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I thought I knew what I was doing when I was 18.

But, until Jenny at Stuff I Love shared the advice she would give herself at 18, I had not thought about the painful– and somewhat endearing– naïveté that plagued me then, or what I would say to myself if I could.

We can all get angry at our mean, hormonal, insecure, small-minded and selfish teenage selves, but I think the transition into adulthood is hard for everyone. Perhaps I should cut myself a little slack.

And yet, I also wish I could more often see age 18 done right. I wish today’s 18-year-olds could be encouraged in ways more specific to their needs. High school graduations are filled with platitudes such as “Dream Big!” and “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” but don’t most of us know that life is so much more than that?

Instead of further evaluating my 18-year-old self, I spent some time thinking back to that season of my life. I had graduated high school and was preparing to spend a year working in addiction recovery (more on that here). I was also college-bound, obsessed with volunteering, afraid to look stupid, committed to Jesus, and foolishly in love with the boy who would become my husband. Needless to say, it was a dynamic if not dramatic period.

What are some truths I could have held onto? In other words, what are some lessons I’ve learned as an adult?

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Advice For My 18-Year-Old Self

1) You are a human becoming.

Whoever first replaced “human being” with “human becoming” had serious wisdom. We are constantly moving, shifting, and progressing– the direction in which we can only choose. In all my identity crises I wish I truly realized this, that we don’t just simply exist, we become.

2) Most of the time, no one is watching.

Growing up, for whatever reason, I often found myself in the spotlight. By the age of 10, I took my role as a leader very seriously– to the point of worrying about my every move. I wish I realized that despite the accolades and affirmation, fewer people were watching me than I realized. I had more space to make mistakes than I allowed myself.

3) People will forgive you.

And when I did make mistakes, I needed to ask for forgiveness. I need to realize that offending others was inevitable, and that many of those offended would be willing to mend our relationship.

4) Few things are permanent; even fewer are eternal.

Knowing this would have changed a number of decisions I made and especially how I used my resources. Deciding what to wear, or which friends to invite, was neither.

5) Take exercise seriously.

Last winter, I wrote about reasons to exercise that weren’t related to body image. This is how long it’s taken me to consider exercising on a regular basis– not for looks, but for health and sanity.

6) Real love supersedes our need to be justified.

One of my biggest relational struggles was the feeling of imbalance. Who missed whom more? Who needed whom more? Who offended more? Who gave more? Seeking answers to these questions poisoned some of my friendships, but many of them were salvaged by #3.

7) Keep looking beyond the surface.

The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. The better I get to know people, the more I realize I’m in no place to pass judgment. At 18, I thought I already did a good job of assessing people and situations. Now I recognize that over longer periods of time, all of these things develop and are exposed.


Overall, I am happy with who I was at 18. I haven’t met a young person who wasn’t a little cocky, a little insecure, a little ignorant and a little wise too.

What would you tell your 18-year-old self? I’d love to know!