When I was 16, I was an anti-choice, transphobic young Catholic who was convinced that she would wait until she was married to have sex. Thankfully, all of that changed as I grew up and interacted with people from different walks of life.
Once my world began to expand beyond my small town in New Jersey and I realised that what I had been taught at church was actually quite out of step with reality, I became a smarter, better person.
I suppose 16-year-old me would be happy with who I am today – an author and comedian – though the comedian part would quite surprise her. Oh, and she'd be of the opinion that I ought to lose a few pounds, since she was quite judgmental about other people's bodies (and her own most of all.)
She'd be shocked that I live in New York and Los Angeles, as she was a fan of neither of those cities. And my identity as a bisexual would really throw her for a loop. Overall, she'd be extremely relieved to know I have a boyfriend.
She wouldn't know what to think of my puppy, however. Teen me was more of a cat person. A really uptight, religious cat person.
– Sara Benincasa, writer and comedian
Oh, 16-year-old Stuart Heritage, the journey that lays before you. The wonderful things you'll see, the incredible new experiences you'll… Actually, no, wait. Sorry. I was accidentally addressing every other 16-year-old who ever lived. My apologies. I'll begin again.
Jesus Christ, I've wasted my life. Nothing has changed. It's been 18 years and nothing has changed. Not a single fucking thing. I mean, for god's sake, look at me. Sixteen years old, sitting inside on a beautiful day with the curtains drawn, idly watching a television programme I neither enjoy or understand. Fast-forward to now and THAT'S MY ACTUAL JOB.
Oh, sure, somewhere down the line I discovered contact lenses, and the terms of my employment mean that I'm now required to write 'This is shit' on a laptop while I watch TV instead of just thinking it. But that's all. My entire life has been an endless, miserable hamster wheel of pointless inertia. Thanks a bunch for making me realise this, BuzzFeed. Thanks a fucking heap.
I have achieved nothing.
– Stuart Heritage, writer for The Guardian
When I was 16:
– Lived with my mom and siblings in a small village in Lithuania
– Knew how to milk a cow and lots of other chores around farm animals and garden
– Started a new and exciting subject of IT at school
– Pined after a classmate, quite dramatically
– Had no confidence or backbone
– Was really poor
– Read loads
– Started listening to this band whose music was like no other (Rammstein). Nobody apart from my family understood why would I listen to something like that in my village and my school
Now I'm 32, lots has changed:
– Have lived in London since last year
– Work as a software tester (that fascination with IT continued to me choosing my bachelor studies in this field and later discovering that even if you are not a very good developer, there's plenty to do in IT)
– Am paid well because I am damn good at my job
– Got a stylised Rammstein tattoo to remind me that even darkest times can and will pass (their music helped me survive a lot since I was 16)
– Still read loads but also became obsessed a lot with TV series and Marvel films
– Occasionally pine after some guy or other but it takes less time and drama to get over it
– Realised that I am perfectly OK being by myself and have a lot more confidence my ability to survive and deal with life, which allows me to enjoy it more
– Learned how to keep distance from people who are toxic and not feel bad about it
– Have been doing oriental dancing (bellydancing) for almost seven years now. It added a lot to my self confidence and I also found a lot of good friends
– In general, embraced my geeky side and London is perfect for it
In conclusion, my 16-year-old self would be absolutely delighted to know that everything would turn out like that. Even with all the dark times.
When I was 16 I'd accepted that I was not going to be the next Britney Spears, since I was a pale, sarcastic Scottish chick from a council house and a working-class family. I always knew I wanted more from life but I always sort of knew I couldn't get it, so I settled with being in a long-term relationship, gaining weight, and being fine.
I'm 21 now, and single. In five years my whole life has changed. Although I'd only ever been abroad once before and was terrified, I packed up my PR degree and Scottish accent and moved alone to Sydney, Australia. Now I now work in PR and events in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Even saying that sounds bizarre to me.
I live a life of "pinch me" moments.
If 16-year-old me met me now, she would be shocked and probably a little smug. She'd call me a sell-out, ask where my accent has gone (even though people still don't understand me in Australia), and be disappointed I didn't keep up with the 30 Day Shred.
She'd pretend she was too cool to care about the future and stick another indie song on her iPod instead. Secretly, though, she'd be relieved to know that the hard work paid off and she wouldn't have to daydream forever.
