BEGIN

Beginnings are hard.

I think things are most fragile when they're just starting out--humans, relationships, new businesses, big decisions--whatever it is, everything that has a beginning is prone to an ending. And that's what's scary about starting something new--not knowing if it will flourish on the first try or be blown away like a dandelion in the wind. Life is full of beginnings, but life is also full of disappointments. And after a lot of disappointments, we tend to take fewer risks. We get scared of negativity, be it criticism, roadblocks, or just plain fuckups, and as a result, we stop trying new things. If we see enough unhappy endings, we quit trying to begin again.

I'm young. 20, to be exact. I live a pretty great life; I have friends everywhere I go, a family that loves me despite my many flaws, money, an education, and I have never had to worry if there would be food in the kitchen or a bed to sleep in--they were always there.

But.

(There is always a “but”.)

In the wild web of beginnings and endings that is life, I have had a few roadblocks of my own. In elementary school, I began a 7 year-long relationship with bullying, throughout which I was both the victim and the perpetrator. In junior high, I began hating my face and body, so I covered it up with an ego that was big enough to hide my flat chest and scrawny limbs. In high school, I began a journey with depression and anxiety, which still continues to this day. I went through toxic relationships, a preoccupation with perfection, and for years buried myself in clothes, makeup, and defiance, only to look in the mirror and realize I had no idea who the girl looking back at me was. The roadmap of my life is a complicated one; as a whole, it looks crisp and precise. But when closely examined, there are roads that lead to dead ends and dangerous terrains--I am not as level as I seem.

Luckily, around the time of my eighteenth birthday, I took a look at my twisty, turny life, and I said, “STOP.” When I looked at what remained, I saw shambles; there were pieces of a girl shattered by false love, low self esteem, and loneliness everywhere I looked. I was a straight A student, and I was a trainwreck. All of my beginnings had brought me to a place I couldn't handle.

But among the shambles, there were gems.

In the wreckage, I saw glimmers of the girl I wanted to be. I saw the girl who worked so hard when she was passionate about something. I saw the girl who fell fast and loved hard, even when things stood in her way. I saw the girl who danced like hell in her bedroom every time Beyoncé played on the radio. I saw the girl who could write better than she could speak; the girl whose soul could be seen on paper. I saw these gems, and very slowly, I picked them up. I spent months sorting the rubies from the wreckage, and the hunting hurt me; the truth hurts. Rebuilding hurts. New beginnings hurt.

But after some time, I began to see myself. I had been gone so long, and suddenly, there I was. I was no longer the beaten-down girl walking around with a glass shell on. I was a glowing, solid person who was ready to love life again--I was the me I had always wanted to be. I had ended the life I lived before and started a new one, in which I have made it my mission to fall in love with everything I possibly can and to treat everyone I come across (including myself) with nothing but respect. I have begun to begin again.

And in my pursuit of living a preposterously joyful life, I have decided that joy should not be felt alone. Joy should be shared. A lot. And I have found that the easiest way for me to share joy is to talk. Since October 2015, I have been traveling the state of Wisconsin as a motivational speaker to high school students, teaching kids like me how to achieve strong mental health through resilience, self-acceptance, and honesty. Teens are my people; they’re ridiculously real, gritty, and want nothing more than to love and be loved.

But in my time as a speaker, I have realized that young people are continuously misunderstood by adults. If teens are real, messy, and emotional, adults tend to be diplomatic, neat, and mild-mannered. While both parties bring wondrous things to the table, they sit on opposite sides. Adults tell millennials they’re lazy, rude, and too sensitive. Millennials tell adults they’re unfeeling, backwards, and mean.

But the generational gap between these two demographics presents more concerns than name-calling, because according to the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, suicide is the second leading cause of death among children ages 10-24.

Although there are hundreds of reasons a person may choose to end their life, I can’t help but wonder, if more teenagers were able to have constructive, helpful interactions with adults, would they be more likely to seek help when faced with a crisis?

This question, along with the many testimonies I have heard from teens, counselors, and parents I have spoken to, led me to founding this project, A+ Life. I am at an interesting crossroads; I am just exiting adolescence and tiptoeing into adulthood. I feel young, but the majority of my interactions take place with people who are older than me. Because of this, I am able to identify with both age groups on a variety of topics. For this reason, I believe that the generational gap between teens and adults can be bridged with someone who is right between the two--a 20 year-old college student.

A+ Life is a toolkit of resources to help teens and teachers live a life that feels like an A+. At the beginning of each month, there will be a blog post which describes that month’s theme. Then, videos with topics from the corresponding theme on the three subsequent Wednesdays for that month. These videos will be five minutes or less and will offer insight about how teens and adults can work together to create a better world. Each month will also include an outside resource with more information about the themes being discussed; this resource may look like a TED Talk, a book, or another project like this one. The goal of A+ Life is to help people of all ages learn empathize with each other. This is a movement to help teens understand their present and help teachers remember the past, all to move toward a more constructive future--a preposterously joyful future.

I believe that no teen should have to feel the way I did in high school, and that no adult should have to experience the horror of losing a child due to preventable issues. With this blog, I hope to begin something wonderful with you. We will be positive. We will be honest. We will be respectful. We will be non-judgemental. And most of all, we will try to create an environment that promotes growth, happiness, and inspiration for all ages. My hope for this blog is that it will allow us to end what is killing us and begin doing what gives us life. Because we’re already in the middle of our lives; there simply isn't time to waste doing what doesn't make us happy. Let's start now, while we still can.

I'm Amanda, and I believe we all deserve an A+ Life. And to get that, we have to start somewhere, so why not here? I'm in if you are.

Watch the first video here.

To rebuilding, to storytelling, to bravery, and most of all, to new beginnings:

Cheers.

Have an A+ Day,

Amanda

#mentalhealth #love #motivationalyouthspeaker #highschool #middleschoo #juniorhigh #teachers #counselor #leadership

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