We now interrupt this scheduled programme of backpacking-related blog posts to bring you something completely different. Time travel.
I thought that moving back to the UK this Christmas would just feel like my annual Yuletide visit, and that the fact that I don’t have a return flight wouldn’t hit me until well into the new year. Turns out, I really misjudged that one.
Instead, moving home this Christmas feels like going back in time ten years. I feel like my 16-year-old self: reliant on my parents, living back in my hometown, catching up with old friends and going through all my old things (found my Pokémon cards but, sadly, they are worth nothing on ebay).
I recently read Tashful’s Hey There 16-Year-Old Me (it’s awesome, she’s awesome, check it out). And it completely resonated. Her words of wisdom made me stop and think about my 16-year-old self, my 26-year-old self, and hindsight. It was a good reminder of how far I’d come.
In her words, 2006 “was after YouTube, about the same time Facebook was taking over the world and strangling MySpace, but before Instagram and Snapchat. It was after iTunes but before the end of Top of the Pops. You only really went on Amazon to get cheap books, and Woolworths was still a high street fixture for CD singles and pick ‘n mix.”
Those were the days, eh?
At 16, I was finishing up my GCSEs at my local comp, arguing with my mum a lot and laughing with a great bunch of friends on the comfy chairs in the library at lunchtimes. My hair resembled a bird’s nest (not much has changed there); I had finally finished wearing a dental retainer; and I was really into wearing studded belts, heavy black eyeliner and Converse. Life mostly revolved around the Harry Potter books, a huge crush on Sawyer from Lost and my school’s annual Eisteddfod competition. My favourite colour was green. My nickname was Aymz (yes, spelled exactly like that). I didn’t really have a concept of the world outside of Sutton Coldfield.
So, apart from telling her how to do her make-up better and that her hair really doesn’t look good in that cropped bob style, what would I tell 16-year-old me if I could?
Here are 16 things I would tell my 16-year-old self:
1. Acne is not your fault.
It wasn’t your fault when you were 12, it’s not your fault now you’re 16 and it won’t be your fault when you’re 24 and it’s the worst it will never be. People with perfect skin will repeatedly tell you that it’s your fault because you don’t drink enough water, you eat chocolate, or you don’t have a good ‘skin routine.’ None of these things are true, they don’t know what they’re talking about and you will try out everything they say only to discover that those aren’t the causes at all.
They will also tell you that you will grow out of it. I’m sorry, but you won’t. And you won’t be any closer to figuring out why your skin behaves the way it does at 26 either, but hopefully by the time you’re 106 there will be some sort of magical medical breakthrough that means no one else has to go through the same kind of self-loathing that you’ve been through.
Breathe. Try not to let it get you down. I promise it will get better. Also, nag at doctors more: no one knows your body better than you.
2. In your life you’ll do things greater than dating the boy on the football team.
Ok, this one is a line I stole from a Taylor Swift song (you’re going to be a big fan of her, by the way), and I know you don’t even want to date anyone on a football team (we both know you’re more into rugby guys), but the sentiment is still there. Finding ‘prospects’ (omg, remember that?!) and a boyfriend may seem like the be all and end all right now, but it’s really not.
You will realise in the next few years that you are enough by yourself. Contrary to the messages of girls magazines, chick flicks and gossip at school, you do not need a boy to become whole. You will also realise that love does not always mean fireworks, big dramatic fights in the street outside nightclubs that end in tears, ultimatums over late-night phone calls and passionate kisses in the rain like Drew Barrymore taught you.
Love means just being there for someone. Love can be best when it’s quiet, comfortable and peaceful. It can be finding a best friend who supports you, makes you laugh and wants you to be happy.
At the moment, you think that you’re destined to become Bridget Jones (she’s a terrible role model by the way, why do you like those books and films so much?), but actually –SPOILER ALERT – you’re going to meet someone really great in the next couple of years who’s going to stick around for a while. He’s going to make you very happy.
3. Some day you’ll be living in a big old city, and all they’re ever going to be is mean.
Ok, this one is also a line from a Taylor Swift song (told you you’re a big fan, I promise not all of these words of advice are going to be her lyrics). I know it’s hard because you hear them every day, but don’t listen to the bullies. You are going to have SUCH an amazing life and you’re going to wonder how in the world those people ever got inside your head and made you think that you were nothing.
They’re also going to try and add you on Facebook (which is what replaces MySpace in the future), and you are going to snort with laughter as you press ‘delete friend request.’
4. Friends grow apart…
This one is hard to hear, but the people you are friends with at 16 are not going to be the only friends you’ll ever have in your life. People grow up, develop different points of view, grow into their personalities and sometimes grow apart. In ten years’ time you and your friends won’t have school in common and that can mean that you won’t have anything to talk about. Some of those ‘best friend’ relationships are going to break down with tears and arguments, while other people you once knew so well will just slowly drift away. It’s for the best. It makes room for new people to come into your life and shows you who your true friends are.
5. … but true friends will always be around.
Having said that, the best ones are still here! It’s been over two decades since you guys starting making up dance routines on the playground, but Lottie and Kirsty are definitely still going to be around when you’re 26. So are most of the people you sat with on the library chairs (though you guys should probably have gone outside more and got some sun). There are going to be challenges and testing times along the way, but rest assured that true friendship never goes out of style. Even after months without talking or seeing each other, when you meet up with true friends it’s like no time has passed at all.
6. And on that note: you don’t have to be everyone’s friend.
You’re going to waste a lot of time trying to get people you don’t like to like you. There’s no need to be a bitch or be rude to anyone, but you can’t be friends with every person you meet and you definitely shouldn’t waste your energy on people who don’t respect you. It’s much better to have a close group of really good friends than hundreds of acquaintances who don’t care.
