Sunday, October 26, 2014

Things I'd Tell My Younger Self

(21-year-old Ashlie in her beloved college apartment)

I'm far from having it figured out.  I still fall asleep with my make up on and teeth unbrushed horrifyingly often.  I haven't completely broken the habit of picking fights with my husband.  I ramble when I'm nervous, or when I'm super caffeinated, or when I really am into the sound of my voice.   I'm a precious work in progress, people.  

STILL, there are some things I do know.  Most of my sage is advice is hard earned and can boiled down to "drink slower and listen more."  But after celebrating ten years of dating and living with my now-husband, I've been thinking about college Ashlie, the girl who carried years of insecurity and the need for validation with her into a binge drinking, self regulating atmosphere, and I marvel that I made it out alive.  It makes sense that you can only earn the confidence that I feel at this point in my life, but there are messages I wish I could send to my younger self.  Here are a few of them.

1. A guy wanting to sleep with you is not a compliment.
Let's get this one right out of the way.  In college, the culture tends to be "drink up, get down, hook up, YOLO!"  If yolo was happening while I was in college, I would have been one of the people non-ironically leaving YOLO as my away message on Thursday and Friday nights.  I wanted SO BADLY to be a part of the college life that I had seen in movies.  One of my biggest regrets is wearing a shirt that said "Makeout Bandit."  I found it very thrilling at the time.  I wanted to entice someone, to be watched across the room at a party, to banter.  I wanted to interact with someone, to be liked, to have the feeling be mutal.  I confused a lot of these feelings with someone wanting to make out with me.  I figured that if someone wanted to kiss me, touch me, come home with me, then I'm the chosen one! Even if the chooser is very drunk and kind of gross and throws up twice before asking you to go back to his place, it feels good to be chosen.

We know where this is going.  Most guys (especially the kind picking hookups from a pool of drunk girls in a dirty basement) are going to sleep with anything warm and with a pulse.  It does not mean they are into you.  It does not mean they will be nice to you later.  It does not build up your esteem.  If you are having consensual, fun, unattached sex, then more power to you.  But if you are a 17-year-old looking for an older brother-ish kind of mentor figure who will also make out with you (wait, what?) and who will stop every single time you want them to stop, don't hook up with people who have been drinking at house parties on Myrtle Street.

2. You never have to finish your drink.
Ever.  I still get guff for this at 29 freaking years old.  There are no wounded soldiers, there are no "sober kids in China," (I think this bumper sticker was a play on the 'hungry kids in China' line from childhood?) and it is not a damn shame to waste that booze.  I can remember times in college when large guys would literally block the door and not let me leave a party until my cup was empty.  I would smile and giggle and love that I was getting attention, and then drain my cup and then black out.  I'm sure every one of you has a similar story about being "teasingly" forced to drink.

Even after college, when I would go out with friends, there was this whole weird thing where people would insist that I drink everything I ordered. No one has ever even noticed if I don't finish my diet coke, but leave 1/4 of a beer in the bottom of the bottle and people get embarrassed for you.  YOU NEVER HAVE TO FINISH YOUR DRINK.  You can one take sip, zero sips, or drink exactly half.  No one dictates what you put in your body.  Take the indignation that pours out of you when your mother suggests you do something, and direct it to the next person who tells you you have to finish your alcohol.

3. You are doing the right thing going to class about 65% of the time.
I recently realized that I am a poor student.  I thought that because I like to read and write and can carry a decent intellectual conversation, I must fit into the ranks of teacher's pets and hard workers.  In reality, I did papers and assignments late or not at all, asked for extensions and extra credit work at the last minute, and skipped class often.  Unless it was a theater class, I would pretty much treat it like an optional thing.  I would skip for weather, if my apartment needed tidying, if my friends wanted to go out to lunch, or if my boyfriend wanted to go on a drive. I particularly remember skipping class on a Monday when my grandfather was visiting and touring Boston with him and my family.  Not a carefully planned trip, just spontaneously decided to shirk responsibility. I regret nothing. No job has ever asked to see my transcript or asked me what tools my Humanities in the 1800s class provided me with.  Those memories with my friends and family and cat/daytime TV are so much more important to me than a perfect attendance record, and it's much harder to take 5 mental health days a month at this point in my life.

