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8 Things to Do Before You're Twenty

8 Things to Do Before You're Twenty

By Janet Manley

Let's take a moment to remember all the wonderful things that happened to us as teenagers: um, psychologically shocking physical changes, hormonal rollercoaster rides, social strife in the minefield that is school, embarrassing problems, confusion about dating, AWKWARD chats with parents ... best decade of your life?

Okay, the teens can be rocky, but there are some amazing things about life before adulthood hits, like not feeling the need to describe your job as a deli meat slicer as "a job in retail." The world really is your oyster, so if you want to squeeze the last bit of juice out of your second decade on this big old rock, read on!

1. Be the new kid. It’s easy to write off talk about the “real world” beyond the schoolyard as bogus when you’ve moved from grade school to middle school to high school with the same platoon. So where can you find the real world? Student exchange programs, gangsters! Think it would be fun to live in France but don’t really know the language? What’s a three-month pause in conversation? Exchanges give you just enough fresh air in foreign surrounds to liven up your complexion, but not so much that you hyperventilate and turn purple. And who doesn’t love being the toast of a rural Japanese town? You know how sometimes you can’t tell if pants are black or navy until you put them under a light? Going outside your comfort zone, whether that’s interstate or overseas, will shine a light on your PERSONALITY—maybe you’re navy!

Mixed metaphors aside, being the new kid is never easy, but doing a swap lets you meet new people, see another country and try on independence, without having to wear it forever. If your school doesn’t run its own programs with sister schools, you can go through a third-party organization like ASSE or Rotary.

2. Wear glitter. There are a host of clothing and accessory types that have an attached age limit. WEAR THEM WHILE YOU CAN, SPARKLERS. One day, someone is going to take those jeggings, confiscate that glitter eyeshadow, hide those mismatched crocs and condemn your neon leggings-and-hotpants habit. Seriously, you will be banned from entering Claire’s and Hot Topic. Revel in the novelty now, lovelies: glue plastic necklace charms onto your nails, perm one side of your hair and crimp the other, wear legwarmers over your thighs, wear a backpack that’s so small the only thing you can fit in it is a single Razzleberry Lipsmacker.

3. Write a fan letter. Start now with an innocent fan letter to someone you like—and I’m not talking a member of One Direction or Robert Pattison, necessarily—and you may just find you open up a conversation. Just pick someone you admire and write to them, whether they’re a politician, musician, author, performer, lawyer, your family doctor, anyone. You know who writes fan letters? Authors, politicians, musicians, EVERYONE. The point isn’t getting a signed picture of Liam Hemsworth for your wall (although, if you can get it, SCORE!), but SAYING SOMETHING, responding, thinking, expressing, which teenagedom gives you the perfect cover for.

4. Sit on a billboard with a friend, overlooking the city. How do you even get up there? We have no clue; in the movies there’s always a ladder handy, just begging some kids to scramble up to the perch to talk about life, the universe, midriffs. While we never got to do this, we firmly believe that a good deep talk looking over the bright lights of Wherever You Live, USA, is good for the soul.

When the maintenance man comes over with a broom to shoo you off, guess what? You’re just kids! "Shoo kids," he’ll say. Try it again in five years, and you may just get arrested.

5. Have a sleepover. One day, when you’re old and married, guess what? You don’t get to have bunk beds. REALITY CHECK. It’s also pretty rare to get all your buddies together to pile up in sleeping bags, outside of Urban Outfitters catalogs. In fact, the lack of sleepover opportunities is pretty much why the English invented camping. Boy do they love their camping pranks, those Brits.

But really, these people you call your friends? You have no idea how tight you really are right now: you know each other’s families, you live right nearby, you can remember each other’s 10th birthdays and the time that one of you accidentally dacked yourself when you dived into the local pool. (No? Just me?) REJOICE in this shared history. And watch Princess Bride while eating ice cream with chocolate Magic Shell.

6. Be a leader. We're not talking about starting the next hypercolor t-shirt trend. We're talking about putting yourself out there in a leadershippy way. (Full disclosure: This writer was too afraid to run for class president in grade six. I remember wailing at my mom: “I don’t think I can handle the pressure!” Just what pressure was that, you ask? I think our school captains were burdened with wearing gold pins on their uniforms and sitting up front at assembly. That was it. Maybe they had to plant a couple of trees with their little grade six hands.) But through adolescence you have a ton of opportunities to be a leader in some capacity—sports, music, school programs, mentoring programs—which is amazing because you know what? Being a leader takes practice. No one is just naturally good at it. Really. And you may never again have such a wealth of older people showing you the way and helping you to teach others. Plus it is now or never for the hypercolor t-shirt.

7. Learn something you suck at. I abidingly remember high school as the last time anyone made me pick up a lacrosse stick. As I left in my friend’s crowded hatchback on my final day, I turned around to yell at the P.E. staffroom, “I will never throw a ball AGAIN!” and then laughed diabolically. But here’s the thing: I still suck at throwing balls. You can’t throw me my own house keys without my face accidentally intercepting the pass. What teenness is great for is allowing you to try a ton of stuff, suck at it, and try some more. Maybe you are a football superhero but SUCK at acting. I know the perfect casting session for you to hit: your local school or community production. Everyone is learning during their teens. Everyone. Here’s a short list of things I tried and failed at (for the better!) during my teen years: rowing, softball, cross country skiing, ski jumping, cooking, trampolining, break dancing, sculpture, dating. I was bad at all those things, people. But you can get away with being crappy at things when you’re young. As my friend used to say as he lay in a tangle on his cross country skis, “Would you laugh at a child who was learning to read?”

8. Be outgoing. I know, I know. There is someone at your school who already has this nailed down. They’re THE outgoing person. Every lunch hour at their table is like the sermon on the hill. But let me tell you what I wish I had done while I was in my teens: talked to people. Talked to everyone. I was constantly worried that people didn’t like me or thought I was weird or found me boring, which actually has the effect of sending out those signals to other people. If I was to go back, Never Been Kissed style, I would crack jokes at the people in my math class, ask my teacher questions, be a real friend to people, stand outside my crush’s bedroom with a boombox over my head (update for non-Luddites: hold a smartphone over my head turned to speakerphone), ride my bike down the front stairs of the school in a moment of daring destined to enter the school’s folklore. You aren’t going to be a teen that much longer, so you really do have nothing to lose. Run amok.

Topics: Life
Tags: friends, advice, bucket lists, leadership, glitter, teenagedom, adolescence, school exchanges

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About the Author
Janet Manley

Janet is the offspring of a mid-sized kangaroo and a stately gum tree. She grew up under a hole in the ozone layer, which probably means she can survive in outer space. She tweets @janetmanley

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