Have you ever thought about where you are now? And how you ended up there? What decisions you made that got you to where you are? I think about it often: how one incident or decision leads to another and that to another. How everything starts from small, seemingly minor thoughts and decisions but ultimately leads to something greater. How one answer can alter a whole life.
You probably have heard hundreds of stories on the news of how someone died from a drug overdose. But did that addiction suddenly develop? No. It all started from one decision, one thought. The thought that it’s just one, what’s the harm? The curiosity to try something new and unfamiliar. The decision to say yes and the choice to continue saying yes. It began from something small.
When I drive to work in the morning I see young high school students walking their usual way to first period. I find the fashion different, the slang new and the humor diverse, but what I find the same from when I was in school is how teens are all still trying to fit into a certain label. That has not changed.
Ages 13-16 are a critical period in life. In that time period, the brain and body are going through physical and emotional development and are filled with confusion and curiosity. Teens are just starting to learn about themselves when suddenly they’re thrown into a new and unfamiliar environment with peers who are also going through development themselves. They get exposed to new people, surroundings and activities. And it’s scary.
It’s a time when the cognitive, emotional, and physical are all coming together. – Jonathan F. Zaff, director of the Center for Promise at Tufts University
I wish I can show young teens a glimpse of their future then they would see that the decisions they make now impact their future. I wish when I see a 13-year-old engaging in drugs, I could say: stop and think about how this will impact your future. Say no now and it will be better. Or, if I see a once school-focused teen start ditching classes and failing, I could say: stop and live up to your full potential because you’re capable of much more. This time period is essential in terms of growth and if I had the opportunity to inform or teach each one of them, I would.
I would tell them:
- Your friends matter. Who you surround yourself with is essential for your own growth. Toxic people are dangerous, especially at a young age when it is easy to give into peer pressure. If a friend is bringing you down, they aren’t necessary in your life. That is a lesson I learned quickly – you CHOOSE your friends. You have the option to not have them in your life. So, surround yourself with people who are going to better you and you’ll see how the quality of life drastically improves. It’s okay to not be friends with everyone.
- It doesn’t matter what people think. I really wish I learned this at a much younger age; it would have saved me a lot of headache and pain. It is okay to sit alone at lunch if you feel you will be happy reading a book alone rather than socializing with people who make you feel uncomfortable. Most people DO NOT care that you’re alone. And, by the off chance someone does say something for sitting alone, does that matter? Aren’t you happy? Confidence is key. And it’s okay if you don’t wear brand-name shoes and don’t follow the latest fashion trends. Just be yourself and be confident. Because no matter how long middle school or high school feels like – it will end. And a time will come when the judgment passes.
- Parties are not for everyone. If you enjoy staying at home, in your pajamas, curled up in bed, watching your favorite TV show, that’s fine! Do what makes you feel good – not what you think your Instagram feed should portray. They are just pictures clicked with a good camera and a pose – happiness is from within. If people find or call you boring – so what? At least you’ll be happy. Just ignore and move on to the next episode!
- It’s okay to say no. When someone offers you an alcoholic beverage and everyone around you is drinking and you don’t want to, it is fine to say no. If they are not interested in you because you don’t drink, then care for yourself enough to understand that they really aren’t fitting for you. Do you really want to be surrounded by people who make you question your own morals and values? Only engage in activities you truly and deeply want to engage in. You are smart. You are capable. You have potential. So keep going and get through this tough phase.
- Being smart is awesome. What bewilders and upsets me the most is when people have so much potential but due to poor decision-making, they don’t live up to it. I remember the transition of my peers from ninth grade to twelfth grade. Some grew into themselves – more self-aware, ambitious and confident. But others toppled. I witnessed the motivated and pure ones gradually lose their spark and path. They struggled with studies and engaged in self-destructing activities. And it all started with a few bad decisions.
- Embarrassment goes away. Continuously reminding yourself about how you goofed up the presentation in front of your entire class is damaging to your own mind and body. Trust me, no one will remember it soon enough. You’re hurting yourself more with the stress and anxiety. So take it lightly and move on, because everyone else will!
- Stand up for yourself and others. As everyone is going through the development period, you will see and/or be a victim of bullying. When this happens, stand up for yourself and others. Don’t stay quiet. Be your voice and theirs because you don’t know what others are going through. You never know how much a helpful companion or a kind gesture can alter and change someone’s life for the better. This is something I really wish I could have told my younger self.
- Be nice to your parents. Just because you’re going through an odd phase, doesn’t mean they should deal with it. They love you and they’re doing everything in their own power to protect you. They have enough on their plate. Be kind. I look back on some incidents and think: I really should have been nicer. Words hurt. You don’t want to regret such things later in life. Sorry, mom and dad.
- Don’t be in a rush. Enjoy your youth. Right now is the time you’ll say I wish I was in my twenties, settled, with a nice house and car. But when you’re in your twenties, all you want is to be young and carefree!
- It gets better. Just wait it out or enjoy the journey but don’t give up. LIFE GETS BETTER and you will start trusting yourself. You will find your stride. You will meet people who are similar to you. You will get through tough times. You will get stronger. Trust me.
When I think about all this, it makes me mindful of how far I have come and how much I would be different if I had taken decisions differently.
If I had said yes to the time I was offered a cigarette, what I have developed this habit?
If I tried a little harder in high school, would I have struggled less at UC Davis and actually enjoyed college?
If I was a little easier on myself, would I have accepted scary but potentially great opportunities?
If I ditched all my years of high school as much as I did senior year, would I still have the same position?
If I didn’t take the class at UC Davis about marketing, would I have known this subject is my forte?
If I had kept a few toxic people in my life, would my personality have changed?
If I hadn’t said “yes” would I have missed learning a huge life lesson?
What feels like seemingly trivial decisions can be what leads to something even bigger – for better or for worse. All things start from something small and sometimes it’s that one decision that can be what causes a difference in your life.
So be kind to yourself, trust your instincts and be the best, possible you because as Lauren Oliver states, “most things, even the greatest movements on earth, have their beginnings in something small.”
Most things, even the greatest movements on earth, have their beginnings in something small. An earthquake that shatters a city might begin with a tremor, a tremble, a breath. Music begins with a vibration…And God created the whole universe from an atom no bigger than a thought.
– Lauren Oliver, Delirium
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