Remedy my teenage angst
October 23, 2011 2:10 PM   Subscribe

I realized I'm a turd recently. How do I stop being such a self-involved, small-minded teenage asshole? Techniques, media, a stern talking to--I'd appreciate anything that might give me some perspective.

I'm 17, female, and a senior in high school. I know I can't do much about the teenage part, but I've been feeling shameful of my thinking and habits and want to become a better person.

I spend a lot of time dwelling on myself--why can't I be beautiful like my sister, what if I don't get into my top-choice college, why doesn't anyone get my ~witty~ ~quirky~ sense of humor, I want that iPhone so badly--and am beginning to hate myself for it. One side of my brain is smoking a cigar somewhere and having a good laugh at the frivolity, and the other side is a nervous wreck of "I'm not good enough! I'm going to be a failure!" This is making me miserable. I don't know how I can expect people to like me if I don't even like me. I want to become someone who I can be proud of.

I'm coming out of severe depression with the help of my new friend Zoloft. I'm feeling more able to make changes rather than wallow or think being an asshole is alright, but it comes with the side effect of a massive drop in self-esteem. I will never look like a supermodel or weigh 120 pounds. I will never get into UChicago or Barnard or Brown. I will never work for NPR. I will never have as many friends as my sister. These things are like a fungus inside my head, and while some of this may be true (says the INFJ while hearing her ENFP sister talk on the phone), said logical brain space knows this is defeatist and self-absorbed and doing nothing but making me cry a little sometimes. I've tried writing "I am attractive. I am successful. I do good things." in my Lisa Frank notebook and listening to Jason Mraz, but that's just not doing it for me.

So, rationally, I know what I have to do. I have to put care into my appearance, make good grades, show compassion, and give back. I need to feel accomplishment, widen my horizons, volunteer more (I think about this a lot; it seems like all I do is take and disregard contributing), etc. Knowing that it will all be okay if my short-sighted teenage dreams are never fulfilled is also pretty big; so what if I don't go to the school I want? There's more than one way to skin a cat, right? (I feel so silly and douchy even typing these fears, but they still keep me up at night.)

Long rambling done, I know internally, I've got the blueprint figured. I now need external resources to pound it home; novels (fiction or nonfiction), movies, TV shows, podcasts, essays, peptalks/lectures, they're all welcome as long as they deal with the realization that you kind of suck and now you want to get better.

Throwaway is Thank you for reading.
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (32 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
The book "Feeling Good" by David Burns contains a number of extremely helpful strategies for dealing with the sort of distorted thinking you seem to be contending with. I felt a real pain in my heart when I read "the realization that you kind of suck and now you want to get better." You don't sound like you suck one bit, you sound like you have never learned how to be kind and compassionate with yourself. I wish you the very best.
posted by facetious at 2:16 PM on October 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

You sound pretty amazing to me. I've never met a teenager who wasn't self-involved and small-minded most of the time, including myself back in the day, and the very fact that you are trying to be conscious of your behavior and actions sets you miles ahead of most people your age.

One thing I heard only recently, in my early 30s, and took to heart was: "Don't compare your insides to someone else's outsides." Those people you see that seem better than you in a variety of ways - they have their own fears and insecurities and negative thoughts of all sorts. They're secretly bad at stuff - or think they're bad at stuff - and don't want you know it. And they almost certainly see you more positively than you see yourself. Probably some of them are intimidated by you, and wish they could be more like you in some way.

And let me tell you this, as someone who was high school valedictorian and then went to a state university: I graduated debt-free. Not going to the University of Chicago means you won't be paying the University of Chicago back for thirty years after you graduate. By which I mean to say, there are a million paths your life can take from this point, and none of them are objectively good or objectively bad. Life truly is what you make of it, and the very fact that you are actively trying to make yourself and your life better at such an early age speaks well for your future.
posted by something something at 2:26 PM on October 23, 2011 [8 favorites]

I will never look like a supermodel or weigh 120 pounds. I will never get into UChicago or Barnard or Brown. I will never work for NPR. I will never have as many friends as my sister.

Hi, welcome not to adulthood so much as womanhood. I too do not look like a supermodel, weigh 120 pounds, have an Ivy degree, work for NPR, or have as many friends as your sister. Despite all those things Cosmo excels at telling you are unforgivable failures, I gotta tell you: I'm pretty happy. I have built an unremarkable career I love. Not a single employer after my first job has ever asked me where I got my degree. I have a partner who is fucking ace. The friends I have would help me bury bodies.

Lack of an iPhone is a first world problem. Woe is you? Try to think a little bigger, and a little longer term, you know?
posted by DarlingBri at 2:28 PM on October 23, 2011 [12 favorites]

You're not a turd.

The things you're feeling right now are completely normal things to feel and your worries are wholly understandable worries. The fact that you're bothering to worry at all about issues like self-absorption and consumption means that you're frankly less of a jerk than is average for high schoolers.

I've typed and deleted a couple responses to this question, because I'd hate to come across as condescending, but...

Seriously. The list of shit you really need to be worrying about right now is very small. If I could go back in time and have a sit-down with my 17-year-old self, I would urge her to:

- Get into the habit of exercising regularly.
- Start to figure out healthy eating, in which you neither freak out about calories nor ignore them entirely.
- Take your mental health seriously
- Develop good work habits
- Be nice to people and listen to them

That's....basically it.

