Letter to my younger self
In 1997, Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune columnist and Brenda Starr cartoonist, wrote a column entitled, “Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young’. She described the column as the commencement speech she would give to the class of ’97 if she were asked to give one. We don’t have a tradition of commencement speeches in the UK, but the column crossed the oceans in the form of ‘the sunscreen song’ by Baz Luhrmann, released the following year. You can hear it and read the lyrics here: http://www.metrolyrics.com/everybodys-free-to-wear-sunscreen-lyrics-baz-luhrmann.html
Schmich says, ‘Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth.’ I like this. I heard the record when I was in my early 20’s, and thought how useful it would have been to have received this advice (and probably ignored it...) when I was a teen.
In light of this, here are a few things I would have liked to have known earlier. They may be useful to you, whether you’re a teenager or not.
Your parents will drive you up the wall: that’s their job. Your job is to spend time with your cousins, as you will accidentally spend time with you aunts and uncles. This will remind you that not all humans are horrible, and you will discover that your parents aren’t, either.
Find your tribe. You won’t find them in school. Do you some voluntary work and find them that way. Find people who share your hopes, values, dreams, and aspirations. Find people older than you and younger than you. Find people who will make you cups of tea and who will be grateful when you make a cup of tea.
Read books with happy endings and watch films that fill you with hope.
Respect people but know that respect is earned not gifted. Don’t respect people who have not earned it, and don’t expect to be given respect until you have earned it.
Love is a ‘doing’ word. So is ‘mother’: don’t worry about biology; care for and nurture people and allow them to do the same for you. Make time to spend with your loved ones; the To Do list will always be there, they may not be.
Not everyone says, ‘I love you’; sometimes it’s, ‘Did you eat?’, ‘Text me when you get home’, or ‘I made you a Yorkshire Pudding’.
Take up gardening: as the adage says it’s cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes.
Make friends with gardeners. They are usually generous and kind to people, and will share their plants, and their expertise and experience.
All things will pass. When you are in the midst of a dark storm, know that it will pass. When you’re not in the middle of storm, find things it will help you weather the storm more effectively. Find people will help you sail your boat. Find people with buckets will help you bail the water out. Find people who are navigators and find people who can help you fix your boat when you’re broken.
Celebrate small victories, and be kind to everyone – including yourself.
Take time to watch the birds and smell the flowers.
Nobody really cares as much as you think they do about what you look like.
You don’t have to attend every argument you are invited to. Walking away is not cowardly; it’s a sensible use of your time and energy.
Wear comfy shoes. Wear Doctor Martens, wear walking boots, wear flip-flops. Be kind to your feet and they will keep you going for the best part of your life.
Buy clothes with pockets.
Find music that makes your heart sing and find other people who like that music too. Find people to go to gigs with. It doesn’t matter if they’re older than you, younger than you or if they look a bit funny. You probably look a bit funny too.
Be part of something bigger than yourself. You’re not the centre of the world. Find things that remind you of that and contribute to it.
Look for the help when bad things happen. Find the helper. If you can’t find the helper, be the helper.
It doesn’t matter what time other people think meals should be held. If you hungry, then eat. Listen to your body as when your body feels good, it will make your soul feel good. If you need to be like a hobbit and have second breakfast, have a second breakfast. Don’t spend the day being hangry.
Give people flowers whenever you can.
If someone gives you a gift, respond with gratitude even if you don’t like it. They have given you something of themselves and that needs to be treated with respect
Go for a walk every day. It doesn’t matter if it’s windy rainy sunny or blowing a Hooley. The advice is 10,000 steps to mental health, and as your older self I can tell you 10,000 steps works.
Walk up mountains.
Pick up litter.
Model the behaviour you wish to see in other people. If you want people to say “please” and “thank you”, you need to say it first.
Don’t wait until you are in your fifties to take up printmaking.
As Schmich says, ‘My advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience’ but trust me on the gardening.