Sharing my faith and my life one day at a time.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Conversation with my 18-Year-Old Self

I turned 38 exactly a month ago. I was asked several times leading up to it if I am comfortable revealing my age to the world.

Taken on my 38th birthday with the love of my life.

I can honestly say that I am able declare my true age because it tells a beautiful, complicated history. A life that has been THROUGH A LOT. It tells stories of celebrated successes, painful messes, and all of my failed attempts at personal greatness.

However, there is one thing that I have that shows I am 38 and am living to tell it: a long list of hard-earned lessons that have shaped me to be the person that I am today. Along with these life lessons came wisdom.

I still have so much to learn and be mature about but I am hoping that today, I can share some important life lessons with you.

Let's look back to February 25, 1994. Green Day just released their legendary album "Dookie," Bill Clinton did his first State of the Union, the Dallas Cowboys are basking in their Super Bowl victory, Bosnia was in the process of finally finding resolution, and headlines alternated among these scandals: Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding, the Menendez Brothers, and Lorena Bobbitt.

I was 18, on my 8th month as a college freshman. A boy came over to see me on my birthday but it was real awkward because I wasn't sure what he wanted.  I was not even sure what I wanted. 

I had a terrible first semester: underwhelming grades, and forcing myself to stay up all night, study, and hopefully have a stellar second semester. But here's the problem. I had a fantastic group of friends. It seemed like all I wanted was to be done with school so I can spend more time with them.

In fact, I may have missed some classes because I lived in downtown Manila and everything that was happening in the city was much more exciting than being locked up in a classroom. I loved grunge, tried to look legit with the way I dressed, but my (very uncool) private agony was wondering why Shannen Doherty was fired from Beverly Hills 90210. That show is nothing without Brenda Walsh. I also thought it was really weird that Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley were dating.

I was looking at two people my age: a golf phenomenon named Tiger Woods and Rashida Jones (who I share the same exact birthday with). Wondering why they were so self-assured, determined on changing the world at 18, and I still had a long way to go.

That was 20 years ago. The truth is, I don't want to go back and change the course of events that led me to who I am today.

Yes, I made many mistakes and regrets came with it. But how I survived many choices may be a lesson to some of you today.

As you read further, you will see that I am having real talk with my 18-year-old self. 

1) You're 18. You want to be sure of yourself and let everyone know that you have a pretty good sense of where to want to go. The truth is, this college thing is so much harder than you thought it would be. Academic excellence always came naturally to you in high school. Now you feel unworthy to even be among these ultra-smart people. You're terrified. You just getting through the day. You really want to be around your friends all the time. The good news is: it is OKAY to not have it all figured out yet. Embrace the uncertainty and not be ashamed of it. When you allow yourself to be vulnerable with a couple of friends that you trust, you will experience a beautiful sense of freedom.

2) Let's talk about your anxiety over boys. You're frustrated because this pattern seems to happen over and over again: the boys you like never seem to know you exist, and the boys who like you are nothing more than male buddies to you. And you are questioning what is so unattractive about you. Everyone else around you seems to have more exciting things going on when it comes to matters of the heart. All I can say is: enjoy this season. In a couple of years, you will be in your first serious relationship. It will be life-changing, but it will also be very difficult. Friendships are the best way to go now.

3) Now that I mentioned that first serious relationship, I promise you that it is going to be lovely -- at first. It will only be a matter of weeks when you start seeing how you bring out the worst in each other. Making up is so sweet that you forget how bad it was. Then it becomes a pattern. I know this will be painful to hear, but it's for your own good: have the courage to cut it off. You think that when you make up, you have the power to make this relationship better. The truth is, you are better people apart. Don't let it endure for 4 years. It's too long to be invested in something that was not good for you to begin with. Love yourself more, move on, get to know as many people as you can, and learn.

4) It's great that you are opening yourself up to new genres in music. However, you desperately want to immerse yourself in these indie rock bands because you want the appearance of a young woman with sophisticated taste in music. The more obscure, the better. When no one is looking, Ace of Base's "The Sign" is on repeat. You dance non-stop to it. You also know "Regulate" by heart. "Reality Bites" just came out a week earlier and it wrecked your world. You told everyone that Ethan Hawke was your guy when deep down you thought this dorky guy Ben Stiller was cuter. My point: stop putting so much value on looking cool. Pretentiousness can be sniffed by many a mile away.

5) Let's talk about that unibrow and the fact that you don't care about makeup at all. While I love that you give "inner beauty" much more importance, you will see that a little upkeep here and there will give you a boost of confidence. A little trimming, mascara, blush, and lip gloss can enhance what you already got. On the bright side: at least you are wearing sunblock everyday. Since I am on the subject of the physical, explore the unfamiliar world of exercise and healthy eating. Your body is probably not telling you anything right now but you will -- I promise this -- feel the amazing benefits of it 20 years later. Care for your body. Enough of that beer and greasy food. It's going to be worth your while.

6) The next years will be interesting for you. You will start meeting students fresh out of high school and will go through what you have been through. Don't think you're too cool to get to know them. And don't even consider for a second that you are better than them. Friendships that will last for years will be the result of a little humility and compassion on your part. Trust me, these friends are going to be an irreplaceable part of your life.

7) Now there are those people who have gone before you. It does not matter if they lived life a days older or a bazillion years more -- you can learn something from them.  I know you like this new adult status a whole lot. You want to be able to talk to your parents, professors, older family members, and bosses as if they are your peers. There is a much better route: speak to them with reverence and honor. Have the humility to acknowledge the great things they are doing in your life. What it will do to your work ethic, attitude, and long-term relational manners will set you up for long-term success. It will speak volumes on the kind of person that you are. You will earn respect not because you assumed you are of the same stature as these wonderful people. You will receive respect if you wholeheartedly give it.

8) Remember that one friend in your freshman year who talked to you about Jesus and how it changed her life? You loved her friendship. But you thought she was kind of weird. Sometimes a real party pooper. The source of all guilt-ridden statements even though she was not trying to make you feel bad. Girlfriend, don't be so quick to dismiss what she stands for. Deep down you wonder why she is not afraid to make unpopular choices. You kind of admire that about her. Go ask her why. Give her a chance. Her answer might just make sense.

If you talked to your 18-year-old self today, what would you say?


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