Everything else sorted itself out.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 2:33 PM on October 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your main issue (in this regard) seems to be a disease known as "being a teenager." Most teenagers have a lot of self-absorption and take awhile to grow out of it, and the thoughts of comparison and jealousy that come with it. You seem to be going through that process now.

I say the prognosis is excellent.
posted by xingcat at 2:48 PM on October 23, 2011

It would help if I knew what sort of media you like. At your age (omg, more than a decade ago), it was all about 'My So-Called Life', 'Daria', the 'JtHM' comic, Sturgeon's 'More than Human', Francesca Lia Block's 'Witchbaby'... actually, to be honest, everything I read and everything I watched about human beings (that is, everything, period) helped put things in perspective. At the same time, everything wasn't enough. Knowing and feeling and understanding-- all these are separate and different. Growing up is, well, a nightmare. The right media just makes it hurt better. Especially if you're INFJ-- on some level, this whole existential angst/guilt thing is likely to stay around for awhile (almost all my INFJ friends feel some variation of this well into their 30s). The good part is that as you experience more things, as you live, as you read and watch and understand more about people, the continued existence of the angst and the self-abnegation it entails fade more into the background of life. Becoming at home in your own skin is a life-long process, in other words-- for everyone. You can't make the epiphany experience happen, but college is usually totally unlike whatever you expected, so something's likely to happen no matter where you go. And you may be surprised at where you get in. If I have advice about that, it's apply to more places and open your mind to possibilities.

I actually think almost any piece of good fiction (even stuff that's not about teenagers) will help expand your world and alleviate some closed-in feelings, 'cause that's what good art does. So like, you could go through a Best Novels or Movies list, even, and get a lot out of that (plus, y'know, it's a hobby). Stuff that was expansive and optimistic really meant a lot to me when I was in your shoes-- though I'll admit I was a 'Star Trek' and 'Star Wars' nerd for no particularly good reason. I would say that nurturing your optimist and futurist potential can't be a bad thing in context. If you haven't seen much Star Trek, give it a try-- it did a lot to help me escape the little box of my head and home planet, etc. If you have any interest in 'quirky' humor stuff like Douglas Adams, Joss Whedon's stuff, Monty Python, even XKCD-- you can find relief and a sense of community if you talk to people (online or off) who're also into those things and have a similar sense of humor. You're much less stuck in your little pond now than people were even 10 years ago-- so take advantage.

Most importantly, the 'petty' things you're concerned about are normal, so try to relax a little. You're allowed to sow your petty oats right now, so give yourself this time. At least put off guilt till you're 20 or in Oberlin or something (where you can't escape). And forget comparing yourself to ENFPs, that would drive anyone insane, even INFPs, honestly. Anyway, deciding firmly that you don't suck or refusing to dwell on suckage in general is the first step to not fixating on others' suckage (which in turn makes you a better/more pleasant person)-- see how that works? There are a lot more interesting things you can focus on, like humor for instance. It's amazing how fast you'll feel better about yourself once people laugh at your jokes, so go forth and find your brethren, online if necessary.
posted by reenka at 2:48 PM on October 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

What I'm reading is that you don't particularly like yourself: which is very much a teenage thing. (It takes most of us years, if not decades, to be comfortable with who we are).

17 to your early 20's is, for most people, the period when dreams start to meet reality. While there's a few things I wouldn't put in the "never" category - who says you can't work for NPR? - it's also a time to find out what makes you authentically happy.

I think the idea of volunteering is great, as is Narrative's suggestion of regular exercise, but perhaps more important than both is getting some positive feedback for anything you choose to do that meets your goals. (I'm sure you've received it... you just haven't heard it, or felt it to be meaningful, due to your depression). Be okay with asking people you trust for encouragement and support; when you find it difficult to believe in yourself, knowing that other people do so can make all the difference in the world.

I'd also recommend travel, if you can manage it; on your own, if possible. To me, there's nothing quite as effective as being in a different place to understand that you can absolutely be whomever you want to be. You don't have to listen to that internal negative voice. You don't have to meet the perceived expectations of those around you. You don't have to be the person you see yourself being with your friends. You just have to be happy. What that takes is time, exploration, and self-acceptance.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 2:50 PM on October 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Listen up. I am exactly twice your age. I used to (and I'm afraid sometimes do, still) think exactly like you do. And I'm an ENFP, just like your sister, and I'll betcha she has thoughts like these too, sometimes. I would like to say to you first:

You are clearly a smart, passionate and thoughtful young woman. And there is nothing wrong with being introspective, self aware and self-motivated person. Even on your worst day you are nowhere near deserving of the dismissive and hurtful tone you're using toward yourself here.

So, I could write you a book. But I don't have to, there's one already written for you - READ FEELING GOOD, like facetious is telling you. To give you a taste, read this link. Go ahead, I'll wait. Then come back, and look at how many examples of those forms of twisted thinking are exhibited right there in your post.

