5 Life Lessons I Want My 16 Year Old Cousin To Know

To my little cousin: I am so proud of the girl you are today, and the woman you will become someday. I would like to share 5 life lessons I’ve learned. I hope that they can help you in your journey.

1. On getting an education

You’re right at that age in which everyone will be asking the dreaded question, “What do you want to do after you graduate high school?” College is certainly one option. If you want to get into a really good school, I recommend that you: get excellent grades in school, take advanced classes, do well on state tests, and partake in extracurricular activities. Doing all of this will increase your chances exponentially of getting into a really good school.

I wish someone had emphasized how important all of this was to getting into your dream school. I honestly had no clue. Thankfully, I figured it out my sophomore year in high school and I got my act together. The bottom line is this, if you truly desire to get into a good college, I’m sorry boo-boo but you’re going to have to put in some extra work in high school.

Which brings me to my second point. You may decide that college is not for you (although I think you should seriously consider it.) Even if today, I’m drowning in student debt, I do not regret my college education. It’s an experience worth doing. I seriously recommend it. This is where doing really well in high school pays off. You’d have more scholarship opportunities and there’s always financial aid.

Maybe academia is not your thing. Maybe you are artistic, or athletic, or all three. You just have to find something you love and/or are good at. Develop that. Whether it’s dancing, singing, painting, writing, or sports — take some time out of your day and work on it. Research it. Practice, practice, practice. Become the best at it.

2. On Finances

I still haven’t quite managed this myself, but I do know this much. Once you turn eighteen, you’re going to start receiving offers in the mail for credit cards and lines of credit. It will seem so cool. “No interest for 6 month!” Getting a credit card from your favorite clothing store would save you X percent, but pause and really think about this.

Nothing in this world is free. You have to pay all of it back plus interest. If you’re in a tough financial situation, or you have an emergency, then you may be forced to open a credit card. It’s not ideal, but not everyone will have their parents covering for them or a great job at eighteen. Sometimes you may need to resort to that, but if you’re doing it just because you want to go on a shopping spree, pause. Think twice.

Believe me, it’s not worth it in the long run. Ideally, you will only get a credit card when you have enough money to pay for what you’re purchasing on the credit card. You do that in order to build credit. You buy something with a credit card and pay it off before the interest kicks in, and bang, you’re building credit like some kind of mogul.

Who the hell cares about their credit score at eighteen though, right? And who can even do that? I know that I’m still struggling with that. I’m just letting you know how smart people use credit.

Use credit cards sparingly and only in an emergency. And getting a new outfit for school is not technically an emergency. Just be really, really careful and if you can put a little money aside… save, save, save.

3. On Health

As you know, I’m really into health. That’s my thing. It doesn’t have to be yours. I only wish I knew at your age what I know now. Like most teenagers, I ate lots of junk food and drank soda. Health was not a priority of mine, and it’s totally understandable. I was a teenager! The ironic thing is that I (like most teenagers) was constantly obsessing about my weight. I battled with eating disorders and depression. All the time I felt bloated and weighed down. I did not realize that what I was eating had a huge effect in the way I felt.

What I want you to take away from my experience is this: Consider eating consciously. This means thinking about what it is that you are eating and where it comes from.

Coming from a Latin background, our parents insisted that we eat whatever is put in front of us and not ask questions. Just to “thank God we have food, and are not starving kids in Africa”. I want to challenge that belief a bit. I still think you should be grateful for having food, but there’s nothing wrong with questioning the ingredients and quality of our food. After all, we question the quality of our clothes, our shoes, and our electronics. We always aim to get the best brands. Why not try to eat the highest quality foods too?

Food is the fuel that keeps us alive and well. It should be a high priority. I’m not telling you to obsess about reading labels either. Just try to be a little more conscious. If you choose to eat meat, acknowledge that it came from an animal that suffered a great deal in order for you to enjoy that piece of meat. Respect this. Be very grateful for this. Life is not cheap.

Most of the meat in the United States comes from factory farms. They are not pretty places. If this cow, pig, or chicken, lived in terrible conditions and died in order for you to enjoy that piece of meat, the least you can do is acknowledge their pain. Don’t deny it or ridicule their life and death. When you start to think about what you put in your body, and eating consciously, thinking about these things is a natural next step.

You have to find out what works for you, but if you take anything from this, just think about what it is that you’re putting in your body three to five times a day. You may not think that it has any connection with how you feel and look, but it does. Making small changes here and there, can make a world of a difference to your health — both physical and mental.

4. The Awkward Sex Talk

If you’re thinking about having sex for the first time or again, here’s my advice. Don’t.

Well… it depends. If you want to have sex because your friends are doing it and talking about it and you feel left out of the conversation, don’t do it. I know the pressure is real, but that is one of the worst reasons to have sex. This is going to sound so cliché but it’s so true. Only do it when you’re in love and ready. You may never feel fully ready but you’ll know.

Most of the guys you are going to meet will do and say anything in order to get in your pants. That is why you have to be very smart about it, and go with your gut. Maybe you happen to meet a kid your age who is not half bad. He or she may appear to truly care about you, and is not just interested in getting some. If you feel deep in your heart that this is the guy that you want to be with, then by all means do it. On the other hand, if you just hung out with the hottest guy in school and he tried to get with you and you weren’t ready, and he won’t take no for an answer. Kick that asshole to the curb.

No guy should ever have to pressure you into having sex. You can ALWAYS say no, at any time. It doesn’t matter what you say, do, or wear; you can always say no. You only do it when you are ready, period. It’s your body, your decision.

Another great option, you can wait to have sex. There’s always college and the rest of your life. There’s no reason to rush. If you have learned anything from MTV, being sixteen and pregnant is no fun.

Whatever you decide, just make sure you do it for the right reasons. Always use protection. Always.

Phew! Glad we got that out of the way.

5. On Following Your Dreams

We already covered this a bit. You might have a better chance of achieving your dreams if you have the foundation of a good education and/or being the best at a particular set of skills. Regardless, you need to know that no matter what anyone says (including me), you can do whatever you want to do.

I cannot stress this enough. Don’t let the critics of the world bring you down. If you find something you love, that makes you happy, don’t stop until you get it.

There will always be obstacles along the way. People who will tell you you’re not good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, but if your heart is set on a particular goal, don’t let anyone talk you out of it. Even yourself.

Whatever you pick, go all in, wholeheartedly, and never let anyone stop you. You will hear, “NO!” more times than you can count. Eventually, you will hear, “YES!” Focus on becoming the best that you can be and you’ll be surprised at how things have a way of working themselves out. Hard work pays off, so work hard at what you love.

That’s all I have for you for now, I certainly don’t have all the answers to life’s biggest mysteries. I’m still figuring them out myself. There is no way to predict all of the twists and turns that life is going to take you on. At the end of the day, you will be making your own mistakes and learning from them. That’s the way we grow, but I do hope that this will make your journey just a little bit easier.