8 Things I Wish I Could Tell My 17-Year-Old Self

If I had a time machine, there are about a million different notable people from history who I’d want to go back in time to talk to. There’s also one special little snowflake in 2008–bouncing around in her wrinkled high school uniform kilt, thinking she’s got the whole world figured out–who I would love to talk to. 17-year-old me. If I could go back in time and talk to my 17-year-old self, here’s what I would tell her:

  1. Cool it with the self-tanner. In a few months, one of your cousins will tell you that your fingers look like Cheetos and that your hands are “dangerously cheesy” and you will realize that he is right. So why not just quit it now, before you get to that point? It is okay to be fair-skinned. You are Irish and Swedish; no one expects you to have a golden/orange glow in the dead of February. And your sheets will thank you.
  2. Stop obsessing over how many Myspace friends you have. This won’t even be a thing in like three years. While you’re at it, maybe spend less time on the computer altogether. Ten years from now, you will be an adult and spending 8 hours a day on a computer for work. You are an unemployed child right now, which means you blessedly have free time during the daylight hours. Jesus Christ, go outside and run around! Get some fresh air, some sun, some Vitamin D. In a few years, you’re going to need to take supplements for that shit!
  3. Don’t dumb yourself down to make a guy feel important. You will have crushes on some less-than-stellar guys throughout high school, and you will let them explain things to you, things you already know and understand–things you sometimes know way more about than they do, actually. But you will sit and listen with rapt attention as if they are spouting dogma. Girl, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but there will come a point when you will let a guy explain to you what a biscotti is. For like, ten minutes. That’s precious time you’re never going to get back! You know what a biscotti is. Quit playing dumb to let a guy feel like a big shot. There are plenty of good guys out there who appreciate smart, outspoken women. Recognize that, and stop playing down your intelligence.
  4. You have great taste in music. Keep up the good work with those mix CD’s and iPod playlists, because ten years from now you will still be jamming out to them. Andrew McMahon and Ben Folds never get old. (I mean, they themselves age I’m sure–but their albums are timeless.) But get excited, you will discover some awesome new bands in the next 10 years, and will go to some awesome concerts too. Still, nothing will ever top Andrew McMahon dancing on his piano at that Jack’s Mannequin concert in your junior year of high school. Sa-woon.
  5. Don’t take your amazingly awesome sister for granted, you naive little cotton-headed ninny-muggins! There will come a day when you’ll no longer get to share your childhood bedroom with your BFF since birth. The nights of staying up late, laughing uncontrollably, and having nonsensical conversations from twin beds with matching bedspreads will not last forever. Which isn’t to say that you won’t always be besties. Staying up late, texting from separate residences, and tagging each other in ridiculous memes on Instagram is pretty fun too. (And much more high-tech, no?) But it’s not quite the same. So enjoy these moments while you can, and for the love of God, stop borrowing Julie’s shoes without asking. Not cool, dude.
  6. On the subject of shoes, don’t wear slip-on flats on rainy days. Specifically, don’t wear Julie’s gold slip-on ballet flats to the park that day in the summer-time, when a really bad rainstorm will come out of nowhere, causing you and your not-yet-licensed friends to hoof it to the mall in the pouring rain to seek shelter. While darting across a major intersection during the downpour, one of Julie’s flats will slip off of your foot, and you will have to leave it there, and watch in horror as an 18-wheeler heads straight towards it. Miracle of miracles, the shoe ends up unharmed. But this incident will cause you a huge amount of stress, which I’m convinced is why I’m already starting to find gray hairs on my head, at the tender age of 27. #momentofsilence
  7. Speaking of hair, easy with the bleach there, sista-friend! Someday, you will need to use artificial color to cover those pesky grays. But right now, you’re at a time in your life where those problems seem to be decades away. (LOL, sorry girl, not quite decades.) You have a nice natural hair color. Just let it be, instead of feeling the need to highlight or bleach it to fit some arbitrary standard of beauty you’ve decided to deem important. Blondes do not, necessarily, have more fun. They do, however, have more need for regular deep-conditioning treatments if they want to avoid breakage. And those fancy bottles of goop ain’t cheap!
  8. Be patient. You don’t need to have your whole life mapped out at this point. Yes, there is that one girl in your chem class who already knows who she wants to marry and where she wants to go to med school some day, which is awesome for her. But it’s also okay to not know. To figure things out as you go along. To enjoy the journey and not worry so much about where it’s leading. Just make time for the things that light a fire in your soul and the people who make your heart happy. Be kind. Work hard. Be the best, brightest, shiniest you that you can be. And then surrender. The pieces of your life can’t fall into place if you’re gripping them tightly, always needing to be in control. Let go. Stretch your hands. Breathe in. Breathe out.

