I was a gawky, awkward and chubby kid whose struggle to fit in was made so much worse by the fact that I so desperately wanted to be liked.
I was bullied in primary school and felt invisible in high school – but all I really remember is trying to mould myself to be like others. I gave in to peer pressure and spent a good number of years trying to convince my parents to spend money they didn’t have on brand names that would have no bearing on my actual identity.
In short. I was an idiot.
I was also very unkind to my younger self. Well, I still am, but the only difference is I’m learning to become better at recognising it.
In honour of this year’s youth day, which commemorates the 1976 Soweto Uprising, we not only salute youth who were forced to raise their voices to fight for their humanity and education, and were robbed of their childhood, but we also acknowledge that through their sacrificing every semblance of normality, we have a chance to uplift the youth of South Africa today.
I didn’t understand then what I’ve been given, but I do now and this is exactly why I want to share the things I wish 16 year old me knew then – and what I hope today’s youth will take on board:
READ MORE:Willow Smith bravely revealed a painful secret that affects too many SA teens and young adults
You don’t have to use your voice in order to be vocal
In the age of activism, I’ve learned that there are so many ways in which you can make your voice heard.
What’s really important is that you use your voice in a way that’s comfortable for you – be it through writing, creating or speaking.
If someone had told me this years ago, I think I would be a lot less anxious about social situations than I am now.
Failure isn’t the end of the world
It really isn’t. In fact, in many cases I think it’s simply just a way of starting afresh.
I know this seems like such a trite thing to say, but society has taught us that the art of a perfect life is having a perfect score card. Everyone’s focused on seeing the shiny end package but few are interested in finding out that beneath success stories, lurks the blood, sweat and tears of trying and failing many times before finally succeeding.
I’ve heard so many stories of matriculants who fail and commit suicide because we’ve not only been given time stamps for our goal posts, but we’ve also been pressured into being expected to have it altogether, with no room for falling apart.
READ MORE: This is why your goals don’t have an expiry date
But we’re here to tell you that’s it’s okay to fail and it’s okay to fall apart as much as you need to – just as long as you find your way back on your own terms.
If someone doesn’t want to be in your life – let them go.
Not every person you meet during your school years is a) your friend, b) good for your soul and c) there because they want to be.
Know your worth and let the friends in your life who expect more from you than they themselves invest, go. You deserve to have solid friendships built on a foundation of trust, honesty and mutual investment.
And sometimes, the best people in your life are the ones you’ve yet to meet. And who won’t only hang around because they need you.
Most importantly, remember bad friends aren’t bad because of you – but rather because they don’t understand the parameters of what it means to be a true friend.
Don’t let anyone shame you because you’re confident, or let anyone assume you’re meek because you’re quiet.
People will call you bossy. You might even be called overbearing and arrogant simply because you’re a go-getter who knows what she wants.
On the other hand you could be quiet and seemingly unassuming and people will try to place you in a box and call you “agreeable.”
But don’t allow other people’s labels to define you, don’t apologise for not fitting into a mould that doesn’t tick anyone else’s boxes and don’t be afraid to push back against people who are quick to make a judgement without even having the decency to spend enough time with you in order to form an opinion.
It’s 100% okay to be who you are without offering anyone any explanations or apologies for it.
WATCH: News24 hands the reins to students for Youth Day 2016
Be your own fan
You’re going to meet a lot of people in life who won’t like you, so you might as well cheer yourself on.
Also, you owe it to yourself to believe in yourself and your abilities. Yes, the road won’t be easy, but remember, you live with yourself 24/7, you might as well do your best to embrace the best and worst of you.
We asked you to tell us what's the one thing you wish you could tell your 16 year old self? Here’s what you had to say:
"Don't worry, you will be as confused at 34 as you were at 16. Being an adult doesn't give you all the magical answers."— Monique Bernic (@UrbanisedGeek) June 15, 2018
Sign up to W24’s newsletters