As I watch my kids getting ready to embark on new adventures—one heading to college, the other to high school—I’m being flooded with memories of my own life, and once I opened those floodgates, I found myself reliving some of the mistakes I made. 

I’m not talking about the honest ones that come from lack of experience; that’s part of learning, of navigating the world, and we can all be forgiven those.  What I’m more concerned with are the fears that drove me to make decisions from the wrong part of my gut, the part that held me back instead of driving me forward. I would hate to see that particular trait—or the inertia that is occasionally its byproduct—make its way down the family line.  

So here, my children, are the mistakes I hope you never make.

Thinking you’re not good enough

I’ve done okay for myself. I have a career full of ups and downs, and overall I’m pretty happy with the work I do. But there have been so many jobs I never even tried to get when I was just starting out, because I figured no one would give them to me. 

It goes even further back; when I was in college, I didn’t even consider applying to film school because I just assumed it was more than I could handle. I majored in Dramatic Writing (which meant writing for TV, theater, and film), but never learned anything about tech or production, because I just assumed I couldn’t do it, without even giving myself a shot.

Going to college when you’re not ready

I might sound crazy for saying this to my children. One of them is headed to college in September, and I believe it’s the right choice for him. But the first time I went, I was just going because it was the next obvious thing on the list, and it wasn’t where I wanted to be or what I wanted to do. 

I think if I’d taken a gap year, I would have had a clearer vision of what I wanted. Lucky for me, that was in Canada where university tuition doesn’t bankrupt people, but doing that here in the United States is a pretty costly mistake. Go to college when you want to, not because you think you should.

Anticipating rejection before even trying

I wasn’t much of a dater, ever. I was so sure I was going to be rejected that I was almost wincing in anticipation of it. I assumed guys wouldn’t like me, and I was 100% sure that assumption was based on empirical evidence. Hindsight tells me otherwise. I was sending off some pretty strong signals that I wasn’t interested, because—let’s face the truth here—guys aren’t generally terrific at picking up signals anyway, so my fear of them probably appeared to be disinterest. I was everyone’s buddy, and almost no one’s girlfriend.

When I met my husband and we fell in love, he shook all of that loose without even trying. He simply caught me off guard with every gesture, every compliment, and his absolute, unabashed romantic interest in me. I still don’t know how he did it! 

He taught me what I hope he’s passed on to the kids: It’s better to ask someone out and deal with the possibility of “no” than to miss out entirely. And more than that, if someone said no to my husband, he’d just move on emotionally. No wallowing in desperate yearning for months at a time like his wife! This time, kids, listen to your father, and you’ll have a lot more fun. Once you’re in a relationship and things get complicated, THAT’S when you should come to me.

Getting hung up on your appearance (and pretending you’re not)

We all have our hang-ups, right? I’ve always had a thing about my looks, as so many women do, but somewhere early on, I decided it was shallow to care about one’s appearance. Or rather, I decided that was a “safe” attitude to have, when the real truth was that I was constantly preoccupied by my feelings of physical inferiority.

There aren’t a lot of photos of me from my teenage years, 20s, or 30s. I didn’t like being photographed and did what I could to avoid it. But when I do see one of those pictures now, it’s always a shock. I remember how I felt about myself then, but when I look at the photograph, I am (dare I say it?) cute. I was cute!

I think if I’d been able to admit that instead of pretending to be indifferent to my appearance, I could’ve found some reconciliation there and maybe even some confidence. Looking back, the vision I had of myself was ridiculous. In my 20s, I didn’t wear shorts for years because I didn’t think I had nice legs, but guess what? I had great legs! I wear shorts now, all summer, and my legs are still pretty good. So silly. Worse than that, so much despair for no reason. A little therapy would have gone a long way back then.

I see my own kids, already saying phrases like, “I don’t wear that,” and I feel guilt for having passed on this terrible trait to them. They deserve better.

Finally: Don’t throw away your favorite toys!

Parents will tell me I’m wrong, but THEY are the ones who don’t get it. My biggest toy regret is letting people convince me to get rid of my Star Trek: The Next Generation transporter. That was a really cool toy! Keep your precious treasures, my children, and don’t let other people shame you into giving up that which you love.  



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About Laurie Ulster

A transplanted Canadian living in New York, Laurie Ulster is a freelance writer and a TV producer who somehow survived her very confusing adolescence as the lone female Star Trek fan in middle school. She writes about pop culture, lifestyle topics, feminism, food, and other topics for print, digital, podcasts, and TV.

View all posts by Laurie Ulster