In Defense Of Being Extra

When I was in the eighth grade, I got really into the eighties (even though it was 2004). ’13 Going on 30′ had just come out that year, which I believe is what sparked this brief love affair, but in any event, I officially thought that eighties fashions were the coolest. The bright colors, the layering, the bold prints–I loved it all. Unfortunately, as a Catholic school kid, I was destined to a life in uniform (Mondays through Fridays from 9:00 am to 2:30 pm), so sadly, I could not partake in my beloved eighties trends as much as I would have liked. However, at my grammar school, you were allowed to dress down on your birthday. And so it was, that on March 13, 2004, I got dressed in the morning (with the help of my older sister, a fellow fan of eighties fashion) in an outfit that would have definitely earned me a spot as one of the Six Chicks: a black and white striped off-the-shoulder sweater, bright red skater skirt, black leggings, white leg warmers, and black and white Converse sneakers (but like, the Payless, knock-off version.)

I loved that insane outfit so much. I should, however, mention that I hated attention at the time (and still only enjoy it selectively). Generally, I was very happy to blend in and fly under the radar. But I was so excited about how much I loved this outfit, that I hadn’t really given that much consideration as to how school would go that day. I do remember heading out the door in the morning and my mom telling me how “brave” I was, which should have tipped me off that maybe this wasn’t the best idea. (As most women know, “brave” means: “Yikes, I would never in a million years, but you do you, girl!”)

Still, I walked to my bus stop with a spring in my step, feeling like a straight up queen. And then I got on the bus, and the boy I’d had a crush on all year told me I looked like Santa Claus. It was devastating.

13goingon30

When I got to school, it was more of the same. Some compliments from friends who assured me my ensemble was the bomb, of course, but also a healthy share of weird looks, head cocks, and less than friendly comments. I couldn’t wait to go home and change. I felt a weird anxiety over sticking out like a sore thumb/looking over-the-top/trying too hard. I couldn’t pinpoint the feeling at the time, but in retrospect, I think I felt like I was being perceived as “extra”.

Urban Dictionary defines “extra” as: “When one tends to show off, in need of desperate attention seeking behavior.” Not the most flattering definition, which is probably why when you hear someone say something like, “That girl is so extra”, you can safely assume it is not meant as a compliment. We use “extra” to describe people who appear to be trying too hard, doing too much, or being too showy. But are these necessarily bad things? When and how did we as a society decide that it was of the utmost importance to never look like we’re trying too hard or putting in too much effort? Isn’t that sort of limiting, to put these invisible restrictions on ourselves and our behavior for fear of how we’ll be perceived? Who exactly made this decision that trying hard is something to be ashamed of, and why are we all so complicit in it?

titus

Okay, yes, when someone is clearly acting out or making a crazy spectacle because they’re thirsty for attention, it can be annoying and/or downright obnoxious. But isn’t it also possible that some of the people who are traditionally labeled as extra because they’re very enthusiastic/very loud/dress very flashy are not this way because they’re desperately craving attention, but rather because it makes them happy and they’re just feeling themselves, and not really caring about how others perceive them? Who am I to judge someone for being bold and living their best life?

