Let me start by saying you are amazing and you will make it through this time. Whatever “this” is right now…maybe it’s school, or a break-up, or the loss of a friendship, or family conflicts, or some nagging self-doubt. Regardless of how you feel at this very moment, it will all be okay. And, if things are just awesome, I hope they continue to be so.
In my most recent Podcast, I talk about how the teenage years are often paradoxical and difficult, particularly the middle-school years. This is a hard-copy of that audio message. I know you frequently operate under the assumption that your parents and other authority figures have no idea what they are talking about or what you are currently going through, but they do (and so do I). It really has been this way since the beginning of time, ever since girls were girls, so all of us OLDER girls who have already experienced what you are currently going through have tremendous street cred. You just need to give us a chance to be on your side.
The weird times seem to start when your body goes all floopy, for lack of a better word, and develops way before your mind is able to keep up with it. Things get weird…and difficult…and really, really complicated. First of all, your hormones are raging, but there is not enough gray matter in your developing brains to make sense of it all. I know many of you can relate right now. And many more of you will be able to relate before you are an adult.
Looking back, I wish I had the smarts, the confidence, and the wherewithal when I was younger to just be myself and let all the other things (that I actually had control over) come in due time. But, I was in an incredible hurry for some reason. And I remember feeling the constant, nagging sensation that I had something to prove.
Fast-forward a few decades. Your parents, your teachers, and I are pretty well adjusted. We have survived the angst of our own childhoods and are now trying to gently and lovingly help you navigate through yours. We, despite our years, are still able to see the world through your eyes because once you look through the lens of adolescence with that raw perspective, you never forget it. But, it is really difficult to guide you because the world at-large is trying to pump you with all these lies. And you are still young and the critical thought centers of your brain have yet to develop, so you pretty much believe everything you see and hear (which is why middle and high school gossip and drama can be some of the worst). It makes our jobs, as the people who love and care about you, a lot tougher — that’s for sure.
All this being said, I have a few things I want to say to you today and I hope you are here with an open mind and an open heart. I hope you’ll ask questions if you need to. I also hope you will challenge my message if you feel it’s necessary, because I think critical thinking is vastly important and gravely underrated. I guess this could be considered my first unofficial piece of advice: Question Everything. Particularly everything you are reading on the Internet. Not in an “argumentative-spoiled-brat-I’m-tuning-you-out-because-you-are-an-adult” way. But in an “I-am-hungry-and-have-an-insatiable-thirst-for-knowledge-because-it’s-big-BRAINS-that-are-cool-and-valuable-and-sexy” kind of way. Being inquisitive is how you learn about the world, solidify your values, base your thoughts on matters of fact and not opinion, and become passionate about things that matter to you.
I share FIVE very specific suggestions with you in the blog and Podcast today. I share them from a place of love, compassion, and complete and total empathy. Let’s get to it:
#1) You are enough and you don’t need most of the things you think you need.
I want to start by telling you that most of the things you see on TV and in magazines and hear in music lyrics are hurting you. I was in such a hurry when I was your age and felt I had something to prove when I was younger because I was made to feel that way. It wasn’t any one specific event, but millions of different events that took place in my every day life. You don’t know it yet and it’s not your fault, but the messages are lies and they are making you feel like you are not enough. Not pretty enough. Not cool enough. Not perfect enough. The sick truth is that these messages are crafted by brilliant minds in multi-million dollar corporations with the INTENT of making you feel bad about yourself so you will spend your money on fixing things that aren’t even broken to begin with. At your age, you don’t really know WHY you need to buy that padded bra at Pink or Victoria’s Secret, or WHY you need your eyelashes to be 4 inches long and your eyes need to be shrouded in a glop of smoky make-up, or WHY your pants should be tight…really tight…the tighter the better, or WHY your 13 and 14 year old underwear should be missing its entire ass, or WHY you can’t just be a regular police officer on Halloween and not a SEXY police officer, or WHY you need these apps with quizzes or fashion or gossip or surveys, or WHY you have to drink Gartorade and Diet Coke even though it is straight up poison. You just know that everyone else seems to be doing it so it must be right and you probably won’t feel entirely complete until YOU do, too. That’s a lie. An expensive lie. A damaging lie. And it is ruining your self-esteem and your confidence and your ability to see yourself for who you really are.
