• Katherine Pan

Lessons from my Teenage Self

Updated: Dec 18, 2020

This December, I will be hitting the big 2 0!!!! I was born in 2000 and I am 19 currently. As I approach the twilight years of adolescence, I wanted to reflect upon the lessons I have learned. In these years, my personality was shaped by my social circle and my school environment. I have matured emotionally and gained a better understanding of how the world works. Looking back, I would say my teenage years were like a roller coaster. It is filled with various unexpected turns, climbs, and descent. Yet at the end of it, I am glad that it is over and proud of myself for finishing the ride. I have shortlisted three major takeaways from my life and I hope that it will resonate with you as it did for me.

Living in a strict Asian household means I fall into the third category. (Source: https://cheezburger.com/9160940032/smh)

Building healthy relationships

It never crossed my mind that some of my relationships were unhealthy. I stumbled upon this concept while I was reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. In one part of the book, the author talked about unhealthy relationships. It happens when there are no clearly defined boundaries in a relationship. This causes either one or both parties to take on the other's problems and try to solve them. My interpretation of this was that each party was taking on more than they could handle without voicing out their concerns. This was a common theme in some of my friendships. I was always willing to make compromises for the other party. I was easygoing, tolerant, and foolishly ignored obvious red flags. It was only when matters reached a tipping point when I would act. By then, much emotional, and psychological damage had already been done.

One of my best friends in secondary school has depression. Back then, I always saw it as my responsibility to take care of her and improve her mental health. In upper secondary, she was my only friend in class. Over the year, her condition deteriorated and eventually, she stopped attending lessons. I had lost my only friend, but I never made much effort to socialize with my classmates. Instead, I was pre-occupied with helping my friend feel safe again. It was obvious that our friendship had become unhealthy and it was further exacerbated by a lack of communication between us.

Ultimately, our friendship ended on a bad note because we were overwhelmed by the situation we were in. We contacted each other a year later and today, we are still best friends. If you are reading this bromate, I want you to know that I love you! After we patched up, we talked about our emotions about the separation. The time apart allowed us to understand our emotions and the cracks in our friendship. I had understood that I had held myself accountable for my friend’s depression and even sought to cure it.

In a healthy relationship, there are strongly defined boundaries. Each party does not do things for the other out of obligation. Instead, both parties do things willingly for each other. It is about being aware that the other person cannot accommodate 100% to you and accepting this fact. Over the years, I realized that the best help I could offer help was to support my friends fully. I did not have to solve their problems for them. Instead, with my support, they would be empowered to solve their problems.

Source: https://www.instagram.com/shencomix/

Not every friend is worth keeping

Throughout our lives, we will meet all kinds of friends. We have our childhood friends, our school mates, or our workplace buddies. These people have played a role in various chapters of our lives and left us with memories of them. While I was younger, I always tried to make friends everywhere I went. After all, I did not want to be lonely and craved company.

I started having problems making friends in Junior College (JC). It was difficult making friends that I felt connected with. Before entering JC, I studied at this secondary school where most students do not enter JC. Thus, I did not know anyone in my new school and I was all alone in this new chapter of my life. It was difficult adjusting to a new school alone while others had the company of familiar faces. Thus, when I started to make friends in class, I clung onto those friendships tightly. I was trying my best to make these relationships last. Despite my efforts, I always felt that I could not connect with my JC friends fully. I was confused because I have never experienced this problem.

My anxiety caused my mind to race to thoughts that suggested I was the problematic one instead. Maybe I was expecting more from my friends than I should be? Perhaps I am the one that was not allowing my friends to know me fully? Could it be possible that I am just a bad friend? These thoughts haunted me as I tried to make sense of my emotions during my two years in JC.

After graduation, it was time to part ways. This led to fewer exchanges and text messages. As I moved onto my next phase in life, I met new people and forged new friendships. However, I would meet up with my junior college friends occasionally to catch up. It was during one of these meetups when I realized the problem. These relationships that I was trying so desperately to hold onto were unfulfilling because we did not share the same interests or values. We had incompatible personalities which caused the lack of connection with one another.

In my life, I had struggled to understand the concept that friendships come and go. It did not make sense to me why people chose not to stay in touch. Yet as I grew older, it occurred to me that perhaps, not every friend was worth holding onto. It was difficult to let go of my friendships, but I believe that it will benefit me in the long-term. It feels liberating because I have let go of the feeling that I cannot fully express while with them. It makes me much happier to surround myself with like-minded people that I can truly be myself.

True friendships are the ones where it does not take much effort for it to last. If you consistently feel that your friendship is not emotionally fulfilling, perhaps it is better to let the friendship go.

The Importance of Self-Care

Self-care consists of taking care of ourselves physically, emotionally, and mentally. Self-care is a simple theory, but it is one that we may often overlook in our daily lives. Although I knew about self-care since I was 16, I did not understand what it meant or actively practiced it.

Before entering university, I was a lot more carefree and laid-back. I was on a linear path to college and my only worry was about entering my desired course. In my freshman year, I started to put in more thought about adulthood and my future. It was daunting when it dawned on me that the events today could shape tomorrow. Since then, my mind was preoccupied with the things I could do now to better my prospects. I was fixated with the idea of success.

Convinced that my efforts were not enough, I forced myself to take on additional responsibility. I started to sign up for various committee positions and put myself out there in hopes that I would get noticed. In my mind, I was certain that my academic grades were shit. Thus, the exposure from the different roles I took on would supplement my portfolio. I began to spread myself too thin. Being able to strike away my agendas for the day meant that I was working myself to the bone. I failed to realize that I was being too harsh on myself.

Eventually, I collapsed under the mental weight of everything in the second semester. It was a huge wakeup call to remind myself that I neglected my true feelings. I had overlooked my emotional and mental health while in the pursuit of success. Pressuring myself to take on roles I had no interest in, feeling obligated to be productive every waking moment, and rejecting the idea of asking for help were unhealthy traits that I had created. My toxic behavior was causing me to feel that parts of myself were fading away. I had crafted a life for myself that was dreary and baneful.

It has been five months and since then, I have been reminding myself to practice self-care daily. Self-care is the deliberate actions I do to refuel myself. It is important to understand my emotions and I have stopped forcing myself to do things I do not want. Becoming kinder to myself is a goal that I have set out to achieve. I have also started to take appropriate breaks and began to do things outside of my studies! Playing video games, exercising, and writing has injected purpose back into my life. The realignment of priorities has improved my overall well-being and reduced my anxiety levels. Practicing self-care has allowed me to better understand myself and be satisfied with who I am as a person.

Source: https://knowyourmeme.com/photos/1760151-wholesome-memes

The first step to self-care is self-awareness. When we become aware of how poorly we are treating ourselves, we will feel the need to change our routine. I understood that I lacked self-care from speaking to my loved ones because they could see the jail I had trapped myself in. Take time to understand how you truly feel.


“Change is the only constant.” - Heraclitus, Greek Philosopher

This phrase summarizes succinctly how we can never be too comfortable with our current selves. I am thankful for the ups and downs in my teenage years because they have shaped me to become a better individual. I would like to make a toast to my future self because I believe that even when the going gets tough, I will persevere.

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