A comprehensive and completely subjective guide to doing better by yourself and others for the New Year and every day after.
People love saying that being a teenager is difficult, but to be completely honest, being alive is difficult. The lines between inspiration, admiration and envy are thin. I have spent many nights dancing across these three categories trying to steer away from envy and toward the golden ticket of contentment that every person on this planet has been pleading for. Some have wanted contentment, searched for happiness and settled into a state of desperation for a consistent source of validation.
This is where the tears come in. If your source of validation (family member, the morals of your country, romantic interest — whatever that means *insert rolling-eye emoji*— or best friend) forsakes you in anyway, the whole foundation of what you think is the source of your happiness is compromised and for either a brief moment or a prolonged amount of time, you are stuck in a limbo — an endless rabbit hole of vulnerability. This can be visible to the public or visible only to the stars that see you through your dust-glossed blinds, but no matter what, you are still falling and you are still visible. To avoid the cursed rabbit hole of despair that I have lived, prospered and been reborn within (or off-white school walls of non-combustible material, depending on your perspective) I have conjured a hopefully useful list of tips for being okay with yourself.
Disclaimer: As all of us have once been, I am also in the midst of the storm. I am no life-coach, please understand, I am just an ordinary person trying to live right and do right by myself and the people around me.
1. Take Care of Yourself First
Please, if you don’t read anything else in this article, finish this first tip. Get some rest. Eat some food. These seem like extremely simple things to do, but I cannot even begin to tell you how difficult it is to convince someone you love to get some rest at night and eat lunch at school.
The issue — I’m not really sure if it stems from societal expectations of students or individual conditions — is that somewhere along the line, teenagers have made it a habit to put their mental, physical and emotional health below school and extracurriculars on their priority list. My dear people, this is unacceptable.
What some fail to realize is that after you begin college, if that’s what starts all this anxiety in our hearts regarding school, your high school GPA means nothing. After college, not a single soul on this planet will give a single thought about what you got on your AP World History Exam in 10th grade. Yet, you’re compromising your mental health for it.
School is important, and it’s important to try your best, but trying your best does not mean risking your health. If no one else tells you this, even if we’re strangers, just know that I care about you and your health and I want to see you succeed.
Drink water, wash your hair (I don’t know about you but it makes me feel like a whole new person), eat every meal, and do what makes you happy, because at the end of the day, who’s there to deal with your malnutrition, your doctor bills, the permanent damage that you have endured, the effect all of this will have on your future? Your teacher? Your parent? The dean of your dream college? The College Board graders? No. You.
Honestly, I don’t know about you all, but there is no test, school, scholarship or paper that I am willing to risk my sanity or my health over. Period. I’m not being a slacker. I’m not being lazy. I’m being healthy. And I am begging you to do the same.
2. End Your Days of Envy
This is probably one of the most difficult things I’ve ever attempted to do in my life. An incredible person I love with all my heart and soul once said to me, or reblogged, rather: “Learn to appreciate other’s beauty without invalidating your own.” For me, that’s an incredible feat, because that’s all I do. I post pictures of beautiful black women with clear skin, defined curves and beautiful, hydrated, healthy natural hair all over my Instagram.
Out of my 118 posts, only 23 have me in them, and only nine show my face. This is so partly because I am so displeased with my appearance in comparison to the beautiful women who make up a large part of my feed and partly because they initially were constant reminders of how I want to look but slowly became teasing pieces of bait convincing me of who I want to be. I thought surrounding myself with positive images of women of color would boost my self-confidence, but I think it may have backfired and swirled into an abyss of self-loathing and constant disappointment that I don’t have a tiny waist and I have yet to master the perfect twist out.
I learned quickly that striving to look like someone else or to be someone else is not only emotionally and physically exhausting, but it will leave you broke as a joke. I had to learn through over 10 years of body image issues and falling asleep on tear-stained pillows that it is not healthy for me to go on like this, constantly searching for “that look.” The look that will have my DM’s crowded and my notifications as hydrated as the Nile River in October. The look of grace and effortless beauty. But what I had to realize was that the look I was trying to achieve wasn’t for me.
First, the girls I always wanted to look like wore makeup, only drank water and only ate the finest foods. Now, I’ve never worn makeup a day in my life except for prom, and I barely make it out the door in the morning as it is, I couldn’t imagine waking up 15 whole minutes earlier just to beat my face. I’m not disciplined enough for a completely water lifestyle, either. These aren’t excuses, or perhaps they are. Either way, they’re what I used to convince myself that lifestyle wasn’t for me and no matter how hard I tried, I’m never going to be them. I just figured I should stop trying to be everyone else and love being me. It sounds cliché, but this article is about being okay with who we are. How much more cliché could you possibly get?
3. Take It One Day at a Time
It sounds simple, and I know for some it may be a totally absurd notion, but I’m telling you, it helps. I always would stress about things that haven’t even happened yet like tests, parties, school performances, flights, college, what I’m going to name not my first, but my second-born child, which hymnals will be played at my funeral, what I will call my nonprofit organization, and, the best one yet, where I was going to buy an acre of land in Atlanta when I am 27 to build a house and if it will have enough room to grow a garden in the back. What I came to realize is, worrying about tomorrow isn’t going to do anything. All you can do is make a plan and try your best, but life happens and things go wrong — and at that point, it’s too late. You literally have to roll with the punches and keep it moving. To reduce the stress, just take one day at a time. So, I planned my flight for next weekend first, then put a note to myself to finish my college application when I get back. The name of my second-born child and where I will build my house have no place on my mind right now as a 17-year old with no children and barely a 10 by 10 bedroom to call my own. I’m not stressing about my school show in February. I’m not stressing about my AP exams in a whole five months. Am I preparing? Yes. Am I stressing? No. There’s a big difference.
4. Validation is for Parking
So if you connected with my reference to “an endless rabbit hole of vulnerability” that is a life supported by the sand of validation, this one is for you. Validation is for parking and parking only. You are not a $10 parking ticket burning a hole in someone’s wallet. No, you are a superstar burning a trail into the future. This isn’t validation. This is affirmation that your emotions and ideas and dreams are valid. Always. There you are: the last piece of validation you should ever accept. Remember what you want to do and what you believe in, and you won’t ever depend on anyone else’s validation of you or your choices. Make your decisions and be proud of them. They are yours. Build your life on stones, not sand, because when the rain comes down, the sand will wash away and your foundation will fall. Oh, what a great fall it will be. This is your branch to hold onto that will stop your seemingly endless descent. Grab it tightly and never let it go.
5. Find What Gives You Joy and Do It
Happiness is an emotion, temporary and fleeting, as swift as the winds. Joy is an attitude, an internal smile that does not waver when you hear somebody being fake out here in these streets. There is something in this world for everyone to give them joy. Some people find joy through helping others find their own. Others find joy through just being alive and contributing to the betterment of this world. It doesn’t have to be a career, but find what you love to do and what gives you joy, then do it to the best of your ability.
It sounds easy and simple, but it’s not at all, especially for high school students. It’s difficult — but not impossible. Some people spend their whole lives searching for happiness when they should’ve been looking for joy. Life is too short to waste any time on something that is not contributing to the progression of you as a person or the world as a whole. Be grateful, be patient, be understanding and be passionate. With these, you should be fine. It’ll get you out of that rabbit hole.
Thalia, 17, is a very relaxed senior at DeKalb School of the Arts who wants to do good things. She will be attending Claflin University in the fall as a Presidential Scholar.