I’ve read in a few different places (and I don’t remember exactly where, so bear with me as I’m paraphrasing here) that when we notice a trait about someone else that bothers us, it’s very likely that it’s either because it’s a flaw that we ourselves have and wish we didn’t, or because it’s a quality that we lack but secretly wish we did have, and our subconscious jealousy or bitterness manifests itself by labeling that quality as “bad” so that we’re more at peace with lacking it. So maybe we judge people who we perceive as extra because it’s easier for us to judge them or poke fun at them than to admit that, on some level, we wish we were bold enough to take the sorts of risks we see them taking, or to act in the sorts of enthusiastic, over-the-top, unabashed ways they often do.

misspiggy

Playing it safe and flying under the radar is definitely a great way to protect yourself from unwanted attention, ridicule, or judgment. It’s also a great way to protect yourself from taking any sort of risk or leap of faith. But if we’re not taking risks, trying new things, and pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones, are we ever really allowing ourselves to evolve? And if we’re not evolving…what are we doing?

Maybe these “extra” people are onto something. Where’s the fun in dulling your own sparkle over fear of looking like you try too hard or care too much? Wouldn’t you rather live your life trying lots of different things, taking big swings, maybe failing spectacularly sometimes, maybe having people talk about you sometimes, but at least knowing that you really went for something and gave it your all, as opposed to playing it safe, nothing lost, nothing gained? Maybe we could all stand to be a little “extra.”

Merriam Webster defines “extra” as: “more than is due, usual, or necessary; superior.” I much prefer this definition to Urban Dictionary’s (and Merriam Webster seems a bit more credible anyway). My New Year’s resolution for 2018 is to be “extra” in the Merriam Webster sense of the word. To take big swings and to put 110% effort into everything I do, even if that effort is more than is due, usual, or necessary. To live boldly, unabashedly, without concern over how I’m perceived by others. And to wear that ridiculously insane, over-the-top, eighties-themed outfit–just because I feel like it.

lucky

Why I Don’t Have A Personal Brand, And That’s Okay (I Think)

Ah, the personal brand. It seems like there is an ever-increasing emphasis lately on the importance of establishing your personal brand. And, I mean, I guess I get it. Having a strong personal brand helps you present yourself to the world as a concise, easy to consume package. People can scroll through your social media accounts and quickly “get” your whole vibe or deal.

Every article that I’ve read about starting a blog (in anticipation of, well, starting this blog) has mentioned the need to brand yourself–as an audience-building tactic–so that you can develop a niche following of readers who always know what to expect from you. This idea is incredibly daunting to me, and has actually kept me from starting this blog for quite some time. So many questions. What in the world is my personal brand? Once I decide, am I confined to only write about topics that are “on-brand” for me? Am I only able to post images that fit a very unique and specific aesthetic that I’ve decided on at one static moment in my life?

whoami

Call me old-fashioned or out-of-touch, but I reject the idea of a personal brand. Human beings are complicated, man! We’re multifaceted and deep, and as we grow, our likes and dislikes, opinions and ideas are constantly evolving. I don’t think we’re meant to distill ourselves down into these easily digestible little homogeneous tablets.

So why do we feel the need to typecast ourselves this way?  Marketing! A close cousin of the elevator pitch, personal branding is a tool you can use to sell yourself, whether to a potential employer, romantic partner, friend, Instagram follower, [insert person you want to impress or whose respect you want to gain]. But does this really allow us to be our authentic selves? Can having a personal brand start to dictate the things we choose to do, like, and create, at least on some subconscious level, for fear of straying from our brand? At what point does our personal brand start defining us, instead of the other way around?

brand

I don’t really have the answers to these questions. What I do have are a thousand and one different interests and ideas bouncing around my head that can’t be made to fit under the umbrella of one specific brand. Much like Miley Cyrus, I simply can’t be tamed! (Much unlike Miley Cyrus, I am not engaged to a Hemsworth and have not yet hosted SNL. Le sigh.)

So this is the inaugural post. The Girl With No Brand. A new home for the jumble of ever-evolving thoughts, ideas, and whims that filter in and out of my brain. Expect future posts to maybe be similar, or maybe be completely different? The beauty of brandlessness is that I don’t have to decide right now.

Toodles! (I will say, if I did have a brand, this closing would be very on-brand for me.)

Joanna

toodles