Believe me when I say that these companies and these advertising agencies aren’t your friends. They don’t want you to have intrinstic and internal beauty or intelligence or to love yourselves as you are. Because that kind of thinking doesn’t help their bottom line. They want you to believe you are broken, or desperate, or imperfect so they can roll around in heaps and heaps of your and your parents’ money.
I can’t blame you for believing these lies. We women have been falling victim to them for as long as anyone can remember. But, we don’t HAVE to anymore – YOU don’t have to anymore. We have choices and I am hoping, praying, and imploring you to make better choices. You live in a time where you are pummeled with more and more lies and mistruths because you are so tied to your screens. But, you know what, you also live in a time where women have a hell of a lot more choices and a lot more power than we’ve ever had. Make good choices. Make empowered choices. Make unpopular and difficult choices. You’ll be better for it in the long run.
The real truth is that we all can be better than we are right now. But not better LOOKING…better ACTING. In terms of looks, we are ALL perfect in whatever skin we are in, whether it be blemished or bumpy or stretchy or blotchy or taut or muscly. We do, however, ALL have the ability to be smarter, brighter, kinder, more loving, more helpful, more honest, have more integrity, and be more meditative and contemplative in that skin than we were yesterday. You can’t buy that line of thinking in a bottle or at the mall, so that’s why corporations don’t sell it. But, truth be told, if we’re going to work on being better at anything, that’s where the focus should lie — internal betterment.
2) Be very careful about the things you let take up real estate in your brain.
When I watch the things you watch on TV and listen to the lyrics you are listening to on the radio and reading the material that is targeting girls your age, I get outraged. And then I get really, really sad. Because you end up focusing and spending so much time and energy on things that don’t really matter at all. In our culture of 24/7 news and connectedness and social media sound bytes – all of the targeted external messages that you hear over and over and over again – they want you to believe that you have to be physically beautiful, self-centered, ooze sexuality, and be at least slightly dumber than you need to be to be accepted. And, if you’re not, you’re nobody.
That is FALSE!!
It’s a total load of crap!
Garbage in, garbage out.
The WORLD doesn’t want you, an adolescent girl, to be sexy and stupid. The WORLD wants you to be yourself. The WORLD wants you (and NEEDS you) to be courageous and intelligent and altruistic and kind and strong and thoughtful. The WORLD wants you to be a leader who lifts people up and shows people the way. The WORLD wants you to come up with cures for the things that ail us and fight for the people who can’t fight for themselves. The WORLD wants you to be a trailblazer and a maverick that uses her brain, her heart, and her soul (not her body) to change the world. And, most of all, the WORLD wants you to have integrity. But your TV shows and your music lyrics and your magazines and the stores you shop in would have you believe otherwise. So it must be tremendously confusing for you and you must feel conflicted a lot. There is tremendous pressure and dissatisfaction that comes from trying to be someone you’re either not emotionally or physically ready to become or were just simply never meant to be. There is tremendous pressure, as a girl, to live up to those Photoshopped lies and an over-sexualized culture that treats you with abject disrespect.
You can start to do things differently. You don’t need to waste time figuring it out. You have the power, RIGHT NOW, just as you are, to SAY NO. With your voice, with your wallet (especially with your wallet), and with your time.
3) Focus on and enhance your gifts.
We all have at least one – and often many – gifts that we have to both use and give back to the world. But, oftentimes we squander those gifts and we don’t use them to their fullest potential because we have bought into the lie that it’s uncool to do so. And, sometimes we just get lazy. For example, I know a middle school girl who has a beautiful voice and has been classically trained. She is like a songbird…but she won’t join the chorus because, in her mind, the chorus is totally and completely UNcool. And, she would rather be “cool” than happy. But yet, many of her role models and the people she looks up to are female singers (Beyonce, Pink, Miranda Lambert) who she thinks are uber cool. Anyone else see the irony in that? This middle school girl is not alone — there are millions more like her.
