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My advice for a younger self

Older and wiser per chance…

In 1997, Mary Schmich, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune wrote a hypothetical commencement speech for a graduation. The essay, entitled: Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young which later became the basis for the Baz Luhrmann Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen) hit in 1999, aimed to dispense advice to the young, to help them to be happy and to not worry about what they might see as life’s irritants. I get goosebumps every time I hear the song and I have the poster of those words on my cloakroom wall – for all to ponder in their quiet moments…

The older we get, the more nostalgic we can sometimes be about our past, perhaps how we might have done things differently, if only we knew what that different thing was back then – 20/20 vision and all that... There’s no room for regret though – that’s a waste of time because you can’t turn back the clock. It’s about the wisdom you can take forward to make different, more informed decisions. However, if you could go back in a time machine and go against every time travel convention and have a conversation with the younger you, say, in your 20’s, what advice might you give? For what it’s worth, here are my musings…

1. Don’t sweat the small stuff

I used to be a relentless worrier. So much so that a teacher at my primary school once said to me: “Kirsty, you’d worry if you had nothing to worry about!” I’ve had to work very hard on my thoughts and when I feel worry rearing its ugly head, I say to myself: ‘That’s interesting Kirsty, why do you think you’re thinking like that?’ It helps me to reframe what it is I’m so concerned about. Is there a need to analyse and over-analyse this issue or situation in such depth? Would talking to someone else help? Perhaps another perspective on the situation…

Another helpful way to look at it is to ask myself will I worry about this in a month’s time? Six month’s-time? A year’s time? 5 years-time? How much time do I really need to allocate thinking about this?

An example of the small stuff for me is my daughter’s bedroom. I remember my Mum stressing about my sister’s room being in a complete state. Now I am experiencing the same thing, so I choose to go in when I need to, such as deliver clean linen, then back out and close the door. I know my daughter will clean her room when she can no longer find things, so I leave it up to her. It’s not worth the nagging because essentially, it makes no difference to me. As long as her clothes are clean and there’s no mould festering in there, it’s her space.

Choosing which secondary school, that’s a different kettle of fish. Yes, allocate the time to a more complex issue but again, perspective is needed.

Know what is worth your time and what isn’t. Spend that time you’d be needlessly worrying on enjoying life!

2. Life lessons are as valuable as the ones in the classroom

Right now, as 2020 is such a very unusual year, GCSE and A Level students will not have sat their exams this summer. There are concerns because the impact of this is yet unknown and I appreciate it would be crass of me to say not to worry about your results. But whatever grades you are awarded, there are so many possibilities out there and they will not be based only on exam grades. The path you choose will be down to your mindset and tenacity. Many look back on their life and say not achieving the grades they’d hoped for, in fact led them down a different path and one that in fact resulted in far greater opportunities.

I went down the traditional route of GCSEs, A Levels and studying for a degree but my greatest lessons in life so far, were not learnt in the classroom. Whilst qualifications can open doors for you, they’re not the be-all and end-all.  The deal-breaker is experience of life, attitude, motivation and effective thinking skills – they’re what leverage all those certificates. If you don’t attain the grades you aimed for, fear not. Have belief in yourself and know that you are going to carve out an awesome life, if you want it enough.

3. Love you above all else

A younger me was a people-pleaser – I would do things which I thought would help others and hoped as a result, they’d like me. Looking back, I obviously needed validation from others in order to like myself. I was so upset if someone didn’t like me/found me annoying/didn’t want to be my friend. It was all pretty exhausting to be honest.

The kernel of self-image has to be love for yourself. An analogy I use is the safety advice on an airplane – always put your oxygen mask on before putting a child’s mask on – how can you save them if you’re not able to breathe? What a great metaphor for life - how can we truly love others unless we know how to love ourselves? Once we know that, that’s true love and is such a valuable lesson for all. Lucille Ball couldn’t have put it better when she said: “I have an everyday religion that works for me. Love yourself first and everything else falls into line.”

