When I was visiting my parents this weekend in South Carolina, I came across a video that made me pause. In my dad’s neat script up the side of the tape, it says Mr. Spring Valley 1991, Rosie Emcee. I lifted the video off the shelf and put it in my bag, a touch of bittersweetness welling up inside of me. Days later, I still can’t bring myself to watch the video. I vaguely remember that night. The acts were hysterical and emceeing was fun, but I was sick, nursing the tonsilitis, bronchitis, sinus infection combination that I got and kept for months every winter from when I was 15 until I was in my mid-twenties and learned not just the importance of taking care of myself but how (I booked bands for my college and always booked the same band to play a winter concert. My senior year, I booked that band for an April show. When the members arrived and heard my normal voice, not one plagued by winter illness and exhaustion, they were so disappointed to learn that the rasp they had become familiar with over the last three years wasn’t my actual voice). I think I am scared to watch the video because I am scared of that girl’s tenderness, her vulnerability, her wide open trust, the hint of sadness that was always there, lurking just under the surface. So, I’ve taken some time the last few days to think about what I would say to that girl today. What if she were one of the hundreds of girls I’ve since mentored, coached or taught? What if she landed in my classroom or on my practice field? What would I want her to know? What do I wish the girls and women I teach and mentor walked away from me understanding? Here’s the start of that list (complete with a humbling confession or two). What do you have to add?
1. You’ll never regret having a big heart. It’s having a small heart that will disappoint you. Go big.
2. Say thank you when given flowers, even if they are handed to you in public. Why be embarrassed that someone likes you enough to take a risk in showing you? Sincerely enjoy the affection and the moment, and be gracious. Being earnest, kind, and thankful never go out of style.
3. If he or she is not that into you, he or she is not worth being that into. Promise.
4. Be the girl. The one who helps a friend who is in trouble, who stays sober and drives everyone home safely, who can equally befriend anyone, who sees the best in people, who is magnanimous.
5. But don’t be That Girl. The one who is mean, gossips, has to be rescued from one too many boys, beers, or other excesses that, while you might think otherwise, won’t ever make you feel better or fill you up.
6. If you can’t talk about doing it safely or what it means for your relationship, then you have no business doing it. That is true for more than just sex. Nothing in your life should just happen to you. Being deliberate is underrated. Value doing things on purpose.
7. Apologizing shows strength not weakness, grace not guilt.
8. There is no prize in the end for she who worked the hardest. There is, however, a prize throughout life for she who loves truly, lives authentically, and engages life: enjoyment.
9. You spend way too much time in your teen years trying to blend in and the rest of your life trying to show your uniqueness. Don’t worry about blending in. Go ahead and be who you are now.
10. Don’t skip the emotions. You will be inclined to do whatever you can to not feel the bad stuff, and you will think that you are protecting yourself. But through feeling and understanding the hard times, you are having a hand at creating yourself, making yourself over with each new reality, journey, and difficulty. Feel the feelings. They won’t break you.
11. A secret: you care far more than anyone else how skinny your jeans are, how arched your eyebrows are, how white your smile is. So go ahead and let yourself off the hook of ”keeping up.” I promise everyone else is too busy looking at their own jeans to spend much time judging yours.
12. The bangs? For you, given the curls and that stubborn cowlick, not the best idea. And an even worse idea? When the girl down the hall from you in college suggests she can cut them for you. Right before you are going out. There are things worth spending money for and trends not worth following if they don’t suit you individually.
13. Love people. As I learned from one of my high school mentors, we, too often love things and not people when we should love people, not things.
14. Find your passion. Follow that. It will always lead you right.
15. Know there’s enough. Enough talent, time, joy, luck, succcess, possibility, out there for everyone. Don’t worry. Don’t compete.
16. You will regret the things you didn’t do, far more than the things you did (but, still, don’t do the really questionable stuff that could have long term implications). Make memories.
17. Moisturize. Wear sunscreen, and don’t hide behind the oversized t-shirt at pool parties or the beach. You are perfect already. Quit punishing yourself.
18. That text message? It will still be there once you pull over. But if you respond to it while driving, you may not live past the drive. Be patient. Nothing is so urgent that your life is worth risking.
19. And related: too many moments that are actually happening in front of you will pass you by if you become too addicted to the electronic device in your hand. Back away from the electronic device enough so that you engage in the world.
20. Take the pie in the face. Wear the costume. Make fun of yourself. Taking yourself too seriously is overrated.
Now, it is your turn to participate in Teen Week. What would you say to your teenage self?