Looking back, here's what I wish I would have told myself when I was younger -- and if you are a teenager or you know one or have a teenage daughter or a son, what you can tell them right now.
1. Don't look to others for approval.
Unfortunately there are people in the world who don't feel good about themselves, which can lead to them not treating you very nicely. Sometimes without even realizing it, they are dealing with those feelings in the way that they treat you. I know that it hurts when someone says something mean to you or is targeting you for bullying, but you can stay strong.
If you are dealing with people who decide to take their own pain out on you, it comes down to this: You don't have to absorb or internalize whatever it is that they are saying. I like to use the analogy of a video game. You know how when the Bad Guys are trying to destroy you? And it's fun when you get away? That's how you can look at the challenge of whether or not you decide to internalize something -- meaning, if you choose to let what someone is saying affect you and really absorb what they are saying and believe it.
See the challenge as a game. If someone says something cruel like, "No one likes you," or "You'll never amount to anything" -- instead of believing what they are saying, you can choose to see it as a game of dodging the Bad Guy just as you would in a video game -- and then feel the thrill of getting away. Did you choose not to believe the Bad Guy? That's a win. Keep going.
2. You are the architect of your life.
I know it doesn't always feel that way. When you have a lot of people telling you what to do sometimes it all feels so overwhelming. It's almost like you feel you are trapped or as if you are a hamster on a wheel. But every little choice that you make decides what happens to you next -- even when you can't control what is physically happening to you.
The cool thing is that sometimes the most powerful choices that you make are in how you decide to experience what is happening to you. Sometimes it can be a choice in how you are "framing" an event that makes a huge difference in feeling more positive and in control.
Here's a good example.
You know how when you are dealing with a situation where it's incredibly hard and everything feels hopeless, but it also drives you to perform better or to believe in yourself even more? Play around with trying to see a bad situation through a different "frame" (like a lens, or a perspective) and seeing how it made you stronger than you ever knew you were possible.
Did you grow? Did you gain some new knowledge? Did you have a new experience? Even: Did you survive? A lot of times those little mental choices can lead to building blocks that have very real results.
I remember one time I was feeling so hopeless over the way everything was going in my life, and I decided that I would stop feeling sorry for myself and instead look at each hardship through another lens: one of challenge and opportunity. Changing that perspective (shifting the "frame") is what allowed me to start making positive changes.
Mental framework is a huge part of winning the battle to be the architect of your life. Hope and positivity and visualization are like nourishment for your soul. Shower yourself in love and appreciation for every effort that you are making and use that fuel to keep going, to keep trying, to keep risking, to keep sending out positive energy into the world. You are worth it. You deserve nothing but love so give it to yourself.
3. Life is not fair, and when you stop expecting it to be that way, you can channel that energy you spent wishing it was fair in a more constructive way.
It would be so awesome if there were always consequences when people acted poorly. Unfortunately, the very fact of life's unfairness is part of the puzzle and the mystery of life. I know, it sounds kind of dumb and hokey, but there can be a lot of power in positivity. I've seen it happen again and again. When you put out what you want to receive, amazing things start to happen. People respond to you totally differently!
You'll have the most strength if you stop using all of that precious energy you have inside you trying to fix those who you cannot change.
Get a handle on someone's character. Do they treat you well? Are they honest? Do you trust them? Do they make you feel good, and they seem to feel good about themselves? That is someone to spend your energy on -- instead of expecting the whole of the world to be fair. Bad things happen. But if you look at it another way -- through one of those "frames" I talked about -- the sweetness and the joy and the love that makes up so much of life is highlighted even more when you see just how precious and wonderful all those gifts truly are.
There's a saying I like a lot called the Serenity Prayer. It goes: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."
Learn to protect yourself and make choices that are smart for you in the long run (say, controlling your temper because you know it will help you achieve success down the line). Living well is the best revenge, always.
4. Believing in yourself and investing in yourself will make you richer than any amount of money ever can.
I've met a lot of people who are millionaires and even billionaires. Some of them are happy, but not all of them. The ones that weren't didn't actually invest in nurturing their own souls and value as human beings. Instead, they staked all of their happiness on outside rewards and superficial achievements and fleeting highs.
Sure, it's fun to go to an amazing party or to have a romantic crush who makes you feel alive and tingly, but that person can never give you what you need to give yourself. What does that mean? It means that you need to figure out how you can be your very best advocate.
Sometimes that means pushing yourself to do things that you know are good for yourself when no one else will tell you: to love yourself, to support yourself, to take care of yourself with good food and exercise and support. Really think about how different things make you feel. A lot of times something that provides a momentary rush may not feel so good a day later. Think it through. Ask the question: "How did that work out for me last time?"
5. Develop a belief system and goals that are big picture and help get you excited about life!
It doesn't have to be complicated. You don't have to figure out every single thing or every step along the way. But if you believe in yourself and what you are capable of, you will have a big picture plan. Several years ago I developed a life mission that works for me: I decided I wanted "to live a life filled with honesty, joy, authenticity, humor, gratitude, abundance and love." Those are the values that I hold dear and having that framework helps guide me in my big picture. It's fun when you realize you are the one in control of deciding what drives and inspires you. No one else.
6. Loneliness, disappointment and heartbreak from romantic love can be painful, but those feelings will pass, and you can come out of it even stronger than you were before.
One of the best feelings in the world is when you are connected to someone who really understands you.
Sometimes when you don't have that feeling, your emotions can spiral out and you start to lose one of the most valuable things in the world: hope. But when you look at surviving and working through some of these lousy feelings as almost like going to the gym, you can start to build strength and courage in the same way that you build muscles when you work out. It helps to frame the experience in this way so that you can know: I took a risk, and maybe it didn't work out, but here's what I learned from it and here are all the beautiful moments I experienced along the way.
All of that love, all of those experiences help construct who you are. Have you ever heard the Leonard Cohen song "Anthem"? There's a line it that I love: "Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."
You're not broken. You are filled with light.
...Now I turn the question back to you. What advice would you give to your teenage self? (Oh, and please upload a picture of Teen You if you like, too! I bet you were pretty damned cute.)
Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.