How to Live: A Message to my Younger Self

I’ll be completely honest here. I don’t really know what advice to give to my freshman self. A lot of it feels very empty, like words you would hear on an 80's after-school sitcom with a new moral every episode. “Remember to do your reading.” “You can make new friends if you try new things.” “It’s okay if you mess up sometimes, so long as you try again.” But none of that sounds like real actual advice that I can use in a practical way.

In an English class during my senior year of high school we were assigned to write a poem giving advice for life and I floundered there for a while too. I finally decided to give up on trying to give big, worldly advice that would give me the answers to all existence. I wrote myself instructions on how to live my life in the small ways more than in the big ones. I still have that poem, and instead of trying to find some new advice to give myself, I’ll just remind myself of what I believed in then, and add a few things that I believe in now.

Living

Forgive yourself. What you’ve done 

Is past, you can only try to heal.

Walk barefoot in mud on dirt roads and dance to fiddle music.

Drink with new-made friends 

And laugh in firelight.

 

Fall in love for five days and be gushy

Under bathhouse porches. Then go get French fries.

Wear outfits you’re unsure of. People will judge you,

But you will survive.

 

Survive. Go camping in the woods 

With minimal supplies and live on 

Your side of the mountain, or crash 

Onto a desert island to find yourself,

Away from who you build yourself to be.

 

Don’t go soul searching. If it wants

To be found it will come to you.

Do go to Scotland and roll down grassy hills.

Don’t have the haggis.

Go to Ireland and thank the fairy rings for not taking you.

 

Believe in magic. Buy a lottery ticket.

If you win, pay off student loans,

Then give the rest away. Appreciate music.

Start with the nursery rhymes you half hear as you fall asleep.

 

Dance in the storms but stay in on rainy days,

They’re the best times to read by the window. 

If the power ever goes out, clean by the light of a candle.

You will see things differently.

 

Give money to street performers 

And thank them for their art.

Roam the earth as a wandering soul,

But return home as complete as you can.

 

Call your family. They will not call you first every time.

Visit them when they are sick

And bring them cards to make them laugh.

Do not cry too long for them.

 

Get a bad haircut once in your life.

It will teach you not to judge other bad haircuts.

Make flower crowns with dandelions and wear them with little kids.

Always treat them like full people.

They are, they just can’t say it yet. 

 

Drink water more than anything else.

Eat right, but eat to make yourself happy.

They don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

 

Feel every one of your emotions.

Be happy and sad and rage against the cruelty of the world to the fullest.

Indulge yourself in a moment of honesty your entire life.

 

Don’t hide your keys under the doormat,

Find a better place.

Find joy in working hard, and work hard to find some joy.

 

Draw the things you want.

Color is optional and talent is a myth.

Art does not have to be perfect to exist.

Exercise caution and exercise with caution.

Don’t hurt yourself trying to impress.

 

Learn how to breathe. 

Learn to breathe for singing, dancing, shouting,

Instruments, stress, crying, laughing, and just to feel.

They may all be the same type of breath.

They may not.

 

Allow yourself to dream in life.

Do not allow your life to be a dream.

It is rarely so perfect.

 

If you are a flight risk, you can fly for a while.

Just remember to return before you lose everything.

 

Do not be jealous of others.

You do not know what makes their grass so very green.

It might just be paint.

 

Appreciate the beautiful things.

Find them in life and love them.

See them in the curve of your body, how your stomach sags and your muscles ache.

Watch them in the faces of your friends, the nearest people to your heart.

Feel them in the morning air on a summer day, before the humidity sets in.

Hear them in the sound of your feet as you walk, going somewhere new.

Taste them in the lips of another, one whose kiss makes you feel more yourself than ever.

Find all the beautiful things you can

And don’t dismiss them.

Don’t dismiss anything.

This is your life.

You have to live it.