What I’d Tell My 21-year-old Self

Dear Dixie,

From my vantage point as an old lady of 21, I can see things I wish I’d done back when I was a teen.  I’d like to know what you’d tell your younger self to do or not do or watch out for if you could.

–Just Askin’


Ah J.A., my sweet, if only then-me would have or could have listened to now-me. But when you’re young (and sometimes not so young), you think you know it all and can’t take even the wisest or most well-intentioned counsel. There’s a good chance I’d have done that annoying “Yes, but…” thing and went on my merry way screwing myself over again and again.

I could write pages and pages of what I really should have done – and what I really, really should NOT have done. The list would reach triple-digits and probably have a little too much about body hair for most people’s taste.  But I think I can narrow down my tirade, er, suggestions, to some main themes. In order of their importance:

1. Treat yourself as if you were your own daughter.  

If I had a daughter, I’d celebrate how uniquely special and specially unique she was. I’d revel in all her wacky interests, take pride in her intelligence and creativity, and I’d tell her how beautiful she was and how much I loved her every day. I wouldn’t tolerate her putting herself down or making herself small.  I’d shower any daughter of mine with praise and affection, and I’m betting you would too. I’d also guide her to make decisions that supported her and her dreams, and I’d expect her to use focus and discipline to get what she wanted.

Sadly, I did not treat myself this way. If I’d been my own parent, I think Child Protective Services should have removed me from my care.  I’d like to tell me to stop focusing on all that was wrong with me (real or imagined) and to stop desperately searching for love and validation anywhere but from within.  

2. Everything before bros.

I wasted years, youth and sanity trying to get, keep and change men.  It’s easy to see now how clearly insane and stupid all of that was. All of it. When I could have been writing or learning or exercising or playing or hanging with friends or traveling or …I wasn’t. Instead I was primping, shopping, crying, waiting, worrying, self-loathing and exercising (for the wrong reasons), writing (long needy emails), and traveling (to dumb, boring places).

3. Don’t give up.

Too many times I let other people, fear, lack of money, criticism– and did I mention other people? – keep me from doing things I should have pursued.  Too often it only took one rejection letter, one bully, one insensitive remark, one askance glance to make me quit. My comfort zone was always, well, comfortable, and I never strayed. While it may have looked to others like I had nerve and balls, that’s only because a lot of things didn’t intimidate me.  But when they did, I put my tail between my legs and flew a white flag.   And looking back I can see that every single time…it was a mistake.

4. Stop apologizing.

All my life I have always been saying I’m sorry for something.  How I looked, what I liked, what I didn’t like, who I was, who you were, my clothes, my hair, World War II, the weather.  I’m working on it now. I wished I started a lot sooner.

5. You look fine.

Listen up, young Dixie, and listen well: You are not hideous. Not even close. In fact, a lot of people like the way you look. Why, some are even crazy enough to think you’re pretty. Some of those weirdos are even guys…cute guys! So stop it!  

Stop obsessing, stop calling in “ugly” to work, stop hiding, stop comparing yourself, stop hating yourself.  Your nose is fine, your eyes are fine, your arms are fine. Your breasts are fine (in fact, they’re f**king great), your teeth are fine. Hell, even your hair is fine. (Really. You just need a better ‘do. A much better ‘do.)  It’s okay to be brunette. It’s okay not to be a 38DD. It’s okay to wear glasses. It’s okay not to have big thick lips. It’s okay to have muscles. It’s okay not to dress like everyone else. (But you knew that already.)  So please, relax. And stop spending 95% of your time worrying about this crap.

6. Think about what you want to do, not what’s out there.

Instead of just reacting to what I saw or could find, I wish I’d reflected more on what I might like to do with my life. I wish I’d thought about what I was good at, where I was most comfortable, and what suited me.

So twenty-one-year-old me, that about covers it. Love yourself. Be yourself.  Try your best.  Floss. That’s it, you’re all set. Maybe just stand up straight and walk around naked more.  Yep, that’s about it.

what i would tell my 21 year old self dixie laite