The beauty and career advice I'd give to my teenage self

I was poor, ugly, and anti-social during most of my teenage years. All that seething insecurity though was also combined with an odd sense of confidence that, come to think of it, I shouldn't have grown up with considering my background. This self-assurance came from the belief that I was smart and that I can do things. My parents did well in encouraging me to read, explore, and become more - they may not have been able to give me the newest clothes or gadgets, but I never ran out of "new" secondhand books. 

Sometimes I wonder what I'll tell myself if I can time travel to when I was sixteen. Will I lay out my plans and emphatically plead with myself to follow them to the letter? Will I even make sense? Or is it going to be pointless because it is, after all, the bad times which contributed to who I am today? Never mind that I don't have a time machine - I still want to write down a few lessons I wish I hadn't spent so much time learning. 

On beauty

  1. Wear sunscreen all over the face AND body, everyday. Sunscreen was one of those things I was stubborn about until I turned 23. I thought it was useless and just a marketing ploy, but it is truly the single best anti-aging product. The sun can do a lot of damage on our skin over time, and sunscreen so far is the best protection we can have short of never leaving the house.
  2. Your acne is caused by more than just your hormones and poor choice of skincare - your toothpaste and hair products also did a lot of damage! I only realized this when I started using Head & Shoulders shampoo religiously in my mid-20s; it stopped much of my acne. Anything that touches the face can cause a reaction, even innocuous non-skincare products.
  3. Don't mess with your hair. I begged my mom to have my hair straightened since I was old enough to "understand" that straight hair = beauty. When she finally relented, I was so happy! My classmates gave me so many compliments! But now, at 28, I am paying for it. My hair is falling like crazy and my hairline is receding. I wish I listened to my mother.
  4. Be fit by getting into a sport. You hate sports now, but you'll love tennis later. It will make you feel strong and capable; it will teach you that repetition is key to success. Doesn't hurt that your legs will be perfect and your upper body strength will finally make an appearance! There is a certain kind of beauty in that, a beauty you can be proud of too.
  5. It's okay to hate how you look like and wish you could be prettier, thinner, the way others are so effortlessly - sometimes. Don't feel guilty for being weak and human. Don't hate yourself for what you aren't. Don't also fall for the "you are beautiful just the way you are" balm because that's not always true. There IS a standard of beauty that exists - there are ugly people, okay-looking people, and beautiful people. It's a thing; get on with the program! The key is to understand that what you look like ultimately is only a part of who you are as a person. It's up to you how important it has to be. It doesn't have to be so important that you inflict yourself so much misery.

On your career

These days, I often find myself wishing I took up a business course instead of political science. But I had absolutely no idea I would be running my own company at 28 years old! It was not what I had in mind. I thought I'd be a lawyer, plus I wasted so much time pursuing and then giving up a lot of things. 

  1. Smile and ask questions. There is a wide chasm between what you love doing and the people who would pay you to do it. The way to bridge it is by finding people you can do favors for, and people you need favors from. Talk to people, develop ideas with them, and see how you can work together to build something. In a room where you don't know anybody, you might meet great contacts - and friends - when you start smiling and asking questions.
  2. Don't waste time being shy and waiting for others to give you what you want. There is no "right" timing for anything. There's only the time you spend learning and making something happen! There are so many things to accomplish if you only took the initiative instead of waiting for handouts.
  3. Failing at something is the best way to learn about it. Working hard and mastering a skill is one thing, but failing at it means you've put what you've learned into practice and that it wasn't enough. It doesn't mean you are bad at it at all, it just means that your abstract knowledge of the thing doesn't yet match its practical application. Try until you know that it can't be done; after that, begin again and do something else. But try first.
  4. Fear is the mind killer, so don't panic. Fear is real. But it's not a solid object, like an impenetrable wall of stone. It's more like water. There is the very real possibility of drowning in it but at the same time, it is not impossible to float and swim through it. Don't let fear make you small, mean, and cynical. Don't let it stop you from trying out new things and exploring opportunities. Let it go through you, like a wave. When it's gone, you will remain, and you can get back to work.

Artwork by author