Nope. I believe God absolutely will some day, no education is ever wasted. BUT, had I known I'd be a photographer doing something I love today, I would be telling my younger self not to worry so much about my future. I would tell my self to not worry about 10 years down the road because there is SO much life ahead of me. I don't have to be in one job for the rest of my life, I have the ability to adapt and change and grow and move.
You will kiss frogs before your prince comes.
Ah, yes. When I was growing up I had this dream I would meet my forever in high school, be high school sweethearts and have a happily ever after love story. I was a fan of Disney movies with princesses finding their true love in one kiss, what can I say.
Fortunately for me, this wasn't so. I had to kiss a lot of frogs. I had to learn character is more important than eye color. Compatibility is an actual thing. Easy flowing conversations and equally important values is vital. If I could tell my younger self this, I'd simply say it's okay to go through this, necessary actually, because I'd have to learn what I don't want before I'm able to see what I need. Those frogs led me to Eli, and for that I'm forever grateful.
Believe in yourself.
Confidence in yourself is key. If you're always looking to the world to tell you who you are, what you should believe, where you should go and what you should do, you'll lose. You'll lose yourself to their opinions and you'll lose your belief that the world is much, much better with you in it. Believe that your opinions matter, your voice matters. Believe that you are valued and you bring something to the table no one else can. Believe you are unique and beautiful - that God designed you intricately. The more you believe in yourself and the values you stand on as a firm foundation, the less the world will rock you if they tell you otherwise.
Don't believe everything you hear.
People will tell you things about the world. Your friends, your family, your neighbors and coworkers and classmates. They will tell you their thoughts, their opinions, their views of the world and how it works. This is totally fine and acceptable; but, just because it's said doesn't mean it's true. Form your own opinions, gather your own data, interpret your own views of the world. Travel to experience other cultures. Serve others to learn humility. Ask questions to understand. Read books to learn. There is so much to the world, don't be afraid to explore it and gather your own intel about it.
Not everyone will stay a vital part of your life, and that's okay.
Life changes fast, especially when you're young. You move from Middle School to High School to College to Career. Every phase of life brings new surroundings, new classmates or coworkers, new responsibilities. Life looks different as you move through it. You'll have friends, boyfriends, mentors, roommates, teammates, classmates - they all change in an instant. Some will stay, the closest of those, but that doesn't have to be everyone. Know it's okay that some people come into your life for a season. They come in, teach you what needs to be taught, and flow back out just as smoothly as they came in. Embrace everyone as they come, as best you can. Learn from them - ask questions about who they are, what they believe, how they see the world - learn so you see the world in a fuller picture. Every person you meet will be planted in your life. Let the roots grow deep without fear, knowing some will stay and some will not. The ones that go, embrace a farewell, but the ones that stay, will stay forever.
Your best years are always right now.
Before I went to high school I heard from so many the myth that High School is the best years of my life. I'll make the best of friends, have the most laughs and the most energy I'll ever have in my life. Then, I was told College was that way. As I've grown older, I wish I could tell myself then that this is a myth. College was amazing, don't get me wrong. The experiences I had there certainly were some of my favorite memories. But, if I'm always thinking College was the best years of my life, then what do I have to look forward to in my future?
No, in reality, the best years are always right now - the moment I'm in. I would tell myself that so I'd always embrace the beauty of right now. You view the world differently through that thinking. You open your eyes to the wonder around you - you create memories and embrace all that is in your current situation. You don't sit in the past, always remembering what was or wander away your current looking to the future of what's to come. You live in the excitement of the today because you don't know if you have tomorrow. You begin to look for the greatness in right now, and that changes everything as you live it out.
You will make mistakes.
This is a part of life. Own up to them. Apologize for them. Don't hide behind them, mask them, or ignore them. Learn from them. No matter how big or small, mistakes will make you a better person if you let them. Simple as that.
It's okay to disagree.
I'm learning recently this is a big one. We live in times of animosity it feels like - a world where our freedom of speech no longer means freedom to share our opinions and beliefs, unless they coincide with the whole of culture. It's hard to open our ears and listen because we always want to be fighting for our opinion to the one that sticks. This shouldn't be so. I would tell my younger self that it's okay to disagree with others. It doesn't mean I force my opinions or beliefs on them by any means, it just means we see things differently. Disagreeing doesn't one of us has to be right, it just means we differ in thinking. And that's OKAY. Listen more than you speak, seek to understand. If you still disagree in the end, that's okay. Be humble, be gentle, be kind - don't force your thinking on another or be angry that they disagree. Discuss without decimating and know it's okay to simply say, agree to disagree.
People matter most.
This is the biggest one of all.
Yes, good grades are important. Being on time, being the best you can be at your sport, they're all important. But people matter more. Show up for them. Be there when you say you will. Remember things about them when they tell you. Care about them. Show compassion. Make people a priority more than being on time. If they're hurting, drop everything to be by their side. If they're happy, rejoice with them. People may never remember what your grade point average was in high school or what scoring title you held in college, but I can promise you people will ALWAYS remember how you made them feel.