Given the opportunity, there are probably a lot of tiny, superficial things you say to your fourteen-year-old self, (Get a haircut; Stop being a smartass; Maybe try not masturbating for, like, a night, and see what that does to the amount of free time you have). Small things you wish you'd known, because they would've made middle school, high school and whatever comes after slightly easier.
There are also much bigger things, things about life and growing up that someone damn sure should've told you about.
You Don't Become An Adult, You Just Suddenly Are One
When I was younger and looked that I considered to be adults, I had a number of various feelings, depending on who I was looking at. Respect and awe, for those who seemed to know everything. Contempt, for some authority figures with whom I had a whole lot of pointless, adolescent trouble. Pity, for the few who, to me, "just didn't get it and never would, man." Even though my specific opinions changed from person to person, they all fell under the same umbrella of characterization: this person is an Adult. Some are worse than others, but they're all in the same general class of Adulthood, they all know how the world works, they've all undergone whatever fundamental change one eventually undergoes when one becomes an Adult, and they're all operating on a much different level from me and everyone I knew. They've taken the test, or they've seen the light or whatever it is you do when you get promoted from being just a dude to being a Man.
Certainly you're not an adult, because you're just wandering around, still trying to figure out how life works as you go along.
There's no test, there's no light, and there's no tangible event that signifies the transition into adulthood. You don't enter an organization of adulthood. There's not, like, a guy hanging around at your college graduation who comes up to you and says "Now that you're an adult, here's all of our secret knowledge about existence, and how to live as a functioning human outside of the school system."
"Since you've graduated I can legally give you this box, which is just FULL of all of the rules that govern life and existence."
There's no class or test or paperwork to sign. One day you just realize you're a person who pays bills. You're a person who signs up for a club card at your local grocery store because, "Oh, I might as well, I'm there so often." You're a person who gradually is getting less and less familiar with whatever's going on in pop music. You can vote and rent a car and get married and have kids, and it's not weird, it's normal.
You're an adult, and no one told you.
And you don't fundamentally change as a result of this realization. You don't gain new knowledge. You don't feel like an adult, you don't have everything under control. You're still dumb. You're still the guy who, a few years ago, was probably sleeping in a full bathtub in college, because you were out of blankets in your dorm room and it seemed like the only logical way to stay warm through the night and, yes, that is a thing that I did. You're the exact same person, except suddenly society has thrust you into the Adult category.
You wear and look awful in suits.
Remember when you were a kid and you saw adults as all-knowing authority figures who had shit figured out? As the people who were allowed to tell you what to do and make rules, because they were the ones who were running the world? That's what kids think when they see you, even though you're an idiot.
Getting married doesn't mean you change as a person and instantly gain a bunch of previously concealed knowledge about life. You get more responsibilities when you have a kid but, really, you're still the exact same person you always were. Because, here's the thing, no one makes you take a test or fill out a form to have a baby, you just have one. You can do that right now, and then you'd be a parent. Your parents never went to parenting school or passed a series of complex physical challenges, they just had you.
The state will just let you have a baby tomorrow, no questions asked. Hell, if you want a gun in California, you have to fill out an application, take a safety test, sign three forms, and then wait ten days, and after all that they might not even GIVE you one if you've got a history of mental instability. Meanwhile, you are legally free to make your own baby army, this second, because that is a thing adults do, and adult is a thing that you are. You don't have to take a test or sign any paperwork to have a baby, you can just make one.
As great as your parents were/are, and as much as they seemed to have it all figured out, you might be shocked to discover that they were making it up as they went along. Just like you.
Almost Everything You're Doing is Absolutely Meaningless
Middle School's important. High School's important. You need to do well in High School to get into a good College, and then you need to do well in College or... or something something something, your life will be terrible. I was never clear on the specifics, I just knew that there was a direct correlation between my GPA and my total cumulative happiness for the rest of my life. A higher GPA means the best people will hire you, having "Summa Cum Laude" written on your diploma will make women more attracted to you, getting a 1500 on your SATs will make you less fat, etc. The Dean's List must be important to your future, or why would it exist? Surely someone down the line will be impressed to know that you made it all four years, right?
