There are so many things I'd love to shout from the rooftops for all teens and young adults to hear, but if there's one thing that especially hits home for me, it's this:
It's okay to be a late bloomer.
You are going to encounter many moments of feeling hopelessly behind in life. You are going to compare yourself to other people in your age group and feel tempted to treat life as a contest or a finish line you have to pass in order to achieve happiness and success. You are going to feel anxious, depressed, ashamed, and find more questions than answers about the path that lies ahead of you. And believe it or not, that's okay. That's normal.
I wish I could go back and tell my younger self that everything is going to be okay. I wish I could tell her that it's actually pretty weird to be engaged, married, a parent, or a homeowner before the age of 25. (Hell, maybe even a little after that age.) I wish I could tell her that growing up sucks and she still has plenty more years to be acceptably young and confused.
I wish I could tell her that she will reach little milestones in life in her own time and in ways that are unforgettable. Her first kiss won't be with a boy who hasn't sprouted leg hair yet or the asshole she was infatuated with in high school for some reason. It will be loving, memorable, adorable, a little awkward, and worth every second of the wait. She will experience first love and loss with a best friend who will always care about her, not some guy who tossed her cheesy pick-up lines and tried to get into her pants before getting into her heart. She won't get her driver's license when all the high school beauty queens with rich dads get theirs. She will get it at the same age Carey Mulligan got hers, and one of her best friends will be there to witness the long-awaited triumph. She will spend the first few years out of high school being a badass writer with her name published all over the Internet and then get her first service industry job when her skin has thickened enough to deal with hangry people and grumpy co-workers. And she will have a positive attitude and work hard because having her own money will be more of a priority. She will grow up slowly, but be told on multiple occasions that she's wise beyond her years.
Sometimes life comes to us slowly and in smaller, unexpected doses. Time is a thief, and we spend too much of it worrying about things that don't matter. It doesn't matter who gets married or pops out a baby first. It doesn't matter who finishes college or lands a dream job that actually pays the bills first. It doesn't matter who falls in love or has sex first. These things happen when they happen. Some people peak early, and some people peak late. It's just life, and no one makes it out alive anyway.
While moving forward will always be important, you don't have to rush. Set simple and achievable goals that will lead to the bigger and more life-changing goals. Ask questions. Forge professional and creative relationships. Learn as much as you possibly can. Stay in touch with yourself, and know that it's okay to change paths, even when the one you're on is all you've ever known. Wake up every morning and consciously decide to put one foot in front of the other.
It's okay to be a late bloomer – as long as you choose to bloom at all.