Today is my baby sister’s sixteenth birthday. Happy birthday, Alissa! I can’t believe you’re sixteen. It seems like yesterday you were six and a head shorter than me. Now you’re sixteen and nearly a head taller.
Honestly, I think life begins at sixteen. It’s the year that what you’re currently doing starts affecting your future. People will give you all sorts of advice, they’ve already started, even though you’re not really listening. You’re just getting started. You don’t know who you are yet.
These are twelve pointers I wish someone had given me at sixteen (even if I would have laughed and rolled my eyes, like you are now):
- Get a job: I know you’re already planning on doing this, so you’re one step ahead of me already. Don’t hold off. At sixteen, it doesn’t have to be something you love. You’ll have time to find that dream job later. Having a high school job on your resume will make it easier for you to find a college job.
- Volunteer just because: In high school, I volunteered at the Humane Society because I was required to for National Honor Society. I don’t know if you’re planning on joining NHS, but if you get the letter, apply. NHS looks great on college applications. Even if you don’t join NHS, still volunteer. It’s good to give back. You can make time to give back.
- Go on at least three college visits, and start during your junior year: I only considered one college. You may have your heart set on one college, but it’s important to consider as many options as possible. Even if you know you’re not interested in a college, it might not be a bad idea to visit it, just to get a feel for its environment.
- Write or draw every day: Not everyone is a writer, but I think it’s important to write down your thoughts as often and as frequently as possible. Writing helps you work through complex issues going through your head. Writing has answered more of my questions than anyone else in this world. Drawing is also an expression of the inner soul. It’s important to unleash our creativity whenever possible.
- Appreciate the little things: This includes toilet paper. There’s going to be a day when it doesn’t regenerate automatically, and you’re going to be out at 2 a.m., and you might just end up at a nearby gas station since Wal-Mart is fifteen minutes away and you have to go now. (Okay, that hasn’t happened to me yet, but it’s something I would do).
- Start studying for the ACTs yesterday: You’re going to be taking the ACT exam this year at some point, most likely. I know you, like me, get test anxiety. Start taking practice tests now. You can find them online. http://www.actstudent.org/sampletest/
- Look up from your phone: Don’t be afraid to leave it at home when you’re with your parents (just make sure they have their phones with them). When you’re with your friends, always have your phone in your back pocket and on loud or vibrate (so Mom can reach you), but it’s okay to go hours without checking it. You don’t need to read every message you get immediately. I know it’s hard not to look right away, but you miss out on so much when you’re glued to your phone. (I need to take my own advice on this one).
- Walk the dog more: You’re going to miss that dog when you’re in college, and unless you end up moving in a house with some friends or a rich boyfriend, you won’t be able to afford a dog right away (especially since you have Tinkerbell). Dogs are expensive and require a lot of work, plus it’s not easy to have them in an apartment. So enjoy the dog while you have him.
- Spend more time with your sister: I’m sorry for not being a better sister to you when you were little. I was in my own bubble when I was a teenager, and there’s no excuse for how I treated you. When I was sixteen, you were an annoying nine-year-old to me. If I could go back, I would have been more present in your life. But we can’t go back, we can only go forward, and one day, it’s going to be just us. I may not be as ‘cool’ as your friends, but I want you to know that you can talk to me about anything. I might be cooler than you think.
- Plan for the future, but be present: At sixteen, your whole life is ahead of you. It’s easy to get caught up in the now at sixteen. You’re not thinking about how what you’re doing is going to affect your future. It’s important to plan for the future, but also enjoy the ‘right now’. You need to find a happy medium.
- Follow your heart: If you love someone, tell them. If you love doing something, do it. Don’t listen to what anyone tells you. If it makes you happy, what others think doesn’t matter.
- Don’t believe everything everyone tells you: People are going to give you all kinds of advice, but they’re not always going to be right. Even your teachers aren’t always right. Everyone in this world is just doing the best with what they know. No one knows all the answers.