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Life Lessons You Wish You Knew in Your Teenage Years

Rujuta Borkar Feb 28, 2020
Have you ever looked back and thought, 'I wish I had known this when I was younger, and my life would have probably turned out so different'? I have. Multiple times. Thoughts like these almost always give rise to a list, which is exactly what happened.
The grass is always greener on the other side, until you get there and realize it's because of all the manure.
- Paul Angone
Random little thoughts make way while I carry on with the most mundane activities of the day. Does that happen to you too?
Funny how the mind works, really - one moment you're thinking about the groceries that are to be bought in the eve, and the next, you're left wondering what it would have been like, if on an evening just like this one, way back when, had you not run into so and so, become friends, and gone traveling instead of staying put and getting a degree.
Like I said, funny how the mind works.
The thoughts, they didn't stop there - they got me thinking about a whole lot of other things as well. Had I known in my teens what I know now, would life have been any different?

Don't get me wrong here, I'm not taking away from what experience teaches you. I'm not undermining its role at all.
In fact, I believe that the gravity of any situation hits you when you experience it and learn from it thence. Your mistakes help you understand what no amount of others telling you something ever will.
But then again, what if I had known about certain things back then? If I had a chance, what would I tell the teen me... what would you tell the teen you? Maybe something on the lines of what this MissionSelf article tells you?
... that there is no waiting for the perfect situation, perfect time, perfect lineup of things to do something. If you want to do something, you just have to do it... N.O.W.
Many times, we postpone and procrastinate, waiting for the perfect time and the perfect situation. Unfortunately, we also tend to give up on those very things as time goes by, because the ideal situation did not make way. Then, years later, we are stuck lamenting 'If I had taken this up at that time, I would have been thinner/had a degree/had saved up on money', etc. There is no perfect lineup of things - it's always in the now.
... that the faster you start saving and/or investing, the better it is.
There will come a time in your life when you'll need the money. It could be as capital for buying that space to start your own restaurant, for getting married, paying for your higher education, or simply to travel the world. It is indeed a high to be able to do what you want with your own money, without asking others for it, and without having to give up on that dream.
... that along with 'hardworking', you need to be 'smart-working'.
Times have changed. It's no longer enough to just be hardworking... one has to show results. In which case, smart-working seems to be more the order of the day. That does not mean one does not put in efforts and hard work, quite the contrary, in fact. One needs to know how to channel that work and make it count.
... that things don't always work out the way you plan them.
You may have a perfect scenario in your mind of what you want your life to be, and how you will be in that life of yours, but life may have different plans for you.
So while it is commendable that you make plans for your future, and wish for a certain kind of life (provided that you're working towards it, of course), you have to keep in mind that things rarely work out exactly the way you want them to.
Sure, you need to work towards the goals you have set for yourself, but there have to be provisions made for if things don't add up the way you wanted them to - either in terms of backup plans, or as accepting things and moving on.
... that you should take up a job that you like doing, and it won't seem like a job-job.
Yes, the money is important, but if you do not enjoy what you're doing, you will not be able to carry on with the job for the 30-odd years or so. So then be open to change and be ready to switch jobs, if you get an inkling that what you're doing right now is not giving you what you need.
... that it's not true that your parents 'don't know what you're going through/or how it feels'.
Your parents are not your enemies. And contrary to popular belief, no, they do not wish for you to suffer. When they stop you from doing things or ask you to not do something, it's because they have been there and know how it will end.
Though we understand that one needs to go through the motions to learn this lesson, yet, I can't help but think how different my life would have been if I had listened to them and followed suit. So at least give it a thought, learn to be a little open, and you will be surprised how things work out.
... that your health is truly the one gift you have.
You'd think that you'll always be as healthy as you are, which will tempt you to take it for granted. But here's what - don't. Understand the importance of staying fit. Not only will your system slow down after a certain age, but taking up something and sticking to it will get really difficult as age progresses. What if you're not overweight, you say?
