I never did read that “Letters to my 16 year old self” book, although I did read a few snippets that were published in weekend newspapers and the like. However, I do occasionally indulge in an idle fantasy where I am asked to speak at some kind of assembly/speech day/welcome to students of my old school and I think about what I would say. This fantasy is often triggered by a school reunion, or running into someone from school, or another such reminder, not just of how far I’ve come in the last 20-odd years, but (somewhat narcissistically) how much I’d love to show off about it to all the cool people at school who never gave me a second thought. I wonder if I’d been like I am now, when I was at school, how different my high-school experience would have been.
Now that I have my own daughter I do spend quite a bit of time wondering and thinking and hoping that she becomes a slightly more functional teenager than I was myself (I’m conveniently assuming Master L will be a carbon copy of the highly-functioning teenager his father was, in marked contrast to his mother). More to the point, I hope I can at least set a decent example, if not guide Miss L, in areas where I feel I’d do things differently second time round (which, to be fair, I think is most areas!) I know it’s often said that parents want for their children what they never had themselves, or got to be, as if they want to live vicariously through their kids. I think it’s less selfish than that though, you just want to try and spare them the hassle of the hard stuff and the time-wasters and show them the best that life has to offer, which you often don’t realise yourself until after the fact.
I’ve often regretted how much time I wasted at school agonising and having attitude over things that a) didn’t matter or b) did matter but I should have bloody well just got on with it instead of bitching and moaning the entire time. I know part of growing up is figuring these things out for yourself, but I do think of all the other things I could have been doing if I’d known this all along!
So, if I am ever invited to give that speech or write a chapter for that book, here’s what I’d say:
1) Do what you enjoy even if you think you aren’t the best at it. The main thing that comes to mind is sport. You like running (and you are quite good at it, you know that). Do more of it, work on it, find out how to get better at it. Not so you can win, but so that you get a sense of achievement from it.
2) Be to other people how you’d like them to be to you. You want people to chat to you, be interested in you, ask you about things, invite you places. Maybe you should make the effort too instead of waiting for them to do everything. Just say hi, how are you, what did you do on the weekend? Keep an open mind, they might be a nice person. And if you find out you don’t click, move on, that’s ok, not everyone does click. But get over this obsession that no one really likes you. For a start, they’d like you better if you did (get over it)!
3) On a similar note, you don’t have to have a “best friend”. Friends come in many different guises and pop up in all walks of life. Things that you have in common with one friend, you will not have with another. That’s what makes them interesting. Friends come and go through different phases of your life. Being comfortable with lots of different people is much more useful than trying to force one person into a “best” friend mould.
4) Your time will come, be patient. Not everyone needs to be kissed by the time they’re 16, be going out drinking in Year 11 or have a boyfriend in Year 12. There is plenty of time for all this and it’s just making you miserable comparing yourself to girls in your year who’ve got there first. You’ve got other places they haven’t, so make the most of those places, there’s all the time in the world for boys and all the rest of it.
5) You’re right to worry about your weight, NOT because of the way you look, but because of how you feel and your health. It’s not about being super-skinny and you can’t really change the basic body-type you’re meant to have, but carrying excess weight is bad for you, mentally and physically. Eat healthier food, and less of it, savour the delicious things in small amounts regularly, and busy-up your life so you don’t have time to sit around and obsess about eating. I don’t know how to spare you a 20 year obsession with food and chaotic, unhealthy eating behaviours, but it doesn’t need to be so hard, it really doesn’t.
6) You know who around you has got it right. Think about what it is that they do. They have it figured out already. They’re smart, busy girls, they fit a lot in. They play sport and do well in class, yet they have no more hours in the day than you do. They talk to all sorts of people without demonstrating the hang-ups you have. These hang-ups are purely mental, but you need to physically push them out of the way sometimes- i.e. get out there and just get on with it!
7) Make the most of opportunities that come your way. You never know where they might lead. And even if they lead nowhere, at least you aren’t left wondering what would have happened if you’d tried something new.
8) Keep dreaming your dreams. You will become the person you want to be and you’ll learn a lot along the way. You pretty much can do anything you put your mind to (ok maybe professional ballet is out, but most other stuff!)
9) Your parents know a lot but they don’t know everything. Don’t model your way of life on them. They could be busier, more active, more positive, more sociable, more adventurous. So could you.
10) Smile. It’ll make everything easier.