Never gonna work for NPR, huh? Never going to go to Barnard, never going to have as many friends as your sister? Says who? Maybe says you - because you ultimately don't want those things as much as you'd have to take to focus on one of them, but there is no reason you couldn't reach for it and get there if you really wanted to. If you feel mournful or sad because you can't do all of them, well - think on that for a bit, will ya? How could you enjoy one awesome thing if your plate was overloaded with all of the awesome ones possible? Of course you're not going to get to do every last thing you believe would be cool to do with your life right now in this moment. But that's because you're just starting to come into your own - you don't really know yourself all that well yet! How could you possibly know all of the things that you're going to do - or that you're even going to want to do? How boring would that be?

I'm 34 and I still have no idea what crazy, awesome things I'm going to do next - or even what I'm going to want to do, want to take on, want to try. I have some ideas, but I'm looking forward to growing and changing some more.

A lot of the things that you are struggling with, the anxiety and self loathing you're feeling, they're all deeply unpleasant, but they are totally and completely normal for a lot of people. You'll really be ahead of the game if you can find a way to channel some of these bad feelings into positive action - I think you're already on the right track.

There is nothing wrong with you. There's a hell of a lot right with you, though, you're smart, you're ambitious, and you're introspective and self aware. That's going to take you very, very far.

I'll tell you that now that I'm 34, and I'm leagues more successful than I'd ever dreamed, sometimes I wish that I could go back to my 15, 16 and 17 year old depressed, insecure self and say "DUDE YOU ARE GOING TO BE A VIDEO GAME PRODUCER! AND YOU ARE GOING TO BE A MUSICIAN! AND YOU ARE GOING TO BE IN SOME COOL BANDS AND HAVE SOME EXTREMELY COOL FRIENDS AND PARTICIPATE IN SOME REALLY BADASS STUFF, AND YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE SOME EXTREMELY HOT BOYFRIENDS AND ALL OF THESE OTHER THINGS YOU THOUGHT WERE NOT POSSIBLE!" -- but I a.) wouldn't have believed it and b.) wouldn't have had all of these awesome experiences if it weren't for those insecurities that I experienced in my youth - they fueled my fight something furious and I'm grateful for all of the anxieties about my future I felt when I was your age. No, seriously. Embrace your angst, young lady. Face it head on and use it. Write it down, push yourself, prove your silly thought-monsters wrong.

I have no other advice for you beyond learning to practice keeping your thoughts in check. It's going to take a lot of work to learn how to be kind to yourself and recognize your thought patterns objectively. Now is a great time to start. Being kind to yourself, believing yourself, and being proud of yourself takes a lot of practice and hard work. So get to it! The first step is to practice not talking to yourself the way you do. Would you call any one of your friends a self-involved, small-minded turd? I'm guessing nope, so cut that out right now. I'm pretty confident you'll be surprising yourself sooner than you realize.
posted by pazazygeek at 2:57 PM on October 23, 2011 [8 favorites]

You sound awesome. You need the Feeling Good Handbook
posted by whalebreath at 3:00 PM on October 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

If I could go back in time and talk to my 17-year old self, I'd tell her that the stuff cycling through her head is probably not as important as she thinks. Sure, write it down somewhere, just in case you realize later that your lack of boyfriend IS a huge problem you want to address, or that building an orphanage is a goal you are ready to tackle. But the rest of the time do real things. Right now. With real people (or not). Study, walk, run, paint, talk, listen, try new things. And be fully present for those experiences, and spend less time worrying about what has happened or what might happen. The future is pretty awesome and the stuff you are worried about most likely either won't happen, or if it does happen it won't be half as bad as you think.

You have the right ideas up there - studying, taking care of yourself, volunteering. Set some small, achievable, concrete goals for yourself - start with something that you can really sink your teeth into - and find friends that you trust to support you while you work on your goals.

Good luck :)

(And that voice telling you you won't ever won't be on NPR? Blow it a raspberry and give it the finger. It's a bully and doesn't deserve your time or attention).
posted by bunderful at 3:05 PM on October 23, 2011

Ever since they made me read it in high school, this poem (also a song by Simon + Garfunkel) has been a useful remedy for me whenever I get to feeling down about myself because I'm less magnificent than someone else. It's another way of saying, don't be comparing your insides to someone else's outsides, like something something says upthread.

Richard Cory (by Edwin Arlington Robinson)

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean-favoured and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good Morning!" and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich, yes, richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine -- we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked and waited for the light,
And went without the meat and cursed the bread,
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet in his head.
posted by Corvid at 3:22 PM on October 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

Girl, the only thing I can tell you is what you are feeling is perfectly normal when you are a teenager. It will not last, you will mature and become the person you are meant to be! Right now just know - this phase will pass.
posted by sandyp at 3:30 PM on October 23, 2011

It is worth your bearing in mind that even though many of your worries are pretty inconsequential (e.g. where you go to college, whether you get that iPhone), you aren't a turd for having them. Some people (like me) are more prone to worry and anxiety than others, but everyone has their stupid crap that they worry about. -- the unsightly mole on the back of their neck, the dead spot on the lawn, whether their brother-in-law thinks they're cool, whether their barista thinks they're rude.