Do it anyway. You'll be in for a rude shock when you suddenly start putting on weight, and it won't go away as easily as it used to - in fact, it may become insanely more difficult to shed it off. It's a chain reaction, being overweight, and it's connected to diseases, less productivity, and several other ghastly side effects.
... that you can't please everyone all the time.
Yes, we are all tres` sensitive about what others think of us. And yes, we would of course prefer to be in everyone's good books. In the quest of that though, we sometimes miss out on the fact that it is humanely not possible to please everyone all the time. It just isn't.
Try doing that, and you'll find that you're becoming someone you don't recognize; that you're losing out on what makes you - you. It could be anything really, these expectations that people have from you, and since it is not possible to please everyone, why not just do what you want to do, and keep your mind at peace?
That uncomfortable feeling that makes way when you do not do what others want you to, and instead do what you want to? That will pass with due time.
... that 'time' will not be yours forever.
When you're in your teens, your 20s and 30s seem so far away. Family, responsibilities, job, investments, finances... none of these seem fathomable. Then before you know it - Tada! There they are.
I'm not saying you will not enjoy this phase of your life, but you will think back to a time in your teens when there were no responsibilities, and you were relatively free. So seriously, make the most of the time that you have. Create all the memories that you possibly can.
Go crazy with your friends, go on trips, read a book in one sitting, spend a day just lying down in a meadow (Why? Well, because you can!), lay the foundation for a hobby.
I'm not saying it's impossible to do all these things when you're in your 30s or 40s, but your priorities might change, and then all these things will seem a luxury, something that can be easily postponed. So do what you can do best in that age, and pave the way for new memories in a different age.
... that a heartbreak will hurt just as much no matter what age you are.
Remember that first heartbreak and the mess that you were after that? And how you promised yourself you would never get involved to the extent of going through so much hurt again? And then it happened again?
And you were left questioning why it hurt so much when you had told yourself over and over that it would not? It hurt because it mattered, and it will hurt every time it means something. Unfortunately, age has nothing to do with this one.
No matter how many defenses you build and the amount of cushioning you hope to amass, if it means something, it will hurt. But there's a plus side to this one, one that we will explore in the next point.
... that it's possible to love with all your heart, with all the intensity in the world, and age has nothing to do with that one either.
You'd think that falling in that absolutely mad, can't-live-without-you, don't-want-or-need-anything-but-you kind of love cannot happen when you're older (especially if you've had crushing heartbreaks before), umm... that's not true. You can fall in love again, and if you allow yourself, you will.
Yes, you will be cautious, and yes, you might take a long time to trust someone again, and let yourself experience what love feels like, but the intensity of those feelings is never compromised. When it's love, you'll know. And thank the Lord that age has nothing to do with this one.
So no matter what age you're at (teenage years be damned!), you should never give up on love. Never the real kind.
... that not much of what is today will matter tomorrow.
What might seem like a catastrophe, or in contrast, the most important thing in the world today, won't really matter a couple of years hence. The same applies to failures, grudges, and even (some) people in our lives.
Years later, we realize that so many things, events, and individuals that we gave so much importance to at one point, do not hold any importance in the greater scheme of things.
The failures and fights that brought us down will seem trivial in the face of the reality of today (though at that point, they seemed like they would lead to the end of the world), and the people that we once could not imagine living a day without, are now rarely ever in touch (if at all).
We learn over time what should and should not be given importance - that there really is no point holding onto so much anger, hurt, grudges, events, fixed ideas, people, and emotions.
... that it's not about 'fitting in' at all.
At an age when peer pressure is high, the need to fit in and belong reigns supreme. Understandable. Very few teenagers are sure about what they want to do in their lives, very few have the will to go against the tide, very few have the strength to take themselves away from what they do not like or agree to in a group and tread their lone path.
In such cases, it simply seems easier to follow and curb your individualistic style. But years later, that need to belong seems trivial. You realize (albeit late, for some), that at the end of the day, you're an individual, and peer pressure or following norms will get you nowhere.
