Me, 20 years old, singing my heart out at a karaoke bar in Nashville, Tennessee. God bless fake i.d.s and all the people who booed us off the stage.
L Mae. Girl.
We need to have a chat. Life is good right here and right now at 20. There are friends aplenty and the beer is flowing in Oxford, Mississippi (Hotty Toddy and PPLAM to any Rebels reading this). College is the sweet spot and you’re going to stay here as long as you can (shout out to those two years in grad school)! There are some things you need to know, though. This next decade (specifically the last six years from 24-30) is going to be a ROLLERCOASTER. All the things. Grown up things. Like career changes, and bills, and weddings, and deaths, life-lasting friendships, deteriorating friendships. It can all feel too grown up sometimes and leave you feeling like, “Well, hell. How’d we get here?”
I have 5 things I want you to keep in mind as you dive into this next decade.
- Be true to yourself. No one is you, L Mae, and that is your power. Life is pretty carefree right now (at 20), but doubt yourself you do. You put thoughts in your head like you’re not pretty enough, skinny enough, southern enough. QUIT IT. You’re going to do pretty alright for yourself. You can’t really try to be someone else and you don’t like that. Sorry boo, you’re stuck with you. Not the worst person to be, for sure. You need no one’s approval to be yourself. You are funny, and kind, and a great friend. You are passionate, a killer dancer, and your own worst enemy. STOP IT. You will eventually put yourself on a public platform that requires you to be 100% yourself in your own little corner of the internet. People will hopefully appreciate your honesty and spunk, and obviously, your closet. Your authenticity is going to help you grow, build a community around you of awesome, and let your soul shine.
- Us girls are going to grow up and become women who are kind of the worst to each other. You’re going to have to get a thick skin, learn to forgive someone you don’t even talk to anymore, and try to do no harm to others (but take no shit either, you know what I mean?). You’re going to get burned by friends, and you might even do some burning yourself. The friends you have by your side at 30, some you’ve known since you were 11, some from your current glory days right now at Ole Miss, and some will be new, but solid. Invest in the quality of these friendships. They’re the real freaking deal.
- That boy you’re about to let into your life? It’s going to hurt. You’re all in. He’s not. He’s all but spelled it out for you. In fact, he may have spelled it out for you on more than one occassion. You’re blind. You will have dance parties in the driveway. In the kitchen. At the bar. Another girl will start hanging around. You’re going to fight over texts. It’s off. It’s back on. No, now it’s really over. Not long after, you’re in the same wedding. He’s going to bring her. You connect again years later. You’re older. He’s older. Plans are made. Plans are broken. You now live in the same freaking city. You go out. You go dancing. Things are looking good. You tell your friends. He ghosts. End of story. I honestly don’t even think you’ve learned your lesson here. You’re worth more than this lousy decade-long snooze fest of a story. Do you even know your worth? We’ve got to work on that (see #1).
- You’re never stuck. It’s never too late to start over. You were so bold at 18. Going to college (where you only knew one person) in a state that felt very far away. You took a leap and bet on yourself. Don’t be afraid to do it again. You are going to be pushed beyond reason during your time in the classroom. You’re going to be tested daily. Your patience, your sanity, your safety. You’ll eventually come to the conclusion that you are going to have to put yourself first. Trust that you are making the right decision. You’ll more than likely come out of the classroom shaky, not confident. Your anxiety is going to creep back in. You’ve got to work through it. All will be well. Believe in yourself.
- Make the most of this time. Hug your mom. Tell your dad you love him. Fight (and make up) with your siblings. Lift up your friends. Go on the trips. Make some memories. Later on, in the second half of this next decade, you’re going to lose some pretty incredible people. You’re going to encounter three deaths in four years that are going to have a significant impact on you. The first happens at 26. It will be a student. You will not see that suicide coming. This will test you in terms of putting your own grief and disbelief aside and forge on with your 11th graders, who are, for a large part, not equipped with the proper coping skills to handle such a loss. The next is at 27. Your mom’s best friend of twenty years. You and your mom go to check on her because she didn’t show up to yoga and wasn’t answering her phone. You will find her in her bed and have to call 911. Your legs are going to crumble underneath you and this is going to stay with you for a long time. Such a vibrant, kind person will exit the world and again, you’re going to be left in disbelief. And at 29, just when you think you’re starting to get back on track, you’re going to see cancer quickly and forcibly take the most vivacious and larger than life man you’ve ever known. Your best friend’s dad, who you called Papa C, who took you on trips around the world, spoiled you like his own daughter, and who loved putting on a show for his girls with his wild stories of his colorful life growing up in South Texas. This one feels like an end of an era. We’re no longer the ridiculous, silly girls belting Jay Z lyrics out the windows of the Escalade by the Brownsville shopping mall anymore (Yes, we really did this. And yes, Papa C was driving). You’re now adults living with the real experiences of losing each other’s parents, while starting marriages and families of our own. Your friendships, your family. That’s it. That’s what it all comes down to. This is what is important. It’s the big picture stuff. You’re learning this early. Hold on to it.
Above all else, believe in the power of your story. It’s how you’re going to get here.