January 31st 2021
You are our future, so feel free to learn from my past~
As I prepare to turn 26 years old, I have been thinking about what advice I would give to my 16 year old self if I had the chance. Oddly enough, I follow quite a few of Gen Z’s rising stars on Instagram and I have found myself looking at the way they are living their lives and realizing 2 things. One is that they are way cooler than I was at 16 and two is that they are actually not that different than myself at 16. I know those 2 realizations seem contradictory, but let me explain.
I feel like the aesthetics of teenagers in Gen Z are way cooler than the aesthetics that were accessible to teens of Millennials. I see it joked about on Tik Tok a lot and, honestly, I get a kick out of the memes comparing things like school dances, parties, fashion, and lifestyle between my generation and the newest. But I think my current favorite Tik Tok generation comparison has to be the #2014aesthetic or the “imagine being a teenager in 2014” posts. Being at the peak of my teen years in 2014, I look at those posts and laugh to think that there are Gen Z teens wishing they grew up during my teen years. That is what made me realize that we are not so different.
Myself at 16 and the 16 year olds of today share a few key traits. One is the identification with an aesthetic. When I was 16, all I wanted was to be a “Tumblr” girl. I decorated my room to be more “Tumblr”, tried to get into artsy photography, and wrote about my feelings in flowery ways to my 2k Tumblr followers and I thought that living for my aesthetic would make me this cool, quirky, manic pixie dream girl. I see the same thing now with a lot of Gen Z’s placing a heavy emphasis on aesthetics. Everything from e-girls, to cottage core, dark academia, and indie/retro, and more have all become more than clothing and decor aesthetics, but instead, desired lifestyles.
The second trait I look at in 16 year olds today and see myself in in mild apathy. That whole “2kool4skool” attitude that I feel like every 13-16 year old develops where everything is “super cringe” and nothing matters and everything is mildly emo and superficial. It’s funny though, because when you look back, it turns out you were super cringe while you were calling everything around you cringe.
So here is my advice and words of “wisdom” to the younger generation:
- You are not too cool for anything. Please do not waste your young life thinking you’re too cool for things and people that you’re going to wish you appreciated more someday. Your parents aren’t lame, neither are your grandparents or your siblings. Spending time with your family, going to the mall with your mom, or spending the day with your grandparents instead of with friends isn’t nerdy. Also, being passionate about things even if they don’t fit your “aesthetic” is not a bad thing! Don’t repress your interests because you’re afraid other people will think you’re a poser.
- Don’t get rid of stuff just because you think you’re “too old for it” or it doesn’t fit your look now. Some of my biggest regrets in life were between middle and high school when I got rid of certain things from my childhood in an attempt to be cooler and more grown up. One example in particular are my Nancy Drew books. I used to have all of the Nancy Drew books growing up and got rid of them because I thought they were lame and I wasn’t going to read them. Now, at almost 26 years old, I collect any Nancy Drew book I can get my hands on from thrift stores. I used to recklessly throw out or donate great clothes to be more up with the trends, just to have those pieces come back years later or simply wish I still had them. Don’t throw away your old self for the sake of being trendy or “reinventing yourself”
- Don’t gatekeep or abandon things you love just because they got trendy. This one goes out to all of my wannabe hipster babies out there. I had this horrible habit in my teens where I would jump onto a hobby or something and get super into it then, when it became popular, I would either give it up because I hated being involved in trends, or I would unconsciously gatekeep it in my own head. I was never bold enough to outwardly gatekeep things, but, if people started getting into something I like for longer “before it was cool”, I would automatically think they were just a bandwagoner or a poser. My advice to you is love your passions, even if they are popular and no longer super niche. And teach people who are interested instead of trying to remain king or queen of your own mental castle!
- The friendships and relationships you have at 16 might not matter when you’re 26 and, those that do, will progress without effort. I spent so so much time worrying about people staying my friends or worrying about breaking up with someone I loved at the time. I think that, in life, losing people feels like the end of the world. But, the older I get, the more I realize that really friendships happen when we aren’t trying so hard to make them happen. I don’t text some of my best friends every day. I don’t live in the same state as most of my best friends! We are friends without extreme conditions or extra effort, just genuine love and appreciation for one another. So invest in those who are there for you unconditionally.
- You are probably cringe. There, I said it. You are probably going to look back at yourself in 10 years and realize you were cringey the whole time. You may not want to believe it, but I encourage you to look back at yourself from when you were between the ages of 9 and 12. You probably feel pretty embarrassed looking back at some of the stuff you did or said, right? Well, have fun doing that every few years for the foreseeable future. I think I was cringey up until I turned 20 or 21. So you may think you’re really cool now, but give it a few years and you’re going to look back at some of the stuff you said or did and want to just lay on the floor for hours.
- Keep yourself educated on the world around you. This is advice I don’t even think I need to give to the next generation because you all are amazing when it comes to being educated activists, but, for those of you who don’t see the value in educating yourself, do it. Even before you can vote, take time to develop your opinions. Don’t wait like I did and fumble around during the first election year you can vote to finally understand politics. Develop your opinions now, see what politicians you support, what causes you care about the most, and how you can use your voice even prior to your vote. You can still contact senators and sign petitions before you’re 18, so do it!
- Lastly, ask yourself 2 questions. Do you think you are being yourself? Do you know you are being yourself? I know this sounds repetitive but it is possible to get 2 different answers to these questions. There were times in my life where I thought I was being myself, but, if I had dug a little deeper, I would have realized I was repressing parts of myself and were amplifying other parts in order to be a people pleaser or to look cool. Authenticity should always outweigh your desire to please others. And, if you think you are being authentic, sit down and really make sure.
What advice would you give your younger self if you had the chance?