21 Pieces Of Advice I’d Give My Teenage Self…

An article in “The Times” last weekend and my coming birthday inspired me to think seriously once again about what I’ve learned during my half-century. I’ve written posts in the past on the topic of the wisdom gained in middle age – mainly in relation to the advice I’d give NC, my daughter, but amazingly I have “grown up” some more since then, (as has the place of women in the world) – so I think it’s time for a re-evaluation.

Photo by Darius Bashar on Unsplash

I envy NC and the support her generation receives from the multitude of inspiring female mentors in the media, at work, and within her social group, as well as the government and independent services they have for their mental health etc. And I hope that with more awareness about women’s rights, the majority of our young women are now finally aware of what exactly is within their grasp. But the success of their future – and I use the word “success” with an implicit meaning of personal goals – still comes down to getting the fundamentals right.

Middle age is a funny old time. We joke about still feeling seventeen or eighteen, and yet it would be ignorant to believe that experience and the power of time have not played some part in influencing our perspective from then to now. If I’m honest, I’m not certain I thought about anything very much in my teens, beyond meeting the education goals set by my parents, getting a boyfriend, and securing a job, but then we didn’t have as much insight into what was happening on the world stage back then.

So here’s what I would advise my younger self if I had my time again:

  1. Don’t assume that education is the only means to an end. Further education is a massive decision for a young brain and, these days, a huge financial commitment. One size doesn’t fit all, and many of our most successful entrepreneurs never finished school. Follow your heart when it comes to your career. You can always return to education at a later date.
  2. Trust your instincts more. Sure, there is a stereotype/Instagram version of success that we are pressured to aspire to, but if you have any niggling doubt inside you, you don’t have to be a sheep. It is unlikely that your doubt will disappear, and ignoring it may cause you and the people that love you a lot of pain in the long term. Listen to your body is something else I’d like to add here – and not just the physical signs that something isn’t quite right, but the mental ones as well.
  3. Value yourself. People will tell you that you are too young to make big decisions, too fat to wear those jeans, not good enough at such and such to follow your dream, but you are your own person and this is your life. Worst case scenario – you will learn from your mistakes. Remove anyone who doesn’t value you or respect your decisions from your life.
  4. Never trust or stay with a partner who doesn’t treat you as an equal. Nothing to add.
  5. Always take responsibility for your own finances. Even if you take time out of work, make sure that you don’t compromise your financial independence by that decision.
  6. Be assertive. Women are known as the “gentler sex” – and it’s true that we make great carers – but in the business world that can be seen as a weakness. One reason that women earn less is because they don’t ask for a pay rise. So be assertive about what you are entitled to.
  7. Don’t be scared to voice your opinion. Time and time again I hear women say that they can’t communicate with their partner. If that’s the case, you are not in an equal relationship and it’s not working.
  8. Accept your body for what it is. There are some things diet and exercise can’t change, so stop wasting your time trying to achieve the impossible. Live a healthy lifestyle, but don’t get sucked in by the unrealistic expectations of models in magazines or social media. You have so much more to give.
  9. Read more.
  10. If you have to chase a friendship, let it go. They don’t value you.
  11. You will have to fake it to make it and that’s okay because everyone’s doing the same thing. Don’t allow yourself to feel like an imposter just because you’ve pushed yourself to take on a new challenge. Take a leap of faith. Imagine if you succeed!
  12. Compliment other women. In fact, compliment everyone – those few words have the power to change someone’s day.
  13. Tell those closest to you how much you love them, more often.
  14. Move forwards not backwards. Regrets can be useful as a learning tool but demotivating if you focus on them.
  15. Don’t be afraid to say sorry. In particular to your partner and kids.
  16. Exercise self-compassion. Don’t be so hard on yourself. There will always be someone with more and life will feel tough at times, but no one is perfect.
  17. Don’t be judgy. Instead, be empathetic – you have no idea what someone else’s life really looks like from the inside out.
  18. Take a greater interest in politics. I know that they’re boring when you are still ignorant about your own mortality, but you can change the world if you want to. And if not for yourself, for your kids. That’s what living in a democracy is all about, and it’s a privilege denied to many. It infuriates me when I hear of young people who haven’t voted and then moan about how the system never changes.
  19. Dreams can come true, but they take hard work, resilience and commitment. (Taken from GreenGlobalTravel). And to get there, you will most likely need to take some risks.
  20. Don’t grow up too soon. There’s plenty of time for that.
  21. Travel – as often as you can.” “After a life-changing trip, Jennifer Hill realized the importance of getting out of your comfort zone. As she’d tell her younger self, there are always reasons you can find not to experience new things—but the benefits of doing it anyway can be amazing.” (The Muse)

