Conversations With My 13 Year-Old Self

Speaker as Teen
What a difference a decade makes. It’s hard to wrap my head around the idea that ten years ago, I was an awkward thirteen year-old choir nerd in Lubbock, Texas who had a secret desire to be the first female president but knew that probably wasn’t possible, so I’d settle for being a choir director instead. I just knew in my heart of hearts that I’d never leave my hometown, that I was too fat to ever be loved by anyone, and that my classmates were right when they dismissed me as a strange crybaby with a penchant for the dramatic.


Speaker as AdultI guess all the end of decade columns are making me sentimental. I sat in my room in Lubbock over the Christmas holidays and cried for that little girl. I cried for all the times she said she was stupid and fat and worthless, for all the times she thought everyone’s lives would be better without her in the world. I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today without that pain, but I wish I could go back and show that little girl a crystal ball of all the things she would make happen and all she would become.

Funny, though – I know her well enough to know she wouldn’t have listened. That’s why this isn’t meant to be an advice column; we’ve got to learn our own lessons in our own time. Still, inspired by a P!nk song and my nostalgia for the decade just past, a conversation with the 13 year old me:

“You are as smart and articulate as your teachers say you are – you are not an imposter and the world is not going to one day find out you’ve been fooling everyone. Talk more, not less, and don’t be afraid of people criticizing your ideas – it will make you better at defending them.”

“Don’t try that buttermilk and oranges fad diet – it will make you hate oranges for the rest of your life! – or any of the other strange, dangerous things you’re going to do to try to make yourself as skinny as your friends. As hard as it is to believe now, you’ll be that size and discover that you aren’t any happier thin than you are as a curvy woman.”

“Adults make mistakes, get insecure, do irrational and sometimes horrible things (sometimes even to you) and are not always smarter just because they’ve lived longer. You know when you get that feeling in your chest that you absolutely must say something right now or you’ll explode? Trust it. Speak out as loud as you can and if the adults get upset, you’ve probably done something right.”

“Don’t squelch your fashion sense to be like all your friends – what they call “weird” is called “style” in New York City. Don’t date anyone just because your friends say you need to have a boyfriend or because you feel sorry for the guy.”

“Friends that are mean, that spread rumors about you, that make you do their homework and lie for them ARE NOT FRIENDS. Period.”

If you could go back a decade and give yourself some advice, what would you say? Leave it in the comments!
Photos: Left, Me just after my 14th birthday. Right, Me in 2009, speaking to Long Island, NY high school students.

  1. Stacy Pena

    It’s so true Shelby that there is so much we could tell our young selves but of course our young selves wouldn’t listen…otherwise our daughters would probably more closely heed their mothers’ advice at the time rather than realizing years later how sound that advice was!

    I would have A LOT to day to my 23-year old self…two decades ago. At that point of my life I equated success in life with job and title (kind of like thinking beauty is about clothing size)…so much I had to learn. I just might have to write that up as a blog post one day!

  2. Shannon Rigney Keane

    Shelby, what a lovely post!  There are so many things that I would say to myself ten years ago – to that 22-year old who was already so much, yet on the cusp of being so much more – that I’m overwhelmed and rendered inarticulate by the prospect.

    What would I say?  For starters, enjoy yourself.  Enjoy every single minute.  RELISH the time you have with friends, the freedom and independence you’ve only just uncapped.  More specifically, perhaps you should accept more invitations.  And go ahead and issue a few more invitations, as well.  Go dancing.  Go camping.  Keep writing.

    You’re so busy trying to find something to do to make money so that you can have a respectable adult life, and keep your writing hobby going.  Stop and think: if you find yourself at the end of a long string of failed employment endeavors, might that be a sign?  Don’t wait ’til your 32 to bring writing to the forefront, where it belongs.  The world won’t end if you wait tables for a few years.

    And, now that I’m thoroughly steeped in regret that I didn’t start all this earlier, let me turn my attention to my present day self.  Darling, says I, you’re doing great.  Don’t worry that you didn’t start when you were young and fresh; don’t think you’ve missed your boat.  Build your own boat and get your beautiful, burnished butt inside.  Now is just as good a time as yesterday, and it’s infinitely better than tomorrow.


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