The only skills you really need to learn in high school and college are how to socialize and be a functioning human in society, because that's the only thing you'll be consistently doing for the rest of your life. It's a really strange system, because when you graduate college, no matter what you studied, the only thing you're really good at is being a student, because that's the only thing you've been doing regularly for 22 years. Studying, memorizing stuff, being able to eloquently bullshit about literary theory- You've got that shit down. The weird thing is that every skill you've mastered as a student? No one will ever ask you to use them again.
"Okay, the new clients are going to be here in an hour, I need one of you to write a five page report on Beowulf through the lens of Feminist Theory."
College is important, but what you study? Not so much. Focus on learning how to be a human, and focus on networking and meeting the right people, because they are much better at hiring you than your GPA is. Professors and Deans and your parents will stress that your grades are important, but I guarantee you that, as long as they were good at their job, no one in the history of time has ever been fired because of their GPA.
I'm slowly starting to realize that there's very little connection between whatever people majored in and what they end up doing, (apart from obvious specialized fields like medicine and engineering and so forth). And I might be wrong, because I'm an idiot, (see entry: 1), but I'm only going on personal experience. There are five full-time Editors at Cracked.com. At one point in all of our time here, we've all had basically the same job, (writing, editing, managing writers, maintaining a stable of sexually daring women, counting our giant money piles, etc). Of this group of Editors, there is not one instance of overlap in terms of what was studied in college. Same site, same job, but no two people graduated with the same major. We all ended up here not because we studied [X] while we were in college, but because writing and editing articles for a comedy website appealed to all of us, even though that particular class wasn't offered in school.
We've also never compared GPAs. Why the hell would we?
You'll Never Have as Much Time, Energy, Or Excuses For Doing Dumb Shit Than When You're 14
"Being in high school sucks, you're stuck in a classroom all day, and things are boring and everyone smells bad and puberty's uncomfortable and boners all the time and this is the worst thing ever."
If there is one thing I could tell myself at 14, it would be the title of this entry. Because it's true. At 14, you're not legally allowed to work in most states, school is a pointless breeze and you have nothing to be stressed about because you're not paying bills or fighting in a war and no one depends on you for anything. You just have boundless energy, and a stupid amount of free time and no accountability whatsoever. Please don't waste it sleeping in class or dicking around because, in a few years, you won't have time, and a few years after that you'll have even less time, and a few years after that you'll have no time, no energy, and almost everything will hurt in uniquely humiliating ways. You'll stop thinking "Do I feel like doing this fun, stupid thing," and you'll start thinking "I want to do this fun, stupid thing, but I'm also worried about what kind of impact staying up so late is going to have on my delicate sleep schedule."
I don't mean this to be one of those whiny, "Youth is wasted on the young" articles. Don't get me wrong- growing up is the best. Last Tuesday at midnight, I drove to a grocery store and purchased and ate an entire family-sized bag of those Twizzler Bites that I like because I fucking dare you to stop me. No one's arguing that life, in general, gets more awesome the older you get, (and, while you have more time for fun at 14, you're certainly much better at fun when you're 24). I just feel like instead of trying to prepare our 14-year-olds for high school and college and life, we should feel obligated as humans to let them know they have a window in which to do ridiculously stupid things for a year, and that window will never reopen again. Teachers know that 14 is the last age of socially acceptable stupidity, so why are we even trying to give kids any kind of structure?
Look, I know being a teen is the most difficult and misunderstood thing in the world, but for fuck's sake steal a car or climb a mountain or something.
Sure, you'll trade youthful energy for money, the ability to drive a car, and experienced, thoughtful boning, but at 14, you can go for days without sleeping and you can eat McDonalds burgers by the fistful because human metabolisms develops in a karmically unjust way, and soon that'll go away forever.
Oh, that reminds me.