We Owe It To The People Suffering To Live Our Lives To The Full

27047393_10155000472936277_225680280_o-684x1030+2The news doesn’t seem to get any better and I expose myself to it daily in search of inspiration for my writing. While physical empaths are people that absorb the physical symptoms of others, I absorb the anguish of others and the unfairness in their lives, and that transference has a direct impact on my mood and mental health.

Poor me!

Stories such as the shooting of the two teenagers by their father last week in Sydney and articles and fiction I’ve been reading about the victims of our under-serviced mental health system can turn a promising day into a bad one.

And then, occasionally, a post like this one from Victoria.com catches my eye. I shared it last week on my FB page because I recognised it as an important reminder not to wish our lives away or forget to make the most of every opportunity. Many of us are guilty of packing so much into our lives that we find ourselves looking ahead all of the time rather than relishing every precious moment. In my case,  I waste far too many hours brooding about the problems that I can’t change in the world. I consume the pain of others and carry it around with me. It diffuses through my pores and weighs me down until the shame of my privilege feels like survivor’s guilt.

And seriously, what right do I have to pretend to know anything about the suffering of the mother of those teenagers?

At one point during the lunch I described in my last post – as I was sinking the final mouthful of perfectly-cooked lemon meringue tart into my mouth whilst bemoaning the migrant crisis – one of the other guests pointed out to me the danger and futility of absorbing everyone else’s pain. The point he was trying to make, I believe, was that life is too short to waste beating ourselves up about things we cannot change. We have one journey and we need to make it a good one.

Which is selfish, right? And for a second, the serial (wannabe) do-gooder in me, reared up defensively like a snake on behalf of all of those suffering right now in the world, while I digested the perfect steak with my perfect friends. I wanted to remind him that we should all be doing more. I wanted the eight of us to get up the following morning and enlist in a world aid association or train to become mental health nurses.

But instead, I bit my tongue – because, as painful as it was to admit, I knew that he had a point.

My own time is running out. Each of us has an internal timer, and none of us knows when it will stop. And there is another part of me – that I secretly despise – that wants to put myself first now as illness begins to ravage people my age to remind me of my mortality. Life is short – indeed, it is getting worryingly shorter. We get one bite at the cherry. And while we can be mindful of the plight of others and lend our support in whatever small ways we can, we have to make the most of this, our one opportunity at living.

While I thought about those boys and their parents in Thailand, I recognised that they needed something greater than my compassion – whether that was a God or the wonderful people that risked their own lives to save them. We can’t fix everything.

I have been lucky enough to have been given the opportunity of a good life. No road is free of dips and I have been forced to fix some potholes along the way, yet I have never looked at the smooth tarmac of others and felt resentment. To use a monetary term, we live within our means, with the hand we are given.

How many times have you been shocked to hear someone who has been seriously ill or faced a tragedy admit that they are glad it happened? Because it made them recalibrate and appreciate life for what it is – in all its beauty, brevity and fragility. Those people are our inspiration, and we owe it to them to live our lives to the full. 

What I’ve Learned From My Forties

When I was in my early thirties and stuck in the quicksand of raising young children, one of the things that got me through was clinging to the belief that surely, life HAD TO begin in my forties.

What I've Learned From My Forties
ID 2102975 © Dimitry Romanchuck | Dreamstime.com

Bit that idea turned out to be an old wives tale or some cruel ruse invented as a carrot to get us through that decade.

Aspects of ‘life’ have begun in my forties, it’s fair to say, but it’s not exactly been the nirvana of good health, perfect lifestyle and happiness I was led to expect. That was obviously a promise concocted in the medieval times, before our generation, because the lives we lead today are very different from the lives our grandparents and even our parents led, who married younger and if they were lucky enough, had paid off their mortgage, got rid of the kids and were enjoying afternoon naps by the time they reached their forties.

