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Advice to my 16-Year-Old Self

November 14, 2019

Me at age 16 (It’s the best I could do)

Last month I had the great pleasure of seeing my musical hero, Mary Chapin Carpenter, in concert. I’ve seen her so many times I’ve lost count, and each performance brings something different to me. This concert she performed alongside Shawn Colvin. The two of them have been best friends for decades and decided to give a performance that was not just musical, but full of stories; especially stories that related to the songs they sung.

Carpenter sang “This Shirt,” which is a song from her second album and has become a fan favorite (it’s also my mom’s favorite). In this tune, which she said is all a true story, she sings about a shirt she’d since high school and all the memories associated with that piece of clothing. It’s a very personal, yet simple and beautiful song. She and Colvin then reminisced about being 16-year-old high school students, and the advice they would give their younger selves.

Perhaps it’s my reflective mood and the fact that I just turned 44, but that song and conversation got me thinking about who I was at that age. It feels like a lifetime ago that I was 16. In many ways, it was; as that was 28 years ago.

I turned 16 on November 6, 1991, which was during my junior year of high school. The high school years were not the favorite years of my life, but what I remember most about my junior year is being a reporter on the student newspaper (writing was ever-present, even then) and loving my American Literature class. I got my driver’s license the day I turned 16 and my first job at Dairy Queen that December. I wore baggy sweatshirts. (Ironically, so does Sophie today. Baggy is back, apparently.) And I loved U2, R.E.M., Pearl Jam, the “Singles” soundtrack, was intrigued by Nirvana, and a quick Google of the Billboard hits of 1991 reinforced the fact that I wasn’t a fan of Top 40, even at that age.

After listening to Carpenter, I came up with the following 16 pieces of advice I would tell my younger self:

1. Don’t use credit cards. Learn how to budget and save your money.

2. Keep writing, even if it’s bad poetry.

3. Today is just one chapter of what will be a huge novel.

4. Don’t be so afraid of what you don’t know.

5. Life is really hard and it takes a long time to feel like you’re home

6. Leave home and go away to college.

7. Know that a bad grade isn’t going to to make or break you.

8. Stop worrying about whether those guys like you. They won’t mean anything in the long run, and they’ll provide great stories for the future.

9. Don’t worry if you feel like you don’t fit in your clothes. Worry if you feel like you don’t fit in your own body.

10. Don’t hurry to grow up. Being an adult is hard and you’ll never get that time back.

11. Spend more time in the record stores because they’ll be gone one day.

12. Take music lessons. Learn to the play the piano and the guitar.

13. Don’t take AP biology. It seems cool, but the teacher is as much of a jerk as everyone said he was.

14. Don’t quit volleyball tryouts. Go back on the second day and try again. Even if you don’t make the team, you will have tried.

15. It’s okay to lose control every once in a while. You’re going to lie and do stupid things. Doing those things don’t make you a bad person. It makes you human.

16. Life gets so much better. Just hang on a little longer. You’ll find your way eventually.

What advice would you give to your 16-year-old self? Would you have headed your own advice?

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