Having these kinds of worries is an inescapable result of being self-aware, and learning how to manage them is an important part of growing up. Ideally, every time you have a worry about something like this, you should examine it briefly, learn what you can from it, and then let it go.

I'm 22. One of the most important lessons I've learned in the last few years is that a lot of the flaws I see in myself are not problems that are unique to me, they are universal problems that just kind of go along with being human. This doesn't mean you shouldn't try to be a better person, but you need to learn how to forgive yourself. It's OK not to be perfect, and not just in the sense of not being super skinny or not having straight As: it's also OK to be self-absorbed sometimes, and to be afraid, and to have worries, and to make mistakes, and to be kind of a jerk now and then, and to have to apologize. It's all part of being human; embrace it, forgive yourself, and move forward.

PS: Narrative Priorities suggests exercising regularly, and oh man, is she ever spot on with that. I would have saved myself from a lot of anxiety, depression and associated bad feelings during my freshman year of college if I'd just gone running now and then.
posted by Commander Rachek at 3:40 PM on October 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

So people are focussing on the petty things (iphone, sister, 120 pounds) and I think maybe there's more serious stuff in your examples that needs addressing:

"nervous wreck of "I'm not good enough! I'm going to be a failure!" This is making me miserable. I don't know how I can expect people to like me if I don't even like me.

it comes with the side effect of a massive drop in self-esteem.

These things are like a fungus inside my head

These thoughts might just be normal teenage angst, but they might also be an indication that your Zoloft is not actually doing as much for your depression as it could be. I hope you are discussing these issues with your psychiatrist and talking about whether increasing your dosage or adding another medication might be worth trying.

Constant fears of failure, low self-esteem and obsessive intrusive thoughts are not the same as wishing you had an iphone or being envious of your sister's popularity.
posted by lollusc at 3:56 PM on October 23, 2011

I think the fact that you can reflect about yourself in this way is a great start. Try to pull yourself into that mindset when things get really tough - I used to go by "if X is the worst thing I'm dealing with right now, I'm doing pretty good".

Also, if you can recognize that thinking about yourself in a negative way is not going to help you get to where you want to be, just remember that when your negative thoughts kick in.

Volunteering helped me put my life into perspective quite a bit.

I also think it's worth talking about this to your psychiatrist.

Another vote for My So-Called Life for media, it's a fantastic show.
posted by sarae at 4:05 PM on October 23, 2011

It's not enough to want. Everybody wants things. You have to actually get off your ass and do if you have any chance of getting what you want. You want to be 120 lbs.? Totally doable, just exercise your ass off. Don't talk about exercising your ass off. Don't say, "Oh, I'll never exercise my ass off," like a quitter. Don't say, "Yes, I realize I need to exercise my ass off," like it's just some problem you need to figure out and then it will magically happen. Magic doesn't happen. Luck doesn't happen. Oh, sure, it happens to some people. But not you. No, the only way you'll ever get the things you want is to stop complaining and start doing.

I'm tired of people feeding the sickness. Telling each other they're great, patting each other on the back like they're awesome just for existing. Your actions define you. Right now you are a complainer. The world is full of complainers. Go do sit-ups until you can't do them any more. Then wait a minute, and do it again. Then wait another couple of minutes, and do it again. You have to try in this life if you want anything.

I'm not good enough! I'm going to be a failure!

Maybe you're not good enough. Maybe you can get better. Who gives a fuck if you fail? Failure means effort. Failure means you tried. Nobody is perfect. Ergo, the only people who never fail are also the same people that never accomplish anything. Fuck them. Fail spectacularly. Then pick yourself up and fucking fail again. I know I'm going to sound like a geezer, but your generation is petrified of failure. Literally, petrified, like a stone. Unable to move. Unable to do anything lest their useless do-nothing peers mock them for trying. Show the world how great you are.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:06 PM on October 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

The great thing about being 17, is that you're allowed to be self-involved. The fact that you realize what's going on and want to address it speaks well of you... it's proof you aren't quite as lost as it may seem. Also, as someone from UChicago, you sound just like the kind of person who would have a shot of getting in and flourishing here. You're eloquent and precocious and a snappy writer. Seriously.

You might enjoy A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl might also be useful... these books aren't exactly about realizing you suck and getting over that. But they do deal with those Big Life Questions that rear their ugly heads whether we want them to or not... success, failure, passage of time, etc, etc, etc. nthing My So-Called Life
posted by faeuboulanger at 5:10 PM on October 23, 2011

Stuff I thought was important or necessary at that age:
1. I must get good grades in every class, no matter what.
2. I must attend the University of Iowa, because that's where everyone in my family goes.
3. Community college is low class and for losers.
4. I hated the greek system in college, and all of them were business majors, so there was no way I was going to be a business major.
5. My friends think that Dungeons and Dragons is stupid, so I do too.
6. When I graduate from college, I must get a high falutin' career, probably in some big corporation, and work my way up to vice president of whatever.
7. I should weigh 125 pounds and have a perfectly flat tummy.
8. I should be fabulously popular.

All of this stuff weighed on me, worried me and I drove myself crazy with a lot of that thinking. What I have ultimately realized, now that I'm 40, is that I need to shut out all of the stuff that other people are telling me, and listen to myself. What do I think of the U of I? What do I think about D&D? How do I feel about working to become a VP?