... that empathy is a trait ideally learned fast.
Maturity and age do not necessarily have a co-dependent existence. One would hope that as a person gets older, he becomes wiser - but that rarely happens. One of the worst things that a person can do is pass judgments on others, and fail to be empathetic towards them.
Unfortunately, given the young age, teenage years could be rife with examples of exactly that. As one grows older though, and amasses varied experiences - some in which they are the victim, these traits (hopefully) start to develop.
Which should then, ideally, get one to think back to a time when they judged a person wrongly, and wish that things could be changed.
... that at the base of things, it's all about the people and the relations.
Ever happened that you're particularly down and nothing seems to help, and then someone calls and you're OK again? That's how relations work. There might be all those films on your laptop and all the free time in the world at your disposal, but if there are no friends, family, and people to share it with, it doesn't really matter.
No matter how self-sufficient we get, we can't do it all alone, we need people to depend on. And those who really matter will always be around. No questions asked. The point then is to keep people close, and never take relationships for granted.
... that you can't undo the mistakes, that you can't change the past.
Things happen. Things that should not have. Things that probably you had no control over, or did have control over, and could do nothing about. Or, things that you were solely responsible for. Maybe you did them on purpose back then, but regret them now.
You wish you had never done them, but you did, and there's nothing that you can do about it now, except. The bottom line is that, you are aware of it and that you regret it. But then breaking yourself over it, thinking and re-thinking about it, or analyzing it will not change anything. It will not bring back the past to reconstruct it in the way you want.
So the real lesson to learn is to be aware of others, to respect their feelings, and to make conscious efforts not to hurt anyone deliberately. And if whatever you did was not deliberate, then you will just have to learn to forgive yourself, and make a promise that you'll never do it again.
... that sometimes you have to be selfish.
It's an unfair world out there, made up of weird kinds of people. People who have no qualms and no morals, and who will try to put you down at every occasion they get, or try to take credit for the work you've done, people who will take advantage of you if you let them, or those who will dump their work on you... the types are endless.
There's only one lesson you need to learn here - to stand up for yourself and say a firm NO. You have to put your needs before others' needs, and look into your interests, instead of blindly following what people tell you.
... that you should always trust your gut.
Have there been times when you've thought that you should do something, but ignored that feeling completely, then have gone ahead with something else, only to regret it later; belatedly wishing that you had listened to your gut? It's really freaky how your instincts never fail you. But a relief nonetheless, don't you think? It does not change with age, this one, so just learn to trust your gut whenever and wherever, and it will never fail you.
... that setting goals really helps.
There's so much to do all the time, and you don't really know how and where to begin? Make a list - it's that simple. Seriously. When there's a list in the picture, things happen. When you make a list, your goals get prioritized, they get a definite structure, and it becomes possible to start planning their execution.
And these lists need not only be the bucket-list kind of lists that are stretched over a long time period (although those are truly effective). They could be the most simple, mundane, day-to-day lists as well.
... that sometimes you need to just breathe.
So many things are not in our control. So many things we hold on to, so many things we want to change, so many rigid thoughts, so much anger, so much negativity.
Don't you wish you could go back and tell yourself to stop bottling up all those emotions, to stop over-thinking and over-analyzing things, to stop being so angry, to stop taking yourself so seriously, to stop being overtly sensitive, and to stop thinking that you're the center of the universe?
That it's OK to not know everything, that it's OK if someone does not like you back, that it's OK to just breathe, count your blessing and just go have a laugh with the people who matter the most.
The thing is, no matter if you're in your 20s or 30s, or late 40s, a reminder of what's really important is never wasted. In fact, it's really necessary. So these pointers do not come in to bring me down, or list out all the mistakes that I have made, or the wrong decisions that I have taken... no.
It is to help me draw in a catharsis - to make things right wherever possible, to take up things that I left mid-way, and to take stock of what is really important in the greater scheme of things. That's why, the way I look at it - I'm only older, not dead. So what would you tell the teenage you?