Dear Ten Year Old Me

Dear Ten Year Old Me:

Hi! How are you doing? Stupid question, sorry; I know how you’re doing. You’re ten years old, still relatively new to your school, and you don’t really have much for friends. Most of the kids your age make fun of you because they think you’re weird, and so you spend your recesses playing with your little sister instead. I get it. I remember.

So I guess I’m writing to tell you that things are going to change. A lot is going to change, in fact.

Eventually, you are going to make friends. No, not a lot of them, but some, and the ones that you make are going to be good ones. They’re going to be kind and funny, and they’re going to introduce you to a lot of new and amazing things. Life is going to get better for you, I promise.

And those parts of you that everyone dismisses as ‘strange’ and ‘unlikeable’ now? They’re the things that are going to make you special someday: your imagination, your enthusiasm, your passion. Don’t give up on them. Don’t allow them to chip away at your uniqueness and shape you into something more acceptable, more palatable. Because someday, you’re going to need your strangeness so that you can stand out, so that you can say something new that might actually help someone. The world needs strange people, even if it isn’t always accepting of them.

Over the next few years, you’re going to be told a lot of things, ten year old me. You’re going to be told what the proper way to act is, what the proper way to live your life is, and you’re going to need the confidence to know when to take them seriously or not. There is no one proper way to live your life, and teachers don’t always understand that, but you’re going to learn it someday. You’re going to come to see that there are no simple steps to a fulfilling life; you just need to figure it out along the way, and the only surefire step that will keep you from a fulfilling life is giving up parts of yourself. Teachers will encourage you to do that. They’ll tell you that parts of you are wrong, that you need to learn to be more practical, more focused on making money than anything else, and although this is a lot of weight to put on your tiny shoulders, you are going to need the strength to stand up to them and say “no”.

Oh, ten year old me, there are so many things that I want to warn you about, and so many things that I can’t wait for you to experience. But if I could give you another piece of advice, it would be just this: talk.

When you’re sixteen years old, someone is going to break your heart, and you’re going to have a hard time getting over it because that someone is going to be of your own gender, making you feel like you have no one to talk to about it. But you do. It won’t always be obvious, but you have a fantastic support network around you that want to help you through things exactly like this. You’re going to learn that when you’re eighteen, and you lose a year of your life wallowing in depression, and the only way that you’re going to figure out how to pull yourself out of it is by reaching out to someone – is by talking.

The way you feel is not wrong, ten year old me. It’s just another part of you. And when you stop forcing yourself to feel ashamed of it, you’re going to realize that. You’re going to have a much easier time managing it.

You’re going to spend a lot of time stressed over the future for the next little while, but don’t bother. It will all work itself out. Things will fall into place the way that they are supposed to, just so long as you trust yourself and allow yourself to be who you truly are.

Much love,

An older version of you that still has so much left to learn herself.

 

Why It’s Okay To Be Disliked

There was a point in my life where I’m not sure that I had a solid personality.

I was what people said I was. If I said one thing and another person disagreed with me, I’d retract my statement to somehow force it to agree with theirs. If someone wanted me to do something that I really didn’t want to, I’d do it anyway, or risk feeling extremely guilty for letting them down. And if another person wanted to say, sleep in the comfortable, cozy bed, then I would be the first person to say that I was totally fine with sleeping on the floor so that they could.

I lived this way for several years, and I told myself that I was right by doing it. I was being selfless and kind. I was sacrificing my comfort for the comfort of others. The way that I saw it, this was the way that you had to live in order to be a moral human being.

Looking back on it now, however, I think that I should reveal what was actually motivating my actions back then: I wanted people to like me. I wanted to be accepted and loved, and the only way that I could think to do that was to let them get whatever they wanted. If I thought that someone wouldn’t like a smart woman, then I was stupid. If I thought that someone wanted me quiet and docile, then I was quiet and docile. It was no big thing. It was just what they wanted.

Right?