At 16, I was cripplingly depressed, but doing an excellent impression of someone thoroughly enjoying life. I was in a series of self-conscious indie bands, had a flourishing social life, and my hair was really very interesting. However it was all a cover for how trapped and alienated I was feeling, and how panicky I was about the fact that I had absolutely no idea what to do next.
If then-me met now-me she would ask a lot of questions about exactly what a BuzzFeed was, and why I no longer had mermaid hair. She'd approve of my career (once she understood it) and love life, but would be mortified that I'd just sold my guitar. She'd also be freaked out that I'd reached 30 without burning out or basically turning into one of the women from the Far Side cartoons.
She wouldn't ask about my demons, because she spent so much time denying she had any. But I think if I told her that I'd faced them down long ago, she would relax a lot. She might even live her life completely differently.
We'd agree about the hair thing, though.
– Robyn Wilder, BuzzFeed writer
When I was 16 I was desperately unhappy about everything – angry, spiteful, and bitter. My one ambition in life was to play sport, and this was clearly not going to happen. I felt massively unattractive to the opposite sex, and I felt in large part that it was their fault more than it was mine.
I just wanted to be liked by the people around me, so I jeopardised my studies by doing a bunch of drugs and generally trying to act cool. I nearly got arrested a couple of times – once I jumped over a fence and ran away from the cops. At home I'd sit in my bedroom smoking weed and cutting my ankles with a penknife because that was the only way I could escape myself. I was on anti-depressants and beginning to get addicted to them.
And then, weirdly, in the space of year, it suddenly changed.
I got addicted to books. I ended up spending every spare moment in the library. Which maybe wasn't the coolest thing for a 17-year-old, but it was what I needed. Because it helped me come top of the year in an exam and for the first time I actually felt proud about something I did.
That was the first step to realising that what people think of you, which was at the heart of all I'd been worried about, actually doesn't really matter. By the time I got to university I was a relatively normal, confident person.
16-year-old me would find everything about my life strange. He'd never met a black person in person. Or travelled much further than France, I don't think. He'd be disappointed that I wasn't a sportsman – but people I knew back then have gone on to be professional sportsmen and failed, so I don't really envy them.
I think on the whole 16-year-old me would be cool because all he wanted was to be happy, which I pretty much am most days.
At 16 I was a high-school student deep in the American Midwest. I played the trumpet in the marching band. I studied constantly and got straight As. I was worried about getting my driver's licence and whether or not the cute boy at my after school job liked me (he did and he didn't, of course). I wrote short stories but really I wanted to write a novel.
I was a good kid, but I was full of anxiety. Would anyone ever love me? Would my writing ever be good enough? I wanted nothing more than to get married, have kids, and write books. That's it. Nothing more.
Life definitely hasn't turned out the way I planned. I'm now an expat living in London. I was divorced by the time I was 30. I work in publishing and in my spare time I write (as yet unpublished) young adult fiction.
My 16-year-old self would be happy about certain things: I've lost a lot of weight and I know what it's like to fall madly in love. She would undoubtedly be upset that I'm not married and that I don't have children ("But, but, you're 30!" I can hear her scream) And I feel sorry for her. She wasted so much energy worrying about her body, her grades, and her love life (or lack thereof) that she lost sight of herself.
She should have focused on being a happier person.
Of course I have days when I feel bitter. Who doesn't? But I also have days when I realise how fortunate I am to have come this far.
At 16 I was suffering acutely from typical cushy teenage alienation and a not-so-typical chronic illness, which contributed to my not fitting in well at school – or outside of it.
To cope, I formulated insanely high-falutin' ideals about what I was going to do with my life. Despite being part of a comfortable, middle-class family who went on nice holidays and shopped at M&S, I was very judgmental of those who didn't share my ideals and were part of what I considered "the capitalist system".
My 16-year-old self would probably be very surprised and disappointed to find that I thwarted her best attempts at artistic integrity (for example, dropping out of A-levels, refusing to go to university) and "sold out" with a career in advertising. She would be more dismayed to know that I love my job and am much better at writing ad copy than some hideous faux-Proustian novel.
If she and I were to have a drink together (just one, because she'd probably get tipsy after two and flirt with my now-fiancé, who she would consider out of now-me's league), I'd hope she'd come to understand how happy I am now, and how a large part of that happiness comes from realising that almost all things and all people are worthwhile in their own way.