Here's what I know now that I wish I had known then:
1. Straight A's are not absolutely necessary. Try to excel at your strengths, and do as best as you can with the rest. Which is not to say slack on calculus, but don't drive yourself crazy trying to get an A when a B is a good, achievable goal.
2. The U of I is great, but do they even have the subject you want to study? If you're not sure what you want to study, why NOT go to community college for the basics until you figure something out?
3. Community college is a great value! You can get all of those "required" classes, like English 101, taken care of way cheaply. Smaller classes also mean more attention from your teachers.
4. Don't let what others think dictate what you will or will not do with your education. It's YOUR LIFE we're talking about here. I didn't even KNOW anyone in the greek system, and they decided my fate when it came to my major, because I let them. How stupid was I?
5. Don't let what others think dictate what you will or will not do with your time. If you love D&D, find others who do, too. Even if no one around you in real life is into whatever you love, just do a google search and you can find tons of info on people who are. Like left-handing hair twirling? There are 500,000 hits for that on google! (Just kidding, but you get the idea.)
6. Would I be happy as a VP? Um, no.
7. What is good weight for me? I need to be healthy and fit at best, and the number on the scale has nothing to do with it, really.
8. The quality of your friends is SO MUCH more important than the quantity.

I'd type more, but I've gone on long enough, and my kids are going crazy over here. :)
posted by wwartorff at 5:27 PM on October 23, 2011

My daughter is 120 lbs, a beautiful blonde Barbie-looking person with a near-perfect SAT score and who got into UC Berkeley. But by the time the acceptance letter came, she had dropped out of high school and was spending her days watching Netflix in bed and asking me to tell people she wasn't home. Yeah. I didn't know what her struggles were -- because one of them apparently was that she couldn't talk to her mother, or anyone, to ask for help.

Now there is a problem you don't have. Or to phrase it another way, there is a gift, or an ability, that you do have -- you love yourself enough, deep down, to reach out. To your parents, to us on Metafilter, because you know that you don't deserve to suffer, and other people care about you, for you, and will help.

Only connect.

Everything else is... Well, don't feel bad about caring about what you care about -- everyone's hardest struggle is their hardest struggle. But you are doing what you need to do to work through it, and as long as you keep reaching out, keep trying to live as the person you want to be, keep focusing outward on your goals and dreams and not living in your own head, you'll be fine.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 5:32 PM on October 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Looking way back on 17 - I"ll say none of it matters really. Take care of your skin and don't over use your back. Keep searching for something that makes you happy - forget about what you think makes other people happy. All we can do anything about is now. How are you right now? If there is something you can do to improve it - do it. Worrying about the future will not change it.
posted by JXBeach at 5:40 PM on October 23, 2011

I'm 23, and I've dealt with a LOT of the same stuff- I wish I'd sought treatment as early as you are! All I can really tell you is: the person I was at 17, I would barely even recognize as myself today. Hopes, dreams, outlook, politics, interests, it's all so different that if, today, my 17-year-old self's dream life fell into my lap, I wouldn't want it at all.

I posted about this in another ask, but sometimes, I like to write diary entries that are letters to myself in the future. Because I realized, when I look back at my past, all the shit I was so worried about? It all worked out. It really, actually did. Even when I thought at the time that I'd ruined my life somehow, it wound up leading me somewhere new and I wound up being happy anyway. And I thought, god, if only I could talk to myself back then and just calm myself down! There was no need to be so anxious!

So now, when I'm freaking out, I think of myself in 5 or 10 years, and I know... I'll be thinking the exact same thing in 5 or 10 years. So when I write to myself, I think of that person I know I'll be, reading what I wrote and feeling total empathy for me and remembering both the struggles and how she got over them. It really helps me a lot.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:28 PM on October 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm 48 and I wish I had an iPhone. Unfortunately for me, I can't justify owning one because I work mostly from home. Also, civil wars are being fought over the minerals used in component production, people in China get paid a pittance for putting them together and horrible toxins are generally produced in all electronics manufacturing. Still,...(sigh).

You sound like a thoughtful and decent person, so please cut yourself some slack. Most of us have some part of our nature at war with another part. I doesn't mean there's anything wrong. How you manage this primal, ongoing conflict will evolve throughout your life. You won't be proud of every choice you make but you'll keep learning and hopefully, you'll trend better and better as the years go by. It's possible to be too afraid of making mistakes.

Keep the NPR job as a goal. It's a good one. Just keep in mind that if you don't get it, you haven't failed. It's a big world and there are many, many cool things in it that you can't possibly imagine right now (at 17).
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:36 PM on October 23, 2011

First of all, if you want to work for NPR, where you go to college is not as important as:

-How well can you write?
-How well can you speak?
-Can you think critically?
-Are you well-read, and well-informed?

That said, you need to realize how much power you truly have. You don't need permission or institutional validation to be an awesome journalist. Start a blog, and interview people about things that interest you. Make a name for yourself, and parlay it into future opportunities. That's what big-shots do.
posted by blargerz at 9:22 PM on October 23, 2011

Okay. This might not seem relevant at first, but stick with me. I promise there's a point.