4. The teachers you are working with as an intern will be your colleagues in a few years.
On the flip side of the skip-all-the-classes coin, I want to emphasize to my younger self that these practicums and internships and student teaching gigs are REHEARSALS FOR REAL LIFE.  I had a move to Florida scheduled to happen right after I graduated, so I never imagined that I would be looking for jobs in the district where I was doing all my intern work.  Luckily, I didn't let that have much effect on my performance, and I was proud of a lot of my student teaching work.  GOOD, because one year later, I was applying for jobs where I had student taught, and I know work with several people I brushed elbows with as a student teacher.  Some of my most valuable treasures are the letters of recommendation I received from professors and teachers that helped me with pre-service teaching practice.   Younger self: you don't know where you'll end up or what connections you'll need to draw on. Try as many work places as possible.  Be polite to everyone.  Take notes, and send thank yous.  This is where you should pour your college focus.

5. That little girl submissive thing you have going is not your best look.
Career-wise, I haven often played overly sweet, overly helpful, overly deferential. With teachers and employers, I picked up the habit of never talking back, always agreeing that I am not put out, and always saying yes.  Laughing at jokes that mock things I believe in, gossiping about someone I don't actually dislike, executing plans and projects that I don't think are the best.  Kelly from the blog Adulting tells a story about this "good girl" syndrome becoming actually dangerous, and I'm afraid I would do the same thing in her place.  This attitude has saved me at times, I know- people keeping me on because I am helpful, and kind, and in general the things they want young women who teach children to be.  But it has also blinded me to the worthiness and power of my own voice.  My mother, sisters, and husband can attest: I have a voice.  I have opinions.  And only people who can't fire or unfriend me got that side of my personality for a long time.  Writing has helped me find my voice again, but I wish I had never lost it in the first place.  Teenage Ashlie, it's hard to figure out the line between tact and not speaking up.  Spend the next few years exploring instead of ignoring that difference.

When I asked my friends what they would tell their younger selves, I got answers like lighten up, let go of the situation, read more books, recognize that class/paper stress is much less than family/work stress will be one day, accept your family for who they are, know you are not alone, tell people what you really feel, you are pretty, you are worth it, you deserve happiness, enjoy this moment right now.  I think almost everyone has a pretty serious message they want to send back in time, and at first this made me feel a little sad.  So many wasted 20s.  But it doesn't have to be a downer, because we can learn from this right now.  I may have spent too many years in my life being submissive to authority or drinking too much to make people like me, but when I look back at the regrets of the 30s, those things will not be on the list.  Listen to the message you want to send to your younger self, and repeat it to yourself now.  There's still something to take from it.

Dear Younger Ashlie, work very hard for what you love, be purposeful about having fun, and above all else, be your own lady.

Dear Current Ashlie, you too.

I was definitely inspired by Sarah from Yes and Yes and her Notes to my Younger Self series that she ran last month.  Check out some excellent advice that others gave their younger selves.  I am so nosy and am dying to know what you would tell your younger self.  Please tell me in the comments!

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At October 26, 2014 at 11:58 PM , Blogger Sarah said...

Wait.. is this letter to me or you??? Totally on point!!! Also, you know what else should be a bumper sticker??? "Don't hook up with people who have been drinking at house parties on Myrtle Street" Amen!

At October 27, 2014 at 6:13 AM , Blogger ashlie said...

Hahaha I'm so glad you got that line. I figure every college has a Myrtle Street, so it would translate :) I know you feel the pain of the Humanities classes, too :) It's so fun reconnecting now!


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