If I Could Tell My Adolescent Self What I Know Now

by Lena Oh

As I turned 22 yesterday, I'm sitting here in awe, reflecting on my life. When I was a kid, I couldn't wait to grow up. But now that I'm growing up, I wish I wasn't.

My life has been full of contradictions: I've witnessed people with nothing smile, and those with everything cry. I've seen myself chase the ones who ignore me, but I've also ignored the ones who adored me.

I've witnessed too many ironies in my life and have gone through painful experiences. Despite learning from these mistakes, I wish I could tell my young self what I know now.

And if some genius happens to create a time machine in my lifetime, these are the things that I'd say:

People will come and go.

I think until recently, I've had difficulty accepting this fact. Certain people in your life will come and go: friends, significant others, colleagues, classmates, etc.

I used to dwell on the past through old posts from Facebook timelines, old pictures, old letters, old videos, or songs that would instantly remind me of some person, place, time period, or memory.

And after viewing those things, I'd recall all the memories that I had with that particular person, and although good, the nostalgia stung my heart a bit.

I'd wonder about what those people are doing now, what they've been up to, what made us drift, or if our dynamic could ever be the same again.

And with certain people, it may be a blessing and a relief that they are no longer in my life, but with others, I had wished that our paths would align again.

Paradoxically, the memories made me sad and happy all at the same time. But if I could tell my young self what I know now, I'd remind her that this is just a natural process in life. Sometimes it's controllable, but other times, it's out of our power and there's a time to let go.

People that you were once inseparable from are now merely strangers. But if you and that person (whomever it may be) are meant to be in each other's lives, it'll happen when it's the right time.

You will meet several "prince charmings" before you find your king.

I've been in several relationships, each wondering if this guy would be the "one". And whether I broke it off or he broke it off, there would always be disappointment in the end.

Breakups are inevitable, and everyone will go through them at least once in their lifetime. It's a difficult period, but it'll help you grow.

You'll learn more about yourself and what you want in a man (or even don't want). Don't ever chase after a man, either. It's reasonable to fight for the one you love, but don't ever chase.

A man will go where he wants to go, and stay if he wants to stay. And even if he does give in and comes back, that doesn't help. You should be with a man, not because you were able to convince him, but because you didn't need to.

Don't ever settle for less than what you deserve, or else you'll get even less than what you settled for. You are no man's consolation prize.

Be selfish when it comes to your happiness.

When I say to be selfish when it comes to your happiness, I don't mean if it hurts other people (i.e. stealing, deception). I mean to be selfish when other people rob you of the opportunity to be happy.

If a man is toying with your heart, end it civilly and let him go. You don't deserve to spend your nights crying.

There are other people in the world who love you and want the best for you. Learn to love yourself and don't ever let anyone keep you from the pursuit of happiness that you're entitled to.

I once directed all my passion and emotions to the wrong things and wrong people, until I realized how much more fulfilling my life would be if I rerouted that energy towards my dreams, ambitions, and aspirations.

And as a result, I was blessed beyond description with new opportunities. I only wish I had implemented this advice sooner in my life.

Appreciate your parents and let them know that you love them as often as you can.

For every second of my 22 years of life, my parents have been there. You may not appreciate them when you're younger, but the older you get, the more you realize how much sacrifice, hard work, and dedication, these two people have given to give you the best opportunities in your life.

The reason I graduated with a bachelor's degree this year is because of these two people. I'd be nothing without them.

So when they nag about studying and valuing your education, or discipline you for lying, know that it's because they love you and want you to be a good person of character, who makes a positive difference in this world.

Your parents are the only people who will bust their asses to provide the best life for you.

Love them while they're still alive, because when you're old and they're gone, you'll regret not appreciating them enough.

So stay on the phone for a few extra minutes; don't be so eager to hang up or leave the house to go out with your friends. Cook them dinner; do some extra chores around the house. Do small things to make it easier for them to breathe.


There are so many people who have hurt me. But on the other hand, there are so many people that I have hurt, as well. The most precious gift that I've ever received is grace and mercy.

When I made mistakes and was forgiven, I felt such a relief to know that the bad blood was gone. Reciprocate love and kindness.

How can you expect forgiveness from others, when you can't do the same? That girl at school who mistreated you out of jealousy? Forgive. The friend who deceived and backstabbed you? Forgive. Be compassionate, show mercy and love this person, even when they least deserve it. That's actually when they need it the most.

It's a sign of maturity when you understand someone has hurt you, yet you still feel the power to wish them the best. Keep on loving them.