There are a couple of seminal ethical theorists in philosophy. One of them is Kant. Another one is Aristotle. One of the basic questions they both tackle is: how does someone become a good person and live a virtuous life?

Kant argues that doing your duty is the most important thing, and that it is more virtuous to do something that is difficult than something that is easy. Since I'm simplifying things, we'll say for the sake of argument that the modern Western world is a fairly Kantian one. For example, imagine two soldiers who are about to go off to war. One goes into battle despite being terribly afraid; the other goes into battle because he isn't afraid. Who do you think is braver? If you answered the first one, then you're a Kantian.

Aristotle came before Kant though, and he had very different ideas about almost everything. He, for example, would say that the second soldier was braver because Aristotle's definition of brave would have been something like: "not afraid of scary things". And according to Aristotle, virtue and happiness are related, and he says that happiness is a kind of action. In fact, he says that it is impossible to be truly happy when you living passively or half-asleep, and that you can only become happy by becoming an active person in the world. He also doesn't think that self-denial or trying to be someone you are not has anything to do with happiness or virtue.

So, all of this is relevant to you, I think, because you're currently classifying yourself as a moral turd because you can't currently turn yourself into a lot of things you're not. To my mind, this is a very Kantian way to approach things. Try thinking more like Aristotle: he says that you become a virtuous person by acting like the sort of person you want to become. He says that this takes practice: you don't learn how to be a virtuous person by sitting alone in your room thinking about it. You have to go out into the world and practice, and often that means practicing things you're bad at. When you're bad at things, it doesn't mean you're a horrible person. It just means you're bad at those things, and that if you're willing to work harder you can get better at them.

If you let yourself think like Aristotle, you can allow yourself to not be fully formed yet. Being in process is not a fault or something to be ashamed of; instead it's just a necessary step of becoming.
posted by colfax at 10:34 PM on October 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

No, no, no. You are not self-involved and small-minded, and you do not suck at all. You are an intelligent, ambitious person who wants to be appreciated and loved, just like everybody else does.

Everything you want? You have the right to want all of those things and there's nothing wrong with it. Trust yourself. Go get those things you want.

I will never get into UChicago or Barnard or Brown.

There is nothing petty the goal of going to a prestigious school, because the reality is, wanting a more prestigious degree isn't just vanity fodder, they really do help people get jobs more easily. (*Help. It doesn't make or break anything). If you don't get into UChicago, you can spend the summer putting in place all the support you need to make excellent grades at the college you do go to, and then you can transfer after your freshman year. Or, you can stay all 4 years and go to a prestigious grad school.

I will never work for NPR.
There's no reason that I can see for you to think this. I skimmed the thread but I know people addressed this above. So I will just say I have EVERY confidence you can make this happen for yourself. Move in this direction small step by small step.

I will never have as many friends as my sister.

But you can have as many friends as YOU want. It sounds to me like you're just unhappy with your amount of friends, not specifically that it's some kind of competitive thing and you want to have X friends just because SHE does, even if you would actually be irritated by having X people buzzing around all the time. Work on this. Work on really figuring out how many friends you would like to have in your life. And then work on getting them. That's a good topic for your next Ask. I think if you had the amount of people in your life that YOU really wanted, you would cease to care quite nearly as much how many people your sister had in her life.

why doesn't anyone get my ~witty~ ~quirky~ sense of humor

I don't think this is frivolous in the least. Who doesn't want to feel understood, accepted, and appreciated? I strongly believe the people who will get you are out there.

I will never look like a supermodel or weigh 120 pounds.

Well okay, this might never happen, if only because supermodels need to be 5'7"+ and if you're not that tall, like most of us, there's not really much that can be done with the current state of medical science. But you absolutely CAN be happy with how you look even if it's not "supermodel." I think once you actually see the small changes start to add up, this will start to go away on its own.

Knowing that it will all be okay if my short-sighted teenage dreams are never fulfilled is also pretty big; so what if I don't go to the school I want?

Read this.

I've tried writing "I am attractive. I am successful. I do good things." in my Lisa Frank notebook and listening to Jason Mraz, but that's just not doing it for me.

Maybe your brain wants concrete evidence of those things. So, go for it. Set small goals and knock them back one by one, and set incrementally bigger and bigger goals and keep knocking them back. Do good things, it doesn't have to be formal volunteer work, you have opportunities for this all around you like helping one of your parents with a chore when they're too tired at night, giving someone a kind word when they need it, anything. The young rope-rider wrote this excellent comment addressing a situation/context very different from yours, but says some very, very wise things about self-esteem. The part that I think could be helpful to you is 10 paragraphs (counting single lines as paragraphs) up from the bottom and begins "I do think that part of why you feel like a bad person..."
posted by cairdeas at 12:23 AM on October 24, 2011

Sweetie, you are still depressed. It takes a long time to come out of depression, and you're just beginning. Because it's happened to you, you have a good chance of being more thoughtful and empathetic than your peers, but for the time being you just need to take what's going on in your head with a big pinch of salt. It's OK not to be volunteering - volunteering is good, but it's not the big test of character and worthiness that it's made out to be. Make sure you're not trying to do to many things at once; you need to build up your activity level slowly and steadily after depression, not in big chunks.