7. Don’t drink so much.
Your 26-year-old self can’t even remember why this was supposedly so much fun in the first place. Yes, you can drink. Of course, you can drink and get a little tipsy and have a dance. True, drinking games and pub golf can be a hoot. Social drinking is fine, but you do not need to get wasted every time you go out. If you can’t have fun with just one drink, then you’re not hanging out at the right places with the right people.
8. Don’t throw away any of your old notebooks.
You’re going to fall into a routine of writing, reading everything back, hating it and then scrapping everything. Don’t! You’re not going to become a Pulitzer Prize winner overnight, but practice makes perfect. It’s also a myth that writing is a natural talent: like everything, it’s cultivated through hard work and focus. You’re going to need to write as much as you can until it comes easier to you. And some of those first ideas were actually pretty cool, so don’t waste them.
9. Listen to your mum.
She is not the enemy. She is right (almost) all of the time and she knows you better than you know yourself. Be nicer to her and listen patiently to her advice, even if you ultimately end up disagreeing with her, ignoring her or choosing a different path.
10. Real life isn’t graded.
I hope it’s not going to go to your head when I say that you’re actually quite smart. Academically smart, that is. In the next five years, you’re going to study really hard, do loads of enjoyable extra-curricular things and get the best grades as a result of your hard work. That’s fantastic, well done! But. It turns out that no one in the real world really gives a shit about that kind of stuff. The real world does not grade your work fairly according to a fixed curriculum. Despite what it is there for, school does not prepare you for the real world at all.
I know you’re used to independent study and you love writing essays (years later you will call this ‘blogging’) but more often than not asking for help, being patient with your colleagues and friendly networking are the things that will bring you the most success in your career.
Sometimes, you’re going to work really hard at things, get shit results, have people blame you and feel like a failure. The majority of the time you’re going to work really hard, get good results and watch other people get the credit. More than once, you will work really hard, get good results and people will still tell you that you did a bad job. I know! It makes no sense to me either, but apparently this is how the world works. It’s going to make you want to stop putting effort in at all. But don’t give up.
The best thing you can measure career success by is happiness. Are you pleased with your own work? Is this environment pushing you to your full potential? Is your work valued? These are the measurements to stick by, not gold stars.
You’re going to be really good at saving money over the next six years, and then you’re going to be really bad at it for the next four. Take note of what you’re doing right while you still can because your 23-year-old self is going to fuck everything up and wonder where it all went wrong.
12. Buy better bras.
You may have noticed by now that you have been both blessed and cursed with a large chest. People will tell you that they’re jealous even when you’re suffering with back pain. Others will tell you to shut up and be grateful when you complain about not being able to shop on the high street.They will tell you to ‘put them away’ AND they will tell you to ‘get them out more.’ People’s eyes will repeatedly glance down at your chest when they are talking to you and they will think you don’t notice.
Tell all of those people to fuck off.
Sorry, Aymz, but your boobs aren’t going anywhere. They are sticking around. That means you’re going to have to get comfortable in your own skin and that starts with buying better fitting bras and clothes. You are going to have to spend more money than the average person on high-quality underwear and swimwear, and you won’t have that much choice with design, but your comfort should come first.
Also… wear whatever the hell you want! Never feel like you have to ‘flaunt your best assets’ because someone tells you to, nor cover up to make other people feel more comfortable. Stop feeling self-conscious about the body parts that you wish you could change. Your body is your own and you can wear it however you like.
13. You’re totally right about circle theorems.
Yep, it was a complete waste of time learning about those. Work on the mental arithmetic instead because that will become more and more difficult the less you practice. Better yet, ditch the maths homework completely and work on other things such as how to write an amazing CV, how to cook nutritious food and how politics works.
14. You can be more than one thing.
Everyone is going to nag you about finding the right career, constantly asking you ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ Firstly, don’t bother growing up because it’s really no fun. Secondly, it’s perfectly fine to try out different jobs to see what works for you and choose more than one career path if it feels right. It may even be better to keep your options open because the recession is going to put a lid on traditional career paths for your whole generation (look out for that nightmare).
You are going to like teaching. In fact, you will earn good money as a teacher and be quite good at it, but you will find it exhausting and you won’t find it completely fulfilling. You are going to work in marketing and love learning about social media, but you won’t feel comfortable working for a big profit-driven company. Most importantly, you’re going to love writing. However, the people who like what you do are going to try and pay you in ‘exposure’ rather than real-life bill-paying money. So you’re going to have to juggle all three.
Some people don’t have a magical calling to become a doctor, or the passion to be a lawyer, or the ambition to start their own business. Some people don’t know what they want to be when they ‘grow up’ even at retirement age.
You’re lucky that you feel more than one calling. What you’re doing is not ‘drifting’ it’s called having multiple passions.
15. I’m proud of you.
Hey, I may be dishing out all this advice as if I want to rectify everything I did wrong and prepare you for all the tough times ahead, but actually everything you did and will do in the next ten years has got me to where I am today. We both hate that clichéd saying ‘no regrets’ but what I’m trying to say is that you turned out ok. More than ok. Good job.
16. Stay true to yourself.
Aymz, you are such a weirdo but I love you for it. Keep being nerdy and bookish and creepy and hilarious and hopelessly romantic and cynical and punny and weird. Your weirdness is your magic.
So, other than looking back at some nostalgic pre-digital photos and reminiscing about school days, what have we learnt here? Don’t worry so much about the future. Don’t be afraid to change your mind when something isn’t right. Take risks. Do what excites you. Do what challenges you. Make mistakes and learn from them.
Hey, maybe my 26-year-old self should be taking some notes here too…
And, Aymz? You’re going to do some really cool things in the next decade. Buckle up because you’re about to get on a truly amazing ten-year rollercoaster ride.