As I sat on the cusp of my fiftieth birthday at the beginning of this week, I wanted to be able to tell you how much I’ve loved my forties. But like most things in my life, this last decade has been a mixed bag of good, great and events that I can only presume happened to make me stronger!

So firstly, ‘the great’ stuff, that even my anxious, over-thinking brain can’t downplay:

My immediate family still has good physical health and we are lucky that genetic mental health issues push us quickly towards the Medicare threshold each year, (usually within the first six months), which means our hypochondriac needs are met for free for the remaining six.

I’ve lived in five very different, very beautiful homes, over the past ten years. I’ve learned that renovating causes my stress levels to reach combustion point, that I will never be a gardener, that a pool is superfluous, as is having too much space, that views are calming and worth the money and that most stains come out of the carpet with a steam clean.

The number of close friends in my circle has decreased, which at one point in my life would have caused me sleepless nights. Many have fallen by the wayside as we’ve both changed and taken different paths but I’m surprised to find that even though I’ve become more insular, judgemental and (if I’m honest) a bit of a boring fucker, I still enjoy meeting new people and the promise those potential new friendships hold. The value of my besties in my life has increased. I now understand how futile and soul-destroying it is to chase people who have no genuine interest in my friendship, without feeling hurt and psychopathic about it. I delight in the success of others without feeling envy and the most important qualities I look for in my friends are the ability to laugh, listen and empathise.

What has been a wonderful surprise after the years of sacrifice and self-loathing is to see how much I enjoy the company of my children and their peers, as adults. (Most of the time)

I have learned that dogs are people, put on this earth to provide us with unconditional love whenever we feel truly alone in the world.

That the Beatles were right when they said that ‘All You Need Is Love.’

That my husband may not fit the profile of the perfect man, just like I certainly don’t fit the profile of the perfect woman, but we tesselate comfortably. I’ve learned that there’s nothing wrong with feeling ‘comfortable’ in a relationship. Our mutual and unmasked enjoyment of time away from each other as well as time together, our discovery of Honey Whisky, being lazy together and quaffing Japanese food will hopefully weld us together for another decade.

I can now admit to myself and others that my personal ‘success’ and energy does not emanate from work, even though (and for the first time in my life) I enjoy my current job(s), but has everything to do with personal goals and my close relationships. My ideas vis a vis the ‘success’ of my children have changed too. I will try not to judge them but will see their success by how happy they are in their day to day existence, if they turn out to be ‘kind’, ‘giving’ people who value the gift of life and give love freely.

More importantly, I have learned that my enjoyment of life is not dependent on the happiness and fulfilment of my children, because my own self-fulfilment is valuable too; I have a right to my own independent happiness. My children have both reached adulthood now and although I will always love them, be by their side and support them, that loyalty won’t be at the expense of my own health and happiness. I see now how crucial it is to their own development to let them go and allow them to take responsibility for their own lives.

I have learned that writing is the best therapy for me and any form of communication and exercise come a close second, particularly for clearing the brain of the self-doubt monster.

I need to stop blaming the past for present-day disappointments. I need to smell the roses more often and stop hiding behind self-doubt and fear. If that means I have to increase my medication to relieve my anxiety to make my life more meaningful, I will do it without worrying about judgment. I need to treat every day as if it is my last.

And below I’ve stolen a few ideas from one of the posts that inspired me ‘What Shit Are You Too Old For’ by Tracey Moore:

From now on I will always choose quality over quantity and the bargains that tempt my cheapness.

Even though I know that coffee and wine are the devil’s food, I have decided that their pleasure outweighs the risk.

I have learnt that I need to be myself and if that means risking the loss of   friendships, then so be it. I will no longer do what I don’t want to do or don’t enjoy doing. I will tell people if I disagree with them – in the nicest way possible, of course (unless I’m drunk) – and hope that they are bipartisan/intelligent/mature enough to understand that different opinions are exciting and challenging and keep us young, and not a personal attack.

I have learned that we keep on learning.