Lisa Lo Paro
April 26, 2015 8:00 am

We often look back at our teenage years and think, “There’s so much I wish I could’ve told my adolescent self.” Most of us rightly feel that we’ve learned a lot, and so we like to imagine how we could have spared ourselves so much anxiety and worry had we been able to say things like: You will be kissed by someone you like. College is awesome. All of this will not matter some day. But we never stop to wonder what our teenage selves could teach us. What advice would 15-year-old Lisa give me if she knew where I ended up as an adult? Would she be proud? Disappointed? Shocked?

I got the opportunity to consider this when a spring-cleaning escapade found me stumbling upon my high school diaries. Yep — all three books documenting an angsty, overwrought existence, preserved for posterity in expensive Barnes & Noble journals. I sat down almost immediately and read them in their entirety. And you know what? I realized that I related to my teenage self more than I thought I would! Hidden among the daily complaints about school and friends and parents (which included phrases like “Do not speak the word Chemistry” and “I need to escape this lunch table”) were nuggets of wisdom and courage that I could still benefit from today.

For example, I stumbled upon a section of five resolutions written in messy handwriting. These things remain a challenge not just for myself, but for most adults, and it made me wonder if little Lisa was much wiser and more mature than I ever gave her credit for. In fact, I think I should share her wisdom with all of you. Below please find some of her advice based on real quotes from my 2007 diary, a year during which, incidentally a lot of things “rocked my socks.” [Author’s note: Please keep in mind this is incredibly embarrassing. All typos are deliberate and a result of my AIM brain.]

1. Love yourself unconditionally. Fifteen-year-old me said: “You are beautiful. You are you, no matter what. Don’t let anyone change that.” I wrote this about my friends, when I realized that I was trying so hard to be as cool as I thought they were, when I should have been focusing on what makes me unique. I think this is the single best piece of advice anyone can ever give you. In high school, some of us tend to alter our appearances or our behaviors to please other people, and end up feeling even more insecure as a result. Even after school is over, we still might find ourselves susceptible to other people’s opinions (“Oh yeah, I’m so into Paul Thomas Anderson movies too!”) and trends (“Hmm, $1,200 for this tiny Chloe purse seems reasonable”). No one — not friends or significant others or strangers — should make us feel like we’re somehow wanting, whether in character, in clothes, or in opinions. I was reminded that I can’t let anyone change who I am or what I want.

2. As long as you do your best, it doesn’t matter if you are the best. Good ol’ Lisa wrote: “Don’t try to improve your worth to anyone else thru grades or anything else. If they love you, they’ll still love you, no matter what.” I wrote this about chemistry (the dreaded chemistry!) because I was doing quite poorly. Like, I just could not balance equations to save my life. But I worked hard for my bad grades. And even now: Sometimes a C is the best I can hope for (metaphorically speaking). I tend to compare myself with other people and how well they’re doing in their career, but that kind of thinking is self-destructive and unhealthy. I have to keep in mind that I’m trying, and that’s what matters most.

3. Do what you truly love. Lisa’s 2007 commentary: “I try so hard, and it never seems to pay off. Well, enough complaining. I’ll try harder. I’m not giving up.” Again, I think this was about chemistry (a valuable reminder that high school is a comparatively small place, and one topic could really dominate one’s diary!). My dream at that point was to keep at least a 3.6 GPA. Modest, and not exactly the stuff of stardust and #bosslady ambition. But now, I feel like Old Lisa (or, technically, Young Lisa) was speaking directly to me, telling me to not give up on my dream of having a successful writing career. I don’t need chemistry anymore,  but I am a published writer. And one day I hope to be a great one.

4. Always be your truest self. Li’l L. boasted: “Look out, world. I’m here to be myself. I hope you like it, but I don’t care if you don’t. I’ll find someone who will.” I laughed when I read this one. So dramatic! This was written in the aftermath of meeting an idiot jerk who made me feel terrible, and the declarative emotion that overpowered me when I finally stopped caring what he thought. This is a tough one. We’re often being told to be ourselves, but then we don’t always know what that means, especially as we grow and change. Nonetheless, this is advice that I must keep coming back to when I find myself in relationships, friendships, or work situations where I’m not being treated right and it starts to affect how I behave or respond. Don’t waste time with anyone who doesn’t value you for who you are. There’s got to be someone or something else around the corner.

5. Face challenges head-on, with courage and strength. Lees wrote: “I mean, I know it’ll be hard hard hard, but it’s a challenge and I want to face it so badly. And I want to win soo badly.” I think this was about auditioning for the drama club, or perhaps making a speech for my campaign to be treasurer of the National Honor Society (I was very, very cool in high school, obviously). I pushed myself then, and I’m going to push myself now, as I begin a writing career and work to make my goals a reality. It’s easier to shy away from challenges, to hold steady in the moment, and to feel successful by simply not trying to tackle anything I might fail at. But that isn’t want Teenage Lisa would have wanted for me. I think I really needed to hear this coming from her, to give me that little push to take a few more risks. Because once I made it into drama club, I was proud of myself. We take the most pride when we triumph at things we had doubts about.

Getting back in touch with my teenage self was a strange experience, one that proved keeping diaries is often a blessing. I loved getting to know who I used to be, and I think she would have been proud of who I am today. She would probably also like all the boho tops and floral shoes I bought myself. However, she would be shocked that I stopped straightening the absolute life out of my hair.

[Image via here]

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