Things I Need to Improve On: A Comparison on How to Improve in These Areas at Age 14 and Age 27

When I was 14, I wrote a lot of my adolescent thoughts, sorrows, and dreams in this little journal.

Not gonna lie, I’m still super proud to say I drew the dragon on the cover.

Sometimes, I like to take a little trip down memory lane and re-read some of my old entries. Usually this results in me wincing at my own teen angst and wishing I could explain to this kid how all those “end of the world” scenarios were real trivial, and to encourage her to believe in herself every once in a while.

During one of those recent trips, I stumbled upon this little excerpt, which I call: “Things I Need to Improve On: A Brief Excerpt from the Journal of Lindsay Mustafa Davis, Age 14, Dated August 27th, 2004”

I was astounded to find that the list of improvements I made at age 14 is startlingly accurate to the one my 27 year old self would make.

I also laughed when I thought more about what I considered “being responsible” and “doing my best” at 14 compared to 27.

So I decided to do a little remix of this list, and take into account both my own adolescent thoughts and my grown up thoughts, both riddled with their own anxieties and desires to be seen as “having it together,” because funny enough, that didn’t seem to disappear after 14 years.

I call it: “Things I Need to Improve On: A Comparison on How to Improve in These Areas at Age 14 and Age 27”

1. Being responsible

Age 14:

  • Pay attention in class so you get good grades and have a good future.
  • Complete homework before 9 PM because that’s what responsible students do.
  • Clean the bathrooms every weekend without Mom asking more than once because you’re a good daughter!
  • Load and unload the dishwasher as needed because, again, you’re a good daughter and the only one who helps your mother around this house, darn it!

Age 27:

  • Balance a budget without going broke each month, even though this budget also includes Northern Virginia rent.
  • Wash the dishes right away instead of letting them pile up for a week like a gross person.
  • Meet quarterly goals at work to avoid the boss’ wrath and the crushing sense of defeat.
  • Make time to call your parents at least once a week, then fail at it and worry your parents don’t think you appreciate them enough.

2. Being honest to myself

Age 14:

  • Understand and embrace both your strengths and your weaknesses a la The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens, which was required reading for all incoming freshman of the James Wood High Class of 2008.
  • Realize when you are taking something too seriously and need to apologize for something you’ve done wrong because your friends already don’t like you and you need to grovel to maintain their good graces.
  • Tell your parents and teachers the whole truth all the time no matter the consequences because if you don’t, your mother will find out, and you don’t want that.

Age 27:

  • Tell people when you are too anxious to deal with shit, even if admitting you struggle with a mental illness is still stigmatized.
  • Apologize to your husband when you hurt him without getting indignant about it or spiraling into a panic over whether or not you’re being too “submissive.”
  • Understand when you are acting out an unhealthy pattern and choose to either be the stronger person and break the habit or keep going down that path, because sometimes acting enlightened is too fucking exhausting.

3. Doing my best in everything

Age 14:

  • Don’t turn in half-assed assignments because instead of doing your best work, you spent more time talking on the phone with your 3 crushes.
  • Even though it seems everyone could care less about the tenor sax section in Concert Band, resist every urge to not play the difficult parts in band class and let the brass, flutes, and clarinets carry the load instead.

Age 27:

  • Spend an hour a day writing without taking a Facebook and/or YouTube break every 5 minutes.
  • Make regular three-to-five day attempts to eat well and excercise before taking the path of least resistance and eating pizza three times a week while binge-watching Hulu.

4. Ignoring taunts

Age 14: Let the bully’s comments slide off your shoulders.

Age 27: For the literal love of Jesus, STOP ENGAGING WITH INTERNET TROLLS.

Epilogue: What I’ve realized about self-improvement lists that is true at age 14 and age 27:

  • Making these lists is easy.
  • Living them out is tough.
  • And I’m still loved whether or not I “succeed” in them.
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