Well, in retrospect, no. What I wanted was for people to like me, but what I was actually communicating to them was that they mattered more than I did. They could get whatever they wanted from me and so they took advantage of that, and why wouldn’t they? They had every opportunity to.

And more than that, I was forgetting something very important during all of this: in order for someone to like me, they needed to know me. And that wasn’t going to happen if whoever I was was changing depending on the situation. Sometimes I believed in one thing, sometimes another. Sometimes I liked this, sometimes I liked that. And if someone did manage to pinpoint a specific persona on me, who could say that that person was actually me?

We get so caught up with being liked that sometimes, we forget that it might actually be better to be disliked. And I’m not talking about being disliked by everyone. I’m not talking about being rude or disregarding someone else’s feelings. What I’m talking about is standing up for what you believe in, for what you know to be right, and maybe making some enemies along the way simply because other people don’t agree with you.

And here’s the thing: whatever you believe in, whether it be something political or the mere fact that you deserve to be treated as a person and an equal, there is always going to be someone who disagrees with you. Not everyone, hopefully, but someone. And that’s okay. Not everyone has to agree with you. The most important thing is that you are comfortable with your choice, and that you stood by what you believe.

And, furthermore, the people who make a difference in the world aren’t always the most well-liked people. They make a difference because they say something new and they refuse to back down from it, and that will always be met with some resistance. I know that many of the people who made big differences in my life were not necessarily people that I liked at the time, and that was because they challenged me. They took me out of my comfort zone and forced me to grow – which might not have been what I wanted, but it was what I needed.

That is what the world needs – people that force it to grow. People who don’t care about being liked, but are not cruel in the process. People who are in tune with themselves and their emotions enough to know what they believe in, and who are strong enough to stand by it. And while it might not necessarily be easy to become one of these people, it is worthwhile. Because once you become a person who doesn’t care about being liked first and foremost, then you get to know yourself better. You might even come to like the person who you are. No longer is there all of this clutter about what you should be and what you should believe; you are just you, in all of your messiness and your flaws, and the relationships that you do make will be stronger for it. People will know you then. They might not always agree with you, but they will know you, and that is so much more valuable.

Why Positive Thinking is Important

The idea of being positive is not always an easy one.

For people who are clinically depressed, for example, it can seem damn near impossible. Depression is a disease, quite literally – it creeps into your brain and infects it with negative thoughts, stealing away your motivation. Telling a person with depression to ‘just think positive’, and that will make their depression go away, is not as simple as all that. Depression doesn’t just go away because you tell it to.

And more than that, even if you aren’t clinically depressed, negative thoughts can become a pattern, a rut that you fall into, and the only way out of it is a steep, laborious climb. Every time something happens, you assume the worst, over, and over, and over, until it just becomes automatic. Of course the worst is going to happen. That’s what it does. That’s what you assume, every time.

But that being said, just because positive thoughts are difficult to think, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try. In fact, quite the opposite: we need to try.

Many of us have heard of the experiment involving two plants: both of which are kept in the same environment, watered the same, treated the same, except that one plant is spoken to with negative words, and the other plant is spoken to with positive words. The plant that is praised grows tall and strong and beautiful, while the plant that is insulted grows stunted and ugly. There is no doubt that words have an immense amount of power; the words that people speak to us, the words that we use toward ourselves. Words have the power to shape our own self-image, the way that others see us. If we say that we are stupid and ugly, then it doesn’t matter if it is true or not; we believe it’s true, and that makes it true. So doesn’t it make sense to say that our thoughts hold the same power? Our thoughts hold the power to shape the world as we know it?

The world is neither good nor bad; it exists with aspects of both, and to each individual person, it becomes characterized by the way that we see it. If we see war, death, division, famine, hatred, then of course the world is a negative place – how could it be anything but? If we see love, joy, peace, innocence, hope, then the world is a positive place. It all depends on what we choose to focus on. And as much as it can be dangerous to accept naiveté and ignore the negative aspects of life, it is also very dangerous to dwell solely on that negative. If we dwell solely on the negative, we become like that plant – twisted and ugly, not necessarily externally but internally. We make ourselves depressed. We strip ourselves of our will to fight, our motivation. We take from ourselves things that we need to live our lives in a full and fulfilling way.

