Sometimes it takes looking back to move forward. It’s what many forms of therapy is based on after all. Sometimes we look back because we are forced to, other times it’s because we are standing in front of the next generation of ‘us’, in my case, my daughter, who has just started her journey into secondary school. She has survived the first few weeks relatively scar-free, but I can see the changes that are coming; I can smell it in the air, I can hear the rumbles of dissent and discontent as she begins her transformation from girl to teen.
Will she listen to me? Will what I have to say have any bearing on teenage life as it is now, with i-phones and Snapchat and orange-faced contouring? Possibly not. But at their core, I’d like to think that teens are the same the world over, whatever millennium we are in. Friendship, love, trust, fear, laughter… those things surely stay the same?
Thinking about what I should say to her has made me stop and think about what I would say to my teenage self, if I ever could. It made me stop and think about me then, me now, and the me in between.
Like everyone else in this planet, I've had a fairly eventful life. I've packed a fair amount in, both fabulous and catastrophically awful - it's not been dull! I've tasted success and failure, I've made strong decisions and terrible ones. I've been hurt and I have hurt others. And I hung onto guilt like a life raft filled with broken glass. I didn't want to let it go, because I felt I deserved it every time I was cut. I didn't deserve to feel happy, or enjoy success. And if let go of this life raft, surely I would drown, because it was part of me? It was a truly horrible time in my life, and it's only now that I can see how damaged I was. It took me years to finally let it go, and it's only with hindsight that I can look back and feel pity for all those wasted years – not self-pity, but sadness that so much time was wasted in darkness. So for me, thinking about what I could say to my daughter, made me see that I needed to stand in front of my younger self, and explain to her that it would all be ok.
This is what I would say:
I'm really proud of how strong you are, and your energy to keep going when the going gets tough. It's a brilliant quality and it's wonderful that you have it, and that you've kept hold of it.
But here's the thing.
Sometimes it's good to give up. To walk away and admit defeat, and admit you got it wrong. Stop worrying about what OTHER PEOPLE will think of you, if your parents will be disappointed in you, if your friends won't understand you. They all love you and they will. It's ok to make mistakes, so stop stressing.
Without falling down and getting back up again, you won't know what heartbreak feels like, or humiliation, loss and failure, and these are just as important in life as perfection and joy. Getting things right every time, never messing up and being Little Miss Perfect makes you two dimensional instead of three, brittle rather than flexible, intolerant rather than accepting. I used to think that getting it wrong meant I was a failure, but it doesn’t.
Be thankful for every trip and fall, it'll be the making of you.
I am proud of what I’ve managed to achieve, because of and in spite of the trips along the way. Every fall has built up a scab of thicker skin, and has taught me a lesson, which is surely the point of life? Wouldn’t it be dull if we all just drifted through, day after day, gliding from one moment of wonderfulness to another? Surely even wonder would become dull and boring after a while?
One thing my life has never been is dull, and I accept that it’s not written in the stars for me to waft seamlessly from birth to death. I’m destined for adventures; some of them incredible, some of them terrible, but all of them exciting.
So what 10 things can I tell my younger self in the form of my daughter?
1. You are loved. No matter what. I may not like everything you do or say, but like the song says, I will ALWAYS love you.
2. Be strong. You are incredible, and anyone who cannot see that is not worthy of your time or your love.
3. Be kind. Always. It may seem like fun to join in the bitchiness and the back-stabbing and the gossip. But remember; anyone who is prepared to bitch and back-stab WITH you, is sure as hell prepared to bitch and back-stab ABOUT you. So if you wouldn’t like it said about you, don’t say it about someone else.
4. No one, NO ONE, has the right to make you feel bad about yourself. If you say nothing and let them do this because you are worried about causing a scene, hurting their feelings, or losing a friend or a boyfriend, then you are telling them that their feelings are more important than yours. And that means they won’t stop hurting you. If you can’t tell them, tell someone else who can help you. But don’t, whatever you do, just hope that they will stop. Hoping doesn’t work in this case, helping does.
5. Follow your dreams. Find something you love doing, make it work for you, and your working life will be a joy.
6. Don’t listen to what the doubters say (unless it’s me giving you practical reasons why being a shark-wrestler really isn’t a great career move). I will never doubt you, but I will guide you, and there is a difference. Doubters don’t want you to succeed because they are jealous of you. I want to help you because I love you.
7. Work hard and work smart. Nothing comes easily in life, but hard work and making steps every day towards what you want really does pay off. Know the difference between spending a lot of time doing something, and making progress, even if it is in tiny baby steps. Anyone can spend hours working; just check that what you’re doing is productive, not just filling time.
8. What’s for you won’t go by you. My granny told my mum this, my mum told me, and now I’m telling you. If something is meant to be, it will happen for you. That doesn’t mean that you just sit and wait for it to happen, oh no, you still have to work for it! But if it’s meant to happen, it will, just maybe not when you want it to, or in the way you thought it would. But if it’s meant to be, it will be.
9. You will embarrass yourself. You will make mistakes. You will get hurt and you may hurt others. These things are all part of life, and don’t stop happening even when you are really old like me. But every time something like this happens, ask yourself what lesson you can learn from it. What will you do differently next time?
10. Be grateful. When things are going well for you, which they will, take the time to stop and be grateful for what you are and what you have. What you are is wonderful, and what you have is love.