What I wish I knew when I was 15

Do you ever wish that you could go back in time to give advice to your younger self? Was there ever a moment you could have used some wisdom from the future, whether it was after you had your first break up or on your first day of college? We want to hear about it: Pitch us lists of advice you have for our new section, What I Wish I Knew When, with the subject line WIWIKW at [email protected] Can’t wait to hear from you!

Time warp time. Let’s flash back to the high school years, when I was just turning 15. It is such a weird age. You’re on the precipice of becoming an adult, but you’re still in many practical ways, a child.

My 15th year was definitely not what I expected it to be. This was partly because I was an avid watcher of teen soaps on the WB and it seemed like 15 was supposed to be a magical age, the year when your life begins and flourishes. For me, it was a little different. In my sophomore year, I was struggling in school, was super insecure, and was smack-dab in the middle of teen angst. I’ve often thought about this time in my life, what I would do if I could go back and do it over. Here’s what I learned and what I wish I knew when I was 15.

Grades aren’t everything

This may seem obvious, but it’s absolutely not. From an early age, we’re made to feel that grades are a reflection of our value, our intelligence. I know I believed in high school that getting a bad grade was the end of the world. It’s not. As hard as it is to believe, the world goes on. A few years later, you will strain to even remember what grades you got, let alone feel bad about them. This isn’t to say that school isn’t important—it is, and so is working hard. But the difference between an A- and a B+?  You’re not going to care about it. Don’t stress.

Relationships are not a contest

When I was 15, I thought that there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t at the same level as someone else. I hadn’t had the experiences that I thought I was supposed to have had. But here’s the thing: relationships are not a competitive sport. People go at their own pace. Don’t worry about what other people are doing right now. It’ll happen for you, too.

Feeling like you don’t belong is totally OK

I was never in the popular crowd in high school. I always felt a little off-kilter compared to the other kids. Topics my “friends” would discuss: boys, grades, and…yeah that was pretty much it. I was a huge reader, and nine times out of ten, I would rather read a book than go to some party. So I always felt a disconnect, an overwhelming feeling of not belonging. Seven years later, I am surrounded by people who not only understand me, but feel the same way. Homebodies unite!

It doesn’t make you weak to forgive other people 

I think when we’re in high school, it can be easy to put people in boxes. See: The Breakfast Club. Someone who bullied me regularly as a pre-teen became one of my best friends in high school. I had an awful time in middle school and this person had been a big part of that. When she apologized to me in high school, my first instinct was to tell her off, which I did. But, I found that holding on to that anger wasn’t constructive. When I finally did forgive her, she became one of my closest friends. Don’t be the person who holds on to grudges. It’s a waste of your time and energy and you never know what you could be missing out on.

If you don’t know where your life is heading, it’s OK 

I think, especially in high school, there’s a pressure to know where you’re going to be in five or ten years. I guarantee you that no matter how much you ponder this question, you will absolutely be wrong. Your life will not happen in the way you expect it to and you shouldn’t want it to. Don’t stress yourself with planning a future. Enjoy your present.

Appreciate your parents

Living with your parents can be hard. I know I’ve had my ups and downs with them, but my biggest regret looking back at my 15th year, is not being more appreciative of everything they did for me. I’ll admit it: I was a brat, and probably very difficult to live with at times. They loved me anyway and were always there for me. Give your parents a break. They’re imperfect people and they’re going to make mistakes. But, they’re the only parents you have.

It’s your life and your decisions. 

When you’re 15, it’s easy to feel like you have no control over your life. But, you do. You decide a lot. Most importantly, you decide how to handle stress. After I understood that, I made decisions based on my gut. I left my traditional high school for an independent study program. I got extra attention in math and worked at my own pace. The only person I was racing against was me. I graduated at the top of my class with one of my best friends. This decision was the first time that I felt like my life belonged to me. It made me realize that I had the ultimate control and thus, I was responsible for my own decisions.