So as much as thinking positively is not always easy, it is something that we need to do. It is not something that is dependant on our situation, not something that time will eventually give to us. We will not stumble upon it when all the planets align and our life becomes perfect, because that will never happen. Your life will never be perfect, but all of our troubles, whether they be great or small, will seem easier to deal with when we teach ourselves to think positively, because that is what we need to do. Positive thinking is something that we need to train ourselves to do, even if we do it gradually. Even if it takes us years to get into the habit. Start by recognizing when your thoughts are unnecessarily negative and telling yourself something positive instead, even if you don’t believe it at first. Because eventually, if you do it enough, you might start to believe it. And eventually, the positive thoughts might even become automatic. Maybe not immediately, maybe not for a long while and with some difficulty, but that doesn’t matter. All that matters is that we try.

Why I Cut My Hair

Women tend to have a strange relationship with their hair.

We’ve all heard the jokes about women going into the hairdresser’s and asking for a trim, and then being horrified when a bit more is cut off than they intended. And as much as it is a joke, it is also a sign of the strong attachment that women have to their long locks.

And trust me, I’ve been there – I get the fear that comes with having long hair. The conviction that your long hair is somehow tied in with your beauty. The belief that cutting it just a little too much will change everything about your appearance because hair can effect everything about your face. I remember feeling that way, back before I cut my hair short.

Perhaps the reason that so many women experience this attachment to their hair is because society itself tends to have a strange relationship with their hair. The majority of beautiful women that you see in the media, from fictional characters to actresses to singers, have long, beautiful locks. There are many men who are rather vocal about their opinion that they “like women with long hair” or think that “women with long hair are more beautiful.” Even from an early age, any girl growing up watching Disney princess movies will see that not only do ten out of eleven official princesses have long hair, but their hair is a focal point, something that symbolizes their personality and what they are going through. Pocahontas is seen with her beautiful, long black hair flowing gracefully around her face. Ariel’s vibrant red hair makes her different and more eye-catching than any other women in her movie; it sets her apart from her seven sisters. And when Mulan cuts her hair, it is only so that she can pass as a man.

A woman’s long hair is connected to her femininity and her beauty, and it is through this message that women are dissuaded from cutting their hair, resulting in this aforementioned strange relationship that women have with their hair. Meanwhile, short hair is connected to masculinity and mental breakdowns – for example, the way in which the media responded to Britney Spears shaving off her long, blonde, beautiful hair.

But personally speaking, although I experienced this attachment to my hair, I also sort of coveted short hair from a young age. I remember reading a series of teen books when I was young that had on its cover a woman with a bright green pixie cut, and I decided that I wanted to look like her when I grew up. I loved Sinead O’Connor’s shaved head, P!nk’s blonde faux hawk. The only thing that kept me from pursuing this look was society’s claim that I needed long hair to be pretty and feminine.

And then, when I was eighteen years old, after I graduated high school and left town to begin university in the city, I decided to chop my locks.

It was a decision that I made to reflect the change in my life, but cutting my hair became sort of an addiction over time. I started with a bob, but I moved through pixie cuts, faux hawks, Mohawks, shaved sides. I discovered that I looked good with short hair and I wanted to try it all out, to see if what all I could get away with. For the most part, the responses that I got were all positive as well. Some people didn’t like my hair, telling me that it really changed my whole appearance and made me look less soft, less beautiful, but they were a vast minority. Now, it isn’t rare for people to even stop me in the street or at the mall to tell me that they love my hair – and I do too. I was never very good at styling my hair when it was long, but now I need to put in half the effort to make it look twice as good.