Many would say this is selfish – to love yourself first rather than to put others first. Ultimately though, all human beings are selfish – we will do what sits most comfortably with our emotional needs and that’s OK because there is such a thing as being positively selfish – which some may call altruism. As Joey and Phoebe discover in Friends though, there is no such thing as a selfless deed. Everything we do is because it’s aligned with our values.

If you’re a people-pleaser, ask yourself why, what’s your motivation? Then learn how to like you for being you. Say ‘no’ to people and if it makes you feel better, soften it by saying ‘it’s not against you, it’s for me’. It’s liberating and empowering.

Love yourself, know that you don’t need anyone else’s validation or approval and that you’re worthy of happiness.

4. The only constant in life is change

My goodness me, this is so important to comprehend from a young age and aren’t we learning that right now?! Life bobs along and you’re happy as Larry and then bam! You’re thrown a curve ball which at the very least, upsets the apple cart, maybe challenges the status quo and at worst, might have devastating and life-changing results. Life very rarely stays the same and being able to adapt and be resilient to the changing circumstances we are often faced with, is crucial to good mental health. Knowing and understanding things don’t always go to plan, and that the ‘normal’ might be challenged, is a good lesson at a young age. Best friends leave you at Primary School, you move house, parents separate, the company you work for goes down the swanny, loved ones die. But all change doesn’t have to be bad. There can be good in change. New friendships and relationships are enriching, a new house brings a new environment, redundancy brings new choices. Bereavement is obviously the really hard one and that’s about finding a new normal which can take time, for which there is no measure.

At various points in our lives, we may seek someone to help us through a tough time. We hope that when we cannot see the wood for the trees, their words can beat a path through the wilderness and help us to find the right track for us.

Know that life changes constantly and seek solace in others when you might need help to make sense of it all.

5. Time is the most precious gift you can give to another

I moved to London not long after finishing my degree and would come back to visit family and friends every few months or so. A weekend was never enough time to see everyone though and I had so many pulls on my time. I never felt I spent enough quality time with anyone and every Sunday evening as I journeyed back to London, I’d beat myself up that I hadn’t planned the weekend properly. What I would say to myself now is pick one destination and stay there. The next weekend you visit, see someone else. Be intentional and be there 100%, rather than clock-watching and worrying about what time you need to leave to be at the next place.

Perhaps during Lockdown, depending on your work situation, you have more time to cherish what’s important to you, to really think about being consciously in the moment. Before Lockdown, the pace of life was so different, and we might have felt there were never enough hours in the day to squeeze everything in. Remember that feeling as we come out of Lockdown. It’ll be a new normal with perhaps different ways of working but remember this simpler life and consciously think about how you want life to feel going forward. It of course boils down to your values – what’s most important to you.

Some years ago, we had a participant on the Winning Edge course who didn’t have a great relationship with his teenage son. Working long hours enabled them to live in their dream house, pay for amazing holidays and live the lifestyle to which they’d become accustomed. All that came at a cost though – it meant less time at home with the family. After the Winning Edge, and with a comprehension of how trying to understand another’s Mental Map means we can understand them better, he consciously made time for his son. It was the simple things, such as playing on the Xbox with him. We got an email a little while later to say the Dad wanted us to know he’d acted on what he’d learnt on the Winning Edge and now the dynamic between his son and him had completely changed and, most importantly as a result, his son was no longer self-harming. A dramatic and uplifting shift and all because the son felt loved and important enough to his Dad that he spent time with him.

“The doors of wisdom are never shut.” Benjamin Franklin

Maybe this is all food for thought – a prompt – to generate thoughts about what advice you would either give the younger you and maybe the younger people in your life – your children/nieces/nephews/godchildren/mentee/an intern/work experience student and so on (when we finally return to the work place!) .  

Everyone will have their own advice they can impart to others and it’s not just younger people who can take advantage of it - self-improvement is a work in progress so as Ray Kroc said: “ As long as you’re green you’re growing, as soon as you’re ripe you start to rot.”

But trust me on the sunscreen.

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