Advice to my adolescent self: Don’t worry about what other people think.

It is a common theme among adolescents to “keep up appearances” with their peers. No one wants to be left out or ridiculed for being themselves, but giving in to the pressures of society can be much more stressful than letting them go.

There was a time when I would not be seen in public wearing clothes that were out of style or go shopping in a discount store. It mattered to me what people thought. What they thought of me based upon my hairstyle, my clothing, my family, my friends, my hobbies consumed my mind. That narrow-minded way of thinking made me unreasonably critical of others, too. Thinking poorly of myself led to my own negative thoughts about my peers.

I recall my grandmother saying to me while we were at a discount store that I would never see any of the people here again in my life, so I should “get over it”. Then she did something that brought that statement to life: she turned it around and made it a game! We made up fictional characters to act out like we were in a real-life movie. We would do silly things like adopt southern accents or wear tiaras to lunch. One game we played was to switch roles and act like each other. It was fun and made me forget about being self-conscious. Suddenly, it didn’t matter what other people thought. If they thought of us at all, they might be amused, but who cares?

Thinking back, it was mentally exhausting to worry about what other people might be thinking of me. It was liberating to let it go! It gave me confidence to be myself.

Even as an adult, I have had to remind myself that I don’t have to answer to other people’s opinions of me. My friends and family members do not always see eye to eye with me. We are often judgmental of each other, which is not fair or kind.

My advice to my adolescent self is the same as my advice to my adult self: Life is short. Don’t worry about what other people think. Be yourself!