Dear 18-Year-Old Molly,
Hey you! 18 years old! What a milestone! You are officially an adult, someone to be taken seriously. Are you ready for this responsibility? Probably not. You know little more about the world than you knew yesterday or even last year. None of that even matters, so don’t worry about it. You have your whole life ahead of you to worry! Don’t waste your precious youth on it.
A lot is going to happen in the next 22 years. Here are some things that you’ll learn along the way:
Don’t ever deny or down-play your small town Iowa upbringing. People will find you more interesting when you tell them that you graduated in a class of 34 people — most of whom were in your Kiddie Kollege class at age 4. Seek a community like the one you grew up with in Lenox and give your time and talents to it, no matter what size college/organization/city it is. The mechanics may be different, but in the end, the values are the same. Community matters.
You are learning right now to be careful what you wish for. As an 8th-grader in the girls locker room, all you wanted was something to fill your training bra so you could be like so many of your friends. Your wish was granted — and then some — by the time your Freshman year started. People look from your chest to your eyes and back again. These things can (and will) be remedied.
Speaking of wanting to be like so many of your friends: stop. It won’t serve you. Find your style. Find your rhythm. Find yourself. This is easier said than done.
The more you get to know people, the more you will realize you had a storybook childhood. You weren’t rich or spoiled by any means, but you also weren’t beaten or otherwise abused. You had food to eat, clean clothes to wear, school to attend, and loving family and friends. Assuming everyone’s life is like yours (or better), you will be shocked to find out how charmed yours really is. Don’t take it for granted.
Talk to people. Regardless of what you’re talking about, you’ll learn to gauge people. This is the important thing. You’ll find good people and bad, of course. Glom onto the good ones and learn from the bad. Curate a collection of people — friends, colleagues, hitmen — that you can count on. More importantly, be that someone to at least one other person.
Hold onto the relationships that matter. Some people will be in your life only for a short time, and that’s fine. It doesn’t mean they are less valuable. But there are other relationships that will endure and are worth fighting for, even when it seems easier to let go. Trust yourself to know which are which.
Related: allow yourself to fall totally in love as many times as it takes to find true love. The falling is the fun part and it’s worth doing more than once. Staying in love takes more work, though it doesn’t necessarily feel like work if you’re doing it right. Mending your own broken heart will teach you more about yourself than you can learn in any other way. It will also teach you empathy.
Be grateful for the strong, healthy body you have. Don’t start turning sideways in the mirror every time you get in/out of the shower, get dressed, go to the bathroom, or otherwise. Obsessing about what is (big boobs) or isn’t (flat stomach) there isn’t going to make either thing disappear. Apply the 80/20 rule by focusing on what’s good and committing to work on what you’d like to improve. Do not strive for perfection, as you’ll only be disappointed.
The best money you will ever spend will be to fix your smile. Even better than what you spend on your boobs. Adult orthodontia will come with a lot of negative side effects at the time, but in the end, it will absolutely be worth it. The lesson: don’t let short-term pitfalls get in the way of long-term goals.
If someone offers to teach you something, say yes. What you learn cannot be taken away from you. Take advantage of tuition reimbursement, training opportunities, internships, mentorships, seminars, webinars… All of it is valuable and you take it with you wherever you go. Teach yourself to apply everything you’ve learned along the way in the new scenarios you are faced with.
This one seems obvious, but I implore you to take it very literally: if you get knocked down (or hit by a truck while riding your bike), get back up. Keep getting back up until you can walk again. Then keep walking until you can run again. You are stronger than you think you are.
Be specific about what you want. This applies to every aspect of your life: family, career, partner, social. Don’t flounder about, waiting for what comes to you. Visualize what you want and figure out how to get it. You get one life, so be an active participant in it.
That’s about all I can tell you without giving too much away. It’s going to be a fun time! And the not-so-fun times? They’ll make for good stories.
Best of luck!
Your 40-year-old Self
P.S. Forty is just another F-word. It’s not so bad!