Also - and this is what I just told my little sister, also your age, the other week - what a lot of people your age don't appreciate - what I didn't appreciate when I was your age - is that as you go through adulthood, things become much less about 'what you are' and much more about 'what you make'. The reason everyone your age is thinking about who's intelligent or who's talented or whatever is that nobody's really done anything or made anything in their lives - they haven't had time. So it's all about potential, and you guys obsess about who has more and who has less. But the real, important stuff isn't about potential; it's about the hard struggle of living every day.

I think you should pick something you don't feel good at - drawing, say, and I bring this up because almost everyone's bad at drawing. Start drawing all the time. Don't feel like you have to show anyone, just do really bad drawings every day. Say to yourself 'This is my crappy drawing time,' and laugh. But really allow yourself to get immersed in the process of drawing, the part where you figure out whether you've got that branch in the right place relative to those leaves, and so on. Because the process is what's important, not what anyone says about it or what it says about you.

Also, read The Artist's Way, which is really all about figuring out how to do things fearlessly. Don't take it too seriously, because it has a lot of silliness in it, but the core approach can be quite helpful to people who tend to be very self-critical.
posted by Acheman at 12:23 AM on October 24, 2011

You have at least 40 years in which to become the person you'd most like to be.

At 17 you're almost an empty shell in which to build a person. If you live in a first world country, at 17 you've probably never looked after yourself, managed your own bills, travelled somewhere on your own, run a business, worked in a job with any level of responsibility.

You also may never have done your own washing, cooked your own meals, fixed something round the house, changed a tyre, or made a life-changing decision.

So at 17 it's natural that you don't know yourself yet - you've hardly been introduced to yourself! During the next many years, you'll slowly find out all the things you're really brilliant at. You'll discover what you really love, you'll learn and grow and make mistakes and come out the other side of them, and you'll slowly grow in confidence. You'll learn how to dress whatever shape you are so that you look fantastic, you'll learn to be pleased with the strength of your body instead of the thinness of it. You'll find a completely different set of dreams to aim for, and quite possibly, when you're halfway there you'll find yet another set and change direction completely. You'll end up doing something you never would have imagined, off the back of a chance meeting in an elevator. You'll find various new groups of friends, and you'll drift apart from some or all of your existing friends because you're growing and changing and so are they. Your sister will probably do this too.

It is really normal that you haven't done this yet. You're at the beginning. You'll figure it out, no matter what happens: we all do, in the end.
posted by emilyw at 1:46 AM on October 24, 2011

Holy shit, what Pazazygeek said. I even skipped the remaining thread to draw attention to that.

Who says you're not going to work at NPR? Someone has to work at NPR, and it could well be you. Your feelings right now don't make you a bad person; they make you an intelligent, ambitious, overthinking teenager.

If I could go back in time and talk to 17 year old me, I'd say this: learn to dream. This sounds like twee bullshit, but it's really not. What do you want to do? Work for NPR? Become a journalist? Designer? Art director? TV producer? People do those jobs. You can do that job. It takes work, yes, and identifying the steps between you and that job, but the first step is the dream.

You don't know yourself yet. You don't know what the future holds, and you don't know what you're capable of. The first step is getting out of your head, and I can think of no better way than focusing on what you want to do with your life. So you want to work at NPR? Figure out who you know who works in radio. Get in touch with a local or college radio station. Write emails, make phone calls, ask for introductions. Find a way to talk to the person who has the job you want. Ask them how they got there. Listen to Ira Glass. Visit and learn how to record and edit audio. Interview the bus driver about his life and try to make a radio piece out of it, etc etc. The more you get caught up in doing stuff that's cool, and the less you ruminate on how you're not going to ever do anything cool, the sooner you'll move on from being 17.

And, trust me, being 17 sucks. You are not an adult yet, no matter how much it might feel like you are.
posted by nerdfish at 3:59 AM on October 24, 2011

Try not to beat yourself up. Nothing in this world is perfect, and nothing ever will be. No matter how many steps backwards you take, as long as you keep taking forward steps, you will be ok. Its ok to fail.
posted by Jacen at 7:52 AM on October 24, 2011

Hi there mefibadapple, you've caught me two glasses of wine and one gin and tonic into my evening and I've been talking about your question for like half an hour with my ladyfriend and we (that is to say, I) have come to some conclusions.

Well no not really. But I did latch onto that bit about NPR and it helped me synthesize my thinking re: advice to teenagers. I have a teenage younger brother and I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about what I can tell him that will help him get his shit together.

And let me just say: Your shit is already pretty together.

But let's return to NPR. I'm going to tell you a story about how this kind of thing goes down, based on my own experience and the experience of people that I know. (DISCLAIMER: I do not work in public radio, nor does anybody that I know. Although I do have one friend who was a DJ when she was at Harvard, but I guess that's neither here nor there. DISCLAIMER DISCLAIMER: I DO work in an industry that's both rarefied and competitive, so I'm not completely talking out of my ass.)

You want to work in public radio? You want to file stories for NPR? Here's how it's going to go down.

