“If only I could have done things differently.” How often have we uttered that phrase to ourselves? If you had the chance though and could step into a time machine or time-altering portal and have a do-over, what would you tell your younger self? For me, a 37 year old transgender female, aspiring writer and novelist, and college graduate, the advice I’d offer just might apply to your younger self and those still young enough to heed the advice before its too late.
Tip #1: Be Your True Honest Self
For years I have endured bullying and harassment and had to deal with grown-ups and so-called friends, and people who all believed they knew what was best for me or were so determined to tell me who I was, what I needed to do with my life, and so on. Everyone seemed to have two cents and opinions to offer but not a single person could honestly say they would walk a day in my shoes or claim that they had. The only way to live is to live honestly and for me, growing up, I wish I had come to terms with my identity sooner and had the means and chances and opportunities to be the girl that I wanted to be. I wish I had been more brave with myself and more direct with what I wanted for myself and the strength to go out and pursue those things that I felt defined me.
Tip #2: It’s Okay to be Afraid, It’s Not Okay to Live in Fear
There will be bullies. There will be things in life that scare you, frighten you, or cause you to pause or run away or hide in terror. To be afraid is natural. Fear is what warns us of danger. Fear is what reminds us that our lives are precious and precarious. However, fear should never keep us from following our dreams and passions or keep us from living full, meaningful lives. Fear can be and should be overcome or faced. Life is going to be hard but you should not be afraid of hardships or obstacles. They are a part of life and they serve to strengthen us and shape our character. Mountains can be climbed, desserts can be crossed, and the things that go bump in the night disappear by sunrise or a trusty flashlight.
Tip #3: Your Imagination is Everything
Dreams become reality. Dreams are what inspire people to achieve great things. What we imagine can motivate and inspire not just ourselves but others around us. No dream is too silly, too childish, too this or too that. Innovation and invention comes from imagination. You just have to believe in your dreams, take ownership of them, and be proud of them. The world needs another Albert Einstein, another Jim Henson, more Wright Brothers, another generation of pioneers and great thinkers. I’d tell my younger self that I can be the next Stephen King or Anne Rice or the next Edgar Alan Poe. I might be the next Neil Gaiman, or the next Ridley Scott or Thomas Harris or perhaps…. the very first and only Rachel Conlin McLeod, inspiration for a future generation of LGBT writers and authors.
And I’d tell myself it’s okay to dream of being a ballerina or a gymnast. It’s okay to dream about how the other half lives. It’s okay to dream about anything at all because every dream is worth something and no one has a right to crush a dream or make your personal thoughts, hopes, aspirations, or motivations feel meaningless or worthless. Dreams are powerful things that can make people who they are. Dreams can put men and women in space, move mountains, bring light to cities that were once dark, food to those that were starving, a second chance to those that were once in fear of dying, and so on. Dreams are the currency of life. Money is just a means to an end but without dreams, what’s the point? I’d tell myself to go ahead and feel like a girl at 14 and put on tights and skirts and ballet leotards and go nuts. Be more alive!
Tip #4: Forgive Yourself
You will make mistakes. You will screw up. Everyone does. Mistakes happen, bad choices will be made that will seem flawlessly perfect and right at the time. Zigs that should have been zags will occur. There will be setbacks. Yeah? Well so what! That’s life. You are entitled to make mistakes. You are only human. Part of life is learning from those mistakes and set backs and finding the abillity to move on. I have made my fair share of mistakes over the years and I am still living within the shadow of some of them still to this very day. But you know what? It’s in the past and the past cannot and should not dictate the course of one’s present or future. When you screw up, it is up to you to forgive yourself and move on. Move on knowing that the past is behind you, the present is here to be dealt with, and the future is still yours for the making. Every dip is going to be followed by a comeback or rise. Life is about cycles and the Yin and the Yang. Day follows even the darkest of Night and sunshine returns even after the storm of the century. Life has a way of returning. No mistake is so unforgivable that you can’t make amends or make right what went wrong. You just have to be wiling to put in the effort and will.
The mistakes I’ve made in my teenage years will not necessarily ruin my life. Yet I can learn from the mistakes of others and apply those lessons. Drinking before 21 is pointless. Smoking is just a waste of money as well as good breathing and good lungs, and teenage sex might lead to teenage parenthood, teenage AIDS and teenage STDs, and obviously premature adulthood and life as a horrible MTV reality show clone that gets laughed about on Facebook, You Tube, and so on. Thankfully I listened to my gut at 14 and stayed away from this nonsense. I can pat my younger self on the back for being smart enough to resist peer pressure.
Tip #5: Your Heart Will Break Many Times but At Least You Have One
I have been dumped, used, cheated on, discarded, neglected, forgotten, and so on. Love and relationships come and go. Who I am as a person remains firm though. I may wear my heart on a sleeve and it may be a very big heart but it is mine and no one can truly own it, crush it, hurt it, or harm it. They can wound it, but I can mend it. They can steal it for a time, but I always know where to find it. They can drain it and suck it dry like a vampire, but I can refill it. I wear it on my sleeve so that the world knows that unlike so many others, I have one and am not afraid to use it, share it, give of it, or put it on the line when people are in need. The world needs more compassionate people in it. People need to think more of others and less of themslves, as in their ego. We are all in this world together and we need to realize that. This everyone for themselves mentality breeds only greed, isolation, and competition. It is pointless and self-destructive. Whatever you think you’ll win by competing will be lost to someone who invariably will be more competitve than you. What you share cannot be lost or stolen. What you can give to others, you must also give to yourself. You cannot give what you don’t have so be sure to give wisely. Give freely and generously of what you can. You may fall on hard times yourself and people will remember those that know the meaning of gratitude and help.
Tip #6: Have Fun
Self-explanatory. All work and no play, makes Rachel and anyone for that matter a grouchy, depressed, sad, bored person. Make your own fun if fun doesn’t present itself. For everything there is a season and a time and a place under heaven and so on. There is a time to set aside adult things and be a kid again. Make time to embrace the inner kid and remember we are only as old as we think we are and in the grand scheme of things, age is but a number and the soul is boundless.