The Worst Advice You Can Give Young People

girlreading

In my early twenties I was given some very bad advice.

It was well-meaning, and it came from someone who cared about me, but it was still bad.  This person told me I was too young to decide what I wanted to be and who I was. I needed to travel first. I needed to get out on my own and “experience life”. I couldn’t possibly know who I was at that age. But here’s the thing…

I have always known exactly who I am.

These are things that we hear our entire teenage life, and when we get into our early twenties we expect it to change, but it doesn’t. People still tell us that we don’t know who we are yet. Like we’re an entire generation of people walking in circles without a clue what we’re about. We need to “get out there and find ourselves”.

“You don’t know who you are yet.”

“You’re too young to get married/have children/worry about a serious career.”

“You can’t possibly know what you want to do yet.”

I was told I would change my passions, my opinions, my mind. That I needed to find myself. Like the real me was out there somewhere,  backpacking in Thailand, or sleeping a hangover off on top of hot pocket wrappers on a fellow band member’s couch.  The present me, the one that sat in the corner and read books all through high school, and would rather go to the library than a wild house party, couldn’t possibly be the real me.

This advice, well-meaning though it was, made me second guess myself very briefly. After that, it just made me angry. I was too young, so I couldn’t possibly know my mind? I disagreed. I very heartily disagreed. And so I wrote myself a manifesto.

rebel

I AM, a manifesto

I know who I am. I’m sloppy, careless and forgetful. I’m impulsive and creative. Filled with anxiety or happy and carefree at the drop of a hat. I have entire fictional worlds in my head. I get excited over the sticky note section at Target.

I’m both pathetically dependent on people for my sanity, and incredibly introverted and emotionally closed off. My house is in shambles but I feel bad if I go for one day without writing.

Wild story ideas stalk me like jungle predators, and I’m kept awake nights in order to daydream. I’m creative. I’m confused. I’m immersed in the lives of imaginary people.

Don’t tell me to get out and “find myself”. I’m already here. I was never lost to begin with.

I hold foolish, romantic ideas about writing letters, and each time I get one my heart aches just a little bit. I’m not afraid of snakes, spiders or the dark, but I live in fear of all the bookstores closing down. I dream big, of book signings and lines around the block. My name in lights! But a reader sent me an email last week to tell me my story touched them, and if nothing else happens, that email will sustain me for the rest of my life.

I know who I am. I know that through death and sickness and disaster, I will write. I know that if the world ends and the cities are razed and men scatter like cockroaches across the scorched face of the earth, I will use a stick to scribble in the soot to tell you the story of how it happened.

I’m me. I’m a writer. I’m Erin.

That’s all I’ve ever wanted to be.

What’s the worst advice you’ve ever been given? What’s your manifesto? Do you think it’s impossible to “know who you are” as a teenager, or someone in your early twenties?

photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thisisawakeupcall

photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/liz-grace

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17 responses to “The Worst Advice You Can Give Young People

  1. I love, this. When I got married at eighteen, everyone told me I was too young, and it wouldn’t last. Don’t get me wrong, since my parents had already been through several marriages and so had his, I had the same fear. And yet, 13 years later we are still married and still just as happy, if not more so than the day we got married.
    As for the “finding yourself” manifesto, I really wish I could have written that when I was younger. I knew who I had wanted to be when I was a little girl and it never changed when I got older. However, the opportunities to realize my dream were ripped away one after the other by the people who were supposed to care. So, when I was finally old enough to be in control of my life, my dream was no longer a possibility and I didn’t have the confidence to pursue the shreds that were left. It has taken me about 12 years, but I think I have finally figured out another side of me that I didn’t know was there. I’m just pissed I wasted 12 years looking for it!

    I’m glad your advice and encouragement is out there so people won’t be wasting their time and can get to living.

    • My sis got married at 19 and had to endure the same comments. They are happily married with two children.
      13 years! Congrats! That’s amazing.
      I know what you mean. Sometimes it’s the people that love you most that make you doubt yourself. They mean well, but it can be damaging. It took me a few years to struggle through all the “good advice” and realize that my dreams and passions could be made a reality.

  2. I think you are great the way you are, Erin! After all, if you had listened to those people we probably wouldn’t have all of these great stories to read and that would be a tragedy! 🙂

    As far as my own bad advice goes: about a week after I got engaged to my husband, my great aunt told me that I couldn’t get married to him because I couldn’t possibly know him and he couldn’t know me. She said that we needed to date for at least two years before we even considered marriage (We had been dating about eight months and we were both 21 years old). Well, I didn’t listen to her and my husband and I have been happily married for five and a half years now with no thought of divorce. He is my best friend in the whole world and I don’t think there is anyone in the world who knows me better than he does.

    • Aw, thank you! And it’s funny, most of the bad advice tends to be about relationships (ie, you can’t possibly marry him so young). Not only is it bad advice, it’s just plain rude! Honestly, some people.

  3. After my wedding, my mom’s parting words of advice were “Sometimes in a relationship you just have to cut your losses and walk away.” I tried to take it with a grain of salt – this is after all, a woman on her third marriage.

    • Ah yes, I find lots of that sort of advice comes from *ahem* if you’ll forgive me, slightly jaded people. I guess life didn’t work out the way they expected so they think everyone else is going to go the same way they did? That’s the only reason I can think of. It’s probably (hopefully) well-meant, but still terrible.

  4. Guess what?
    I am 60+ and they are still playing that same old song to me. I wouldn’t have been today the person I am if I hadn’t made my own choices and made my own decisions. Actually, I am proud of it.
    My daughter phrased in a somewhat different way “Listen to your hart, don’t be afraid and act accordingly”. Most of the time it worked out pretty well for her.

  5. It’s very true we are often told we can’t know who we are yet! Even though the same people often ask us what we want to be! It sad really, but I very much agree!

    • When being asked what you want to be is actually a very good question.

      As with all other comments made by them I would interprete these as “thank you for sharing with me the lessons you learned”.

      Nobody can look into the future, but when you listen to your hart and act accordingly most of the time things will work out well.

    • Funny how that works, isn’t it? I think with the people that gave me this advice, if I’d said “I want to be a doctor” that would have been fine. I think a lot of well-meaning family/family friends hear “artist” or “writer” (or anything THEY don’t think is a good career or life plan) and think they hear “I want to be unemployed and live in a cardboard box on the street” 😉 They panic a little.

      • Correct, but once you are a well known artist or writer those same people will stand in the front row and tell the whole world that they knew this upfront and that they were always very supportive to you.
        The amazing thing is when that time comes it’s really what they beleave although you remember it differently.

  6. I read this a week ago, and felt I should comment, tell you what I think. Honestly, it was difficult to come up with anything. Maybe I’ll add more later.
    I just wanted to say, thankyou for writing and posting this. I’m 14 and I’m pretty sure I know who I am already. Please keep giving this advice =)

  7. I have always loved reading books but my parents don’t really support it , They think i am addicted to wattpad but i am actually addicted to stories , whenever i tell them i want to be a writer ; they scoff and say it won’t ever be enough for a living , its a bit disheartening to hear them say i would grow out of it .

    • Aaw, hun, I feel for you. The good news is that in this day and age, with self pubbing and indie pubbing AND the traditional way, there are so many more ways to be a writer. It IS possible to make a career out of it. Lots of people do. Of course, it’s a hard slog and a difficult thing to achieve, but most dream jobs are! Never give up doing what you love. People will tell you it’s not realistic, but if you’re passionate enough, and you keep getting better and better at it, you’ll make it someday.

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