I promise you'll eventually make even a cold, unemotional person cry. Love those around you unconditionally and relentlessly.

If you have a good relationship/friendship, don't lose it over your pride.

Sometimes, it's good to stand up for yourself and keep your pride. But in other circumstances, being too prideful can end up hurting you.

Apologizing doesn't always mean that you're at fault and are wrong. Sometimes, it just shows that you value the relationship with the other person more than you value holding onto your pride and ego.

Be productive; don't be so lazy; don't procrastinate.

I wish I could've emphasized this to my younger self. I spent all my precious time on insignificant things, and I will never get that time back.

Wake up early and do what you need to do. Seize your day and own it! Wake up a few minutes earlier to get your day started. Do simple things, like leaving early so that you don't hit traffic.

What a waste of a precious day to be spent sitting in traffic. Don't be so lazy about small things like charging your phone or driving until your gas meter is past empty.

Nothing gives me more anxiety than when my phone battery is at less than 10 percent, or when I'm paranoid that my car is going to stop on the freeway.

Bad company corrupts good character.

Don't give into peer pressure. Even if you're the most independent person and think you can make your own decisions for yourself, habits from the people around you can desensitize you.

You know it's not right to drink and drive. So don't, even if your friends do it. You vowed as a kid to never get into drugs, so be cautious about being friends with people who do it so nonchalantly.

Just because some girls call themselves "bad bitches" doesn't mean you should label yourself as so. Label yourself a beautiful, extraordinary, unique woman.

You will realize that your reputation will be the most important thing. Surround yourself with good influences.

Be a decent human being.

No matter what your status is, acknowledge the small things people do for you. Nothing annoys me more than when people think they're entitled.

Thank the person that takes the time to hold your door open for you, or when they let you get into their crowded lane on the road. Life is hard for everyone. We all have struggles; we all have worries.

We're all trying to make it. No decent human being should build his or her happiness on another person's pain. Treat others the way you want to be treated.

Don't have a cold, unsympathetic heart. Be kind to your waiter, or to the janitor at your school. Nothing is worse than an ungrateful person. Evaluate yourself, be respectful, and stay humble.

Be grateful for everything.

Big or small, appreciate the things that you're blessed with, whether it's good health, an opportunity to have an education, your family, your friends, the roof over your head, or something as simple as an umbrella when it's raining.

I'm grateful and thankful for the sounds of laughter coming from the people I love in my life. When you remind yourself what you're blessed with (rather than what you wish you had), you end up living a more fulfilling life.

Don't listen to Drake's Take Care album after midnight.

It's a good album, but you'll have sleepless nights, and late night thoughts are the worst.

Don't have expectations.

They can lead to disappointment. Have goals and dreams, but don't have expectations. Sometimes we expect more from others just because we would be willing to do that much for them, but that's what leads to disappointment.

Do things for others without expecting anything in return. That way when you do get something, you'll be happy, but if you don't get anything, you'll be content, as well.

Don't hold back on your dreams because you're embarrassed about what people will say.

I wanted so badly to do many things in my life. I held back, though, because I was worried about what my peers would say. As a result, I gave up those opportunities and ended up witnessing other people live the life that I dreamed of.

Go after the passions and aspirations that you have in your life now. You do only live once, so why not live the life you dream of?

You'll feel the most pain when you witness good people go through the worst bullsh*t.

When you watch your mom and dad work hard for what they have and it crumbles before their eyes, you'll feel the most pain.

When you watch your grandparents feel the repercussions of backaches and leg problems from decades of working hard labor jobs, you'll feel the most pain.

When you witness an innocent child born with a disability that they didn't ask for, you'll feel the most pain. The best solution to that is to remind these people that they're precious and loved.

The secret to living a happy life is to let go.

Let go of pain; let go of anger; let go of regret; let go of resentment; let go of the past; let go of mistakes; let go of the ex; let go of the disappointment. Surrender it all. Why hold onto the negatives? You don't have room for it. You want to clear out the junk to make room for the good things.

And in life, it's the same principle. If you hold onto all the pain and negativity, you're only preventing room for the good things to enter your life. There is always a purpose or reason why certain people are removed from your life.

Think about that when you decide to hold onto, or chase after, them. Cut out the negativity. It’s a waste of space in your heart and life. How amazing is it to stay silent when someone expects you to lash out in anger?

How wonderful is it to laugh when someone believes that you are going to shed tears from pain? Let go of the things that hold you back, and you'll realize how truly beautiful your life really is.