Looking back as a senior, it is very easy to see all the mistakes I have made and all the things I would tell a small first-year Mara. It seems like everyone has a list of things to tell their past self — what to avoid and better things to do. Because we have no access to this younger self, we instead turn to the young selves currently in the process around us, offering wisdom to them so that they might avoid our mistakes. Not only is this patronizing, but it also assumes we have some secret that, if that first-year simply understood, would save them from many regrets. Advice can be helpful and necessary in our lives — I will never dispute that — but the idea of saving people from regret based on our advice is just something that has not sat well with me recently.
If I am completely honest with myself, I can see that every mistake I made led me to all my realizations, something that we all acknowledge under the surface. But despite knowing this fact, we rush to offer advice on every topic a first-year might encounter.
Take, for example, relationships. Reaching college for the first time, it seemed like everyone rushed to find a significant other — myself included. Looking back, there is an instinct to tell my younger self to wait, slow down and just stay away from that area. It was messy, it was hard and it was sad. But it also made me confront my sexuality for the first time and realize how I identified. I also have a hunch that if anyone had offered that advice, I would not have listened anyway.
I might also be tempted to tell myself that my friend group would have a massive overhaul and that I should branch out sooner rather than later. But though I lost some, the friends that survived a sophomore-year break up are still going strong. Once again, I also probably would not have listened.
In the same way that older adults love to give unsolicited advice, we older students I think like it just as much. But though wisdom from a close and meaningful friend or partner or guardian can be instrumental in our lives, a senior sitting here writing an article about how you should take it slow and branch out is about as useless as and sometimes less helpful than nothing.
And yes, the same goes for you, wise older adults. Though I am sure you have a lot to share coming from someone older, it is not enough for anyone to want to take it. You also have to wonder whether they should. Had I taken all my advice who knows where I would have ended up? Would you be yourself if you had taken all of your brimming advice? I would argue not.
I guess what I am trying to say is that I recognize my mistakes. Both in giving advice and also in my life in general. But those mistakes were inevitable and I love who they made me into. There is no way to avoid mistakes and a wealth of advice from strangers certainly will not save you or deter a younger — and yes, slightly dumber — self. So in the meantime, offer advice to those you love and who ask for it and keep the rest to yourself. Because patronizing is never a good look, and every single person always has a whole lot more learning to do.