She'd definitely still let me get the bill though.
Dr Brooke Magnanti
Back in October 1992 I was 16 and had started the first year of university. At the time I was a physics major, struggling with German lectures, and generally trying to pass myself off as a grown-up in a sea of things I didn't understand. So give or take 22 years and some modal verbs, not a lot has changed.
There were two things happening that made the most difference to how I turned out. I'd finally stopped giving a shit what other people thought, and was just starting to get interested in the internet. This was pre-web of course, so that meant BBS action, Usenet, and a lot of listening to modems trying and fail to dial in to the local Freenet.
Already my circle of friends was starting to drift from people I'd met in real life first to people I'd met online first. Granted, when 90% of those people were all sitting in the same basement computer lab in the science library, I probably would have met them anyway.
At the small Catholic school I'd attended previously, being a young, glasses-wearing nerd marked you out for bullying. So it was a shock to find a world where these qualities were comfortingly unremarkable. My self-esteem went up and up as a result; it's not really been checked since. Did I think I was hot stuff? Hell yes I did. Would that person think the same if she met me now? Possibly not, but I have a feeling she'd be secretly pleased to find out that you can, actually, make a living out of writing stuff on the internet.
– Dr Brooke Magnanti, writer and scientist (also known as Belle de Jour)
I was a miserable 16-year-old. I had very few friends and was counting down the days until I could finish school and leave my home town for pastures new. By far my biggest escape route was music. I sat at home every night, I listened to the music of 1996 and read Select magazine, dreaming of what it would be like to live in London and be among it all. So I plotted my escape to the soundtrack of Blur, Oasis, Pulp, Menswear, and the Bluetones. A few years passed. I went to a few gigs. I kept up with the careers of the bands I loved so much in those days. The bands that I so badly wanted to hang out with as a teenager. Then Twitter happened. I could talk to my idols – well, talk AT them – as anyone with a Twitter account knows.
One band member who was more chatty than the others was Mark Morriss of the Bluetones. I followed what he was up to, and found out about solo gigs. I got to know him a bit, we became friends and now I’m selling merchandise for him on his full-band shows promoting his newest album.
I’m at the Jazz Café, watching him from the wings, and it hits me that the miserable, lonely, friendless 16-year-old me couldn’t possibly have even contemplated that this could happen. At the very least, I wouldn’t have believed it if you’d have told me.
Roughly every five years, I look back on the half-decade-younger version of myself and decide that I was an idiot. I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with this – in fact, if you don’t do it, it might be a sign that you’re getting a bit complacent, or at the very least smug.
Looking back at my 16-year-old self is more of an occasion for a wry smile and a hat tip to the socially awkward, physically incompetent young man I was then, though. I’d like to give that kid an avuncular, T800-like slap on the shoulder and tell him that everything’s going to be all right.
That he doesn’t have asthma or some other undiagnosed biological deficiency: He just doesn’t run around enough, because he hates football and hasn’t found his true sporting calling (fighting) yet. That girls are not some bizarre species to be handled according to rules codified in Hugh Grant films: You can just talk to them, like you do with your friends. That he can write for a living, and that he doesn’t have to be an actuary.
Oh, and then there’s the most important thing I’d like to say: Yes, the baldness is hereditary, but for fuck’s sake just embrace it. Your head’s a nice shape, and the alternative “haircuts” are no sort of choice at all.
When I was 16 (in 1989) I was a British forces brat living in Cyprus, wearing as little as humanly possible and sporting a heinous ’80s perm. I’d lived on the island for three years by then, spending my afternoons hanging out with friends on the beach, and weekends teaching soldiers to waterski. I thought anything and everything was possible, and it never occurred to me that this wasn’t real life.
If you told me I’d back in the UK as a broke, teenage single mum three years later, I’d have laughed in your face. But I think my 16-year-old self would also be proud that the determination and self-reliance I learned at 16 would stay with me for the next 25 years, and that actually I was right about anything being possible, just as long as you don’t try to do everything.
That said, I’d also be dead annoyed that I STILL haven’t written that novel, nor did I ever become the world’s most inspiring teacher, as showcased by Morgan Freeman in Lean on Me. But at least I ditched the perm, so every cloud.
– Heidi Stephens, freelance writer and Guardian liveblogger