Did you know that Thursday was the first ever International Day of the Girl? According to the website, it's a movement to "speak out against gender bias and advocate for girls' rights everywhere." In some parts of the world, this means working to end traditions of horrible abuse like child marriage, child prostitution and female genital mutilation. In many places, it means helping girls go to school and get an education. (If you want to know more about these issues, watch the recent documentary Half The Sky. Nick Kristof of the New York Times travels to six countries where women and girls are treated very poorly. He takes a female celebrity with him to each place, both to open their eyes and to bring publicity to the problems girls are facing all over the world. It's quite difficult to watch, but equally amazing to see what women around the world are doing to make lives better for girls who would otherwise have no opportunity to succeed. The woman in Cambodia who repeatedly risks her life going into brothels to rescue astonishingly young girls from sex slavery, for example, is so very, very brave.)
I saw a feature yesterday on CNN's website with pictures of famous, successful women giving advice to their fifteen-year-old selves. (It's here if you want to look at it.) A few of them were pretty cliché - don't give up on your dreams, work hard - that sort of thing. But there was some good stuff in there about being true to yourself and all that.
So I started thinking, if I could give some advice to my fifteen-year-old self, what would I say?
1. Don't try to please others all the time. It's okay if not everybody likes you. It's better to be comfortable with yourself than to worry about what everyone else thinks about you. In fact, having confidence in yourself and your strength is more likely to gain the respect of others than if you worry about being nice to everyone all the time. This is easier said than done.
2. There is nothing wrong with being an introvert. The world around you is built for extroverts, and you will feel pressure to be more outgoing! more animated! more talkative! more fun! and because these things don't come naturally to you, you may feel inadequate and that your personality falls short of ideal. Instead of trying to be someone you aren't, learn to embrace the qualities that make you special and that (often) come with being an introvert - being a good listener, being a keen observer of the world around you, being empathetic to the needs of others, and so on.
3. Assert yourself. This is really really hard, especially if you are introverted and female. And growing up in the South. Girls are supposed to be nice, not assertive. But as hard as it is, try to ignore anyone who will call you a bitch to your face or behind your back. In the long run, they will respect you for standing up for yourself.
4. When you get to college, keep your options open. Studying music may be your passion, but think about picking up a second major that is more likely to lead to gainful employment in the future, like education or science.
5. Loosen up a little. Some rules were meant to be broken.
That's the best advice I've got. Most of it I'm still working hard to follow today. Not only that, but I have a daughter who will be fifteen in another decade or so. Building confidence and self-respect obviously starts long before high school. I need to heed my own advice and pass it along to her.