Recently, I spoke to a group of women between the ages of 18 and 22 at the Women's Club at Harvard University. Listening to their struggles brought up memories of the challenges I faced at their age.
And yet, many of the things that seemed so important when I was 20 have simply melted away.
Do I regret any of it?
But it did get me thinking: What are some of the lessons I wish I knew when I was 20?
1. Don't compare yourself to others.
This was a BIG one for me in college! I went to a small liberal arts school where everyone knew everyone and gossiped a lot. Girls drove fancy cars and carried Louis Vuitton bags. Greek life was dominant at my school and there was this looming feeling that you needed to fit in at all times. I was someone who marched to the beat of my own drum, but I found myself in constant comparison to others... which of course made me miserable! I wish I knew that life wasn't a competition and it is better to just be yourself than to blend with the crowd.
2. Don't feel like you have to have it all "figured out."
What's your major going to be? What're you doing after college? Where are you going to live?
These questions drove me nuts! Every time I'd go home for a holiday it seemed that everyone just wanted to ask if you had it all figured out. Pretty much up until I went to college, I had nothing figured out, and now there was this crazy pressure to get my ducks in a row for the rest of my life. Every choice felt like a major life-ending decision, which only added to the pressure. I wish I could have relaxed. You don't need to have it all figured out right now because you will never have it all figured out. Life is a series of trials and adjustments. That's the fun!
3. You are smart.
Growing up, my sister was always the smart one. I was always the one who just seemed to get by. Therefore when I started doing well academically in college, being selected as top violinist, writing papers like a whiz and acing my tests I thought, Something must be wrong here. I must just be really good at cheating the system.
That's seriously what I thought. That if I could write a 15-page paper in one sitting and get a good grade that I must be working the system because I wasn't really applying myself. Then I went to Harvard and I did start really applying myself. Because I wanted to do my best. But hey, it turns out I wasn't cheating, I actually was just smart. Or at least good at certain things. We all have abilities and talents unique to us. Play up those talents and own them.
4. Rock your own beauty.
The majority of girls at my school seemed to look like Barbie. They were pretty, tan and had silky, straight blonde hair. I was a bit of a late bloomer and did not consider myself very attractive in high school. Plus, I'm extremely pale (I prefer the word "fair," but I'll go with pale here) and have super curly hair. But I wanted to fit in to be considered pretty, too, so I started straightening my hair and wearing fake tanner every day. That's all fine. But now I realize that curly hair is kinda cool. And so is fair skin... like Nicole Kidman's or Scarlett Johansson's. Rock your own beauty.
5. Enjoy young love because it's so sweet, but don't put everything on that relationship.
When I was 18 I fell in love for the first time. And it was so sweet. In a young, innocent, rebellious sort of way. We both thought that for sure we were "the one" and we'd be together forever and get married. Then, as things seemed to falter in the relationship, it was really hard to let go. Like so many relationships, we held on longer than we probably should have.
At that age you're learning what love is for the first time. And enjoy it! Because it's beautiful. But you're both still understanding who you are and how to be in a relationship. So, if it doesn't work out, realize that it isn't the end of the world. It was a wonderful thing and you can take those lessons with you down the road.
I wish that I knew my self-worth. That I knew how loving, kind, smart, amazing and beautiful I am simply for being me. And that goes for all of you, too! You are perfect exactly as you are, without needing anything or anyone else to validate that for you.
"Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are." - Marianne Williamson
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