It took ME decades to not only realize what my biggest gifts were, but to also pursue them. I spent the first 17 years of my career doing things that I was good at and mostly enjoyed, but those things never really lit me up inside like the way I feel when I am writing or speaking or educating or creating. Especially creating. In a number of ways and for a number of reasons, I settled for less than. Less than I was capable of. Less than what I believed in. Please take my advice and don’t settle.
We start out in this world all diverse and amazing and unique. We have our unique spirits and original ways of communicating. We have innate talents and beautiful, sparkling curiosity. But, then somewhere along the line, we start to want to be the same. The same as the people we see on the media. The same as our peers. We want to wear the same clothes and talk the same and act the same and do the same things. We give up our power and lose part (or all) of ourselves in the process.
4) Beware of the people who try to keep you down.
You are going to come across so many people in this world who want you to be a shell of yourself so that they can feel better about themselves. They will tell you all sorts of things to get you to change. Because they have also bought into a bunch of lies and they think it will benefit them somehow if you dumb yourself down or sell yourself out. That’s not how it is really meant to work. You, from the time you are born, are meant to be the biggest, boldest, smartest, funniest, twinkliest, danciest, star in the sky. You are meant to shine bright 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And, if people are threatened by your sheer awesomeness, then they definitely don’t deserve a spot in your galaxy.
Steer clear of the dream stealers and the jealous ones. I know firsthand that they are nothing but trouble.
5) Put down your screens and look up.
I know that the vast majority of your world revolves around a 3 to 5 inch screen and everything that happens on it. But, this is also a lie.
That sunset that you snapped and then subsequently missed because you were posting on Instagram. That sunset looked so much better in person. The colors were more vibrant, birds flew by, the clouds took on mysterious shapes, and you never even noticed the way the light at that time of night possesses complete magic and makes everything bathing in it look as if it was a perfect work of art.
Your boyfriend or girlfriend. The one you love and think is a total hottie? He or she might be awesome as your screen saver, but guess what? Your significant other is absolutely, without a doubt, more beautiful in real life. So, put the phone down and really look into their face. Make eye contact when you are having those conversations. Memorize their characteristics and the flaws and quirks that make them unique. When you are with them, BE WITH THEM. Really with them. Without interruptions. That is the basis for a healthy relationship.
Your friends are awesome on a screen and in a text message. But, guess what, they are So Much Better in person! You can’t hear the beautiful sound of your friend’s laugh in an LOL on your screen. You can’t hear the pain in their voice when they are feeling sad and alone. You can’t see that twinkle in their eye when they are feeling really happy, no matter what filter or photo-editing app you use. You are letting a computer chip run interference on your relationships. Put the gadgets away and try your hand at some good old-fashioned communication…face to face…no selfies. I’m not asking you to go back to 1985 and give up technology cold turkey, but at least a couple times a week, be 100% in the moment. Just be there without feeling the need to update and Tweet and Tumblr about it.
Trust me. It will take the pressure off and you will feel lighter, happier, and much more connected than the illusion of connectedness that your smart phone affords.
Bonus Tip: Listen to your gut and have the courage to stay in line with your values.
Regardless of your age, you have a 6th sense and an intuition. TRUST IT! You can tell if a person is good news or not. You can tell if a situation is safe or not. You have an idea if someone is in your corner or not. Don’t diminish those feelings…they are typically pretty accurate.
In listening to all of this, please know you are enough. You are growing and changing and that is so incredibly hard even in the best of circumstances.
You matter. Don’t let yourself be made to feel small. Have the power to focus on the things that matter, that REALLY matter. And not the superficial things that make no difference at all.
No matter how awesome we are, we all need a little pick me up, some gentle reminders, and some course-correction from time to time. And we all need to remember that we are happiest when we are just being ourselves. So, just be yourself!
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