And it seems that, ever since I cut my hair, more and more women in the media have been doing it too. When I was growing up, my inspirations were reduced primarily to the ones I have already named, but since then, we have seen Katy Perry cut her hair, Scarlett Johansson, Kristen Stewart, Miley Cyrus, Ruby Rose, etc., etc. Long hair is no longer the only option for looking beautiful, and people are beginning to realize that.

But although I initially cut my hair because I thought it looked beautiful, there was something else about it that I didn’t quite expect but discovered fairly quickly; just how freeing it feels.

When you have short hair, it isn’t because you’re trying to conform to any beauty standard. You don’t even have it because you care if other people think you’re pretty. You have short hair because you want short hair, because you like it. Short hair is about you, not anyone else.

And to return to my discussion of Disney princesses and how they represent short hair, there is actually one princess who accurately represents what short hair is like: Rapunzel. Throughout the whole film, her hair is long because someone else covets it, because someone else wants her hair to be long. Near the end of the film, however, her hair is cut, and through the action, she is freed from the oppressive influence of that person in her life. She no longer needs to live for them; she can be free, make decisions for herself, do what she wishes. And maybe it’s a bit of an exaggeration to say that cutting your hair makes you any freer than a woman who keeps her long hair (and nor am I trying to say that any woman who has long hair is at all a prisoner), but it does represent how short hair can make you feel.

Short hair is fun. Short hair is free. And short hair does not at all make you any less beautiful or feminine.

Thoughts on Regret

Regret is a pervasive and terrifying thing.

The idea that you can look back on your life, on decisions that you made at the time, and come to the conclusion that you made the wrong decision. That the path you chose is thin and winding and leads nowhere, and there’s no way to get to the path that you wish you had taken now. Because now that you are on this path, now that you realize that it is impossible to turn around and walk back, now you know that that other path was a much better path to take.

I know many people who have felt this way. I know many people who have gotten lost to this feeling, have become bitter and depressed because of it. And for a brief time, even I found this feeling creeping up on me.

I regretted the fact that I allowed my depression to cripple me for a year.

I regretted the school that I had chosen upon going into post-secondary.

I regretted things that I couldn’t possibly have changed or even chosen, things that I was born into. Things that simply were. Things that I could only curse fate or the universe of God or whatever you believe in for, because only that could have been responsible for it.

And you know what I began to realize? There’s absolutely no good to be found in regret.

Once you start down a path, you can’t turn around and change your mind, that’s true. You can only move forward, not back, and it’s important for you to keep that in mind – and one of the reasons why it is so important is because you can still move forward. You don’t have to stay on the path you are on. Just because you have started on it, it doesn’t mean you have to continue. You can change your mind, you can start on a new path, you can cut across and cheat your way onto a new road. Your past is set in stone, but your future is free. Your future is something that you still can change.

And often times, we make the decisions that we do for a reason, and it’s too easy to forget that reason when we have grown and learned new things. At one time, I regretted allowing myself to be crippled by depression, but I forget that I was crippled by it because I was deeply, intensely depressed, and I didn’t understand that at the time. I understand that now. I know how to cope with that now. But I didn’t at the time, and that’s why I made the choice that I did. It’s important for us to remember that, because it makes it easier to forgive ourselves for the decisions that we made in the past.

More than that, we should never regret the bad times because, often times, the bad times need to happen. Nobody’s life is constantly perfect – we all need to experience pain because we learn from pain. From pain, we are given the opportunity to find our strength. The bad times teach us lessons which we can then take with us into the good times, which we can then use to teach others. Maybe I did lose a year of my life to depression, but when I hear someone else voicing the same thoughts that tormented me during those years, I know what they are going through and I can try to help them. So why would I regret any of it?

Regret can be a very harmful thing. It can become something that overwhelms us, that depresses us, but it can also be a good sign. We regret things when we realize that we now know more than we did then, and that if we were to make the same decision now, we would have chosen differently. Regret is a sign of growth. So do not linger in your regret. Be proud of the fact that you have grown, and take that growth into the future with you. After all, the future is the only place where you can take it now.