You're going to get into a big, cheap state school. Totally respectable, but not particularly noteworthy. (DISCLAIMER UPDATE: This is what I did.) Your freshman year, you are going to splurge on a $100 audio interface for your Mac instead of getting that new iPhone (which will suck, because omg Siri looks so fucking sweet.) Despite being pretty busy that freshman year, you are going to start a local-interest podcast, wherein you file a short brief on something going on in the school or school's neighborhood. For the first year, you will have one listener, who is your roommate.

As you begin your journalism degree, you will get involved with the college radio station. You'll spend a year doing incredibly boring administrative crap while getting trained on the gear, but fortunately you have plenty of time because the freshman courseload for a humanities major at a state school is a fucking joke, and only your Journalism classes present any kind of real challenge to you, and half of the challenge comes from the fact that you actually care about the subject matter.

You will work your way up through the college radio ranks, and your last two years in school you will have your own late-night show. By the time you graduate, your podcast has 200 episodes and 800 weekly listeners. You have dated two separate college radio DJs, both of whom ultimately turned out to be kind of douchey, although Chad did make you a very nice mix for your six month anniversary.

When you graduate with a journalism degree from your unremarkable state school, you have a B+ average. But more importantly, you have glowing letters from the college radio station manager, you have 200 episodes of self-produced radio journalism that by that 200th episode is starting to sound pretty fucking solid, and you know your way around Logic and Protools cold. You can record a noise-free audio segment in your sleep. You can think of three interesting interview questions to ask the checkout lady at your grocery store right off the top of your head -- in fact, that might be your next show. So when you go to interview for that internship at the local public radio affiliate (which is probably the college radio place you already work at) you totally ace it.

Three years later, when you interview for an ass't produce spot for NPR proper, you kill it. The interviewer tries, unsuccessfully, to hide the fact that she just wants to hire you on the spot, but has to go through the formality of interviewing the next dude, who obviously wants to work in TV so why is he even here.

The point of this silly but well-intentioned story is to try to convince you that, as a motivated 17-year-old, what you have on your side is time. You've got 6, 7 years in front of you during which you can throw yourself at damn near any goal you choose, and nobody's going to expect you to make any money at it. And if you do that, focus on doing that thing that you love for the next half-decade or so, you'll be fine. Things will line up. Things will come together. I've seen it happen over and over again, in a million different fields.

Don't worry. Just do your thing. Don't listen to people who tell you it's stupid -- especially when that person is yourself.
posted by pts at 5:27 PM on October 24, 2011 [5 favorites]

I'm 26 and an ENFP and we sound alike. That thing about one half of the brain laughing at the other? SPOT ON. And 17 was one of my worst years ever, so you're not alone.

I'm not sure if the thoughts ever go away. Some people are lucky - right meds, right circumstances, right philosophy. Some of us have moments that are better than others. Sometimes it's all a crapshoot.

I'd say though that post school you have tons of options and opportunities to do what-the-fuck-ever. You don't need to go to college straight up if you don't want to. You don't need to be a productive member of society just yet. I was so burnt out by 11 years of school that for a year I pretty much bummed around (I did stuff, but not constantly) - and it was one of the best things I did for myself. Maybe just consider a year of mucking around, doing whatever intrigues you, not worrying about the point of it all. Just doing and being.

Feel free to contact me if you want to rant sometime.

(oh and re radio: is there a community radio station near you? I volunteer with my local one as a co-producer & co-presenter of the resident feminist radio show, and we keep recruiting newcomers like the Borg. ask around!)
posted by divabat at 7:12 AM on October 25, 2011

I am over 30, so take it with a grain of salt, because seriously -- people over 30 are in a totally different mindspace.

However, I kept very detailed diaries of my life from the time I was 12 until I was 24. Every single day I am glad that around the age of 30, I gave up trying to be who my 16-year-old self wanted me to be.

That person wanted to be thin -- not healthy, just thin enough to fit other people's standards. That person wanted to work in a field that, after trying it out a bit, totally wasn't for me. That person had poor judgement in men, in schools (hint: don't go to college based on which one looks the most like a TV college or is closest to a guy you have a crush on). That demanding, bitchy person held me back and made me go after all these stupid things that seemed really good at the time but didn't evolve with the times or with the reality of life.

You have cable, right? So if you flip around, chances are you'll find the movie CLUELESS. And she's all self-absorbed and then around the end of her junior year she decides she needs to be less self-centered and she's been a jerk, but really she hasn't been that big of a jerk in the context of the film but they need a pivot point? Yep. Timeless. (Although I have no idea if Jane Austen's Emma was also a high school junior. I don't think it worked like that.) It's comedy because teenagers think it's ridiculous and the over 25 set looks at it and goes, "Ugh. I remember that feeling. All that seemed so important at the time."

So, yes, welcome to the first in a series of, "Oh crap. This really *is* my life" moments. You're going to have a lot of them throughout the years. Trying to avoid them just makes the transitions hurt more, so roll with it.

Understand the "whys" of what you want -- an iPhone, a job at NPR, a certain waistline -- and go after that with great vigor if you truly want it for reasons that make sense to you. Because you can do it all. But you may realize that it's not worth it, not what you wanted or not something that will make you happy. And the more flexible you are with your notions of success in this life, the more you succeed. It's like a happiness cheat code.

Good luck.
posted by Gucky at 8:14 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

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