7 things I’d tell my younger self
It's the season of new year's resolutions and you may well be busy trying to pursue self-improvement goals. However, most people set themselves goals that are:
a) almost impossible to fulfill (e.g. ‘get fit'. What does that even mean? How will you know when you've achieved it?)
b) not actually terribly worth achieving anyway because they're more to do with vanity and how other people see you, than truly for your own fulfilment and quality of life.
Therefore, I thought I'd share 7 life lessons I've learned that I wish I'd known when I was younger. I hope this hard-won wisdom helps you to do more incredible and fulfilling things and helps you to ditch the people-pleasing, self-limiting goals too many of us set for ourselves.
1. You're not fat
For as long as I can remember I've thought I was fat.
I remember my family being given a big bag of hand-me-down clothes from my older cousin. In it was a bikini, which I tried on and then showed my parents. I can remember my dad laughing at my tummy poking out between the top and the bottom. I can't remember if he actually said I looked fat, but that was certainly the message I took away with me. I was probably somewhere between the ages of 7 and 9.
I can remember trying to lose weight or going on a diet multiple times throughout my teenage years. Everytime I looked in the mirror I saw fat. I even did the cabbage soup diet for a week before I went to university so that I would make a good impression when I met people for the first time.
But, a few months ago, when I looked at some pictures of myself as a child I realised something.
I wasn't fat. In fact, I only know of one photograph of myself where I really do look big. I was 24, on holiday in Egypt after becoming very depressed and low in my job (and eating too much to compensate) and also taking steroids to deal with the hideous excema that had resulted from the stress and depression of my job. The picture shows me looking puffy, large and sweaty. Not my best.
No, I've never had the figure of a super-model (I'm 5 foot three with curves, for goodness sake). But, as a child and a teenager, I was never fat.
YOUR TAKEAWAY: If you're telling yourself that you're fat, please stop. Everyone has a different body shape. Yes, some of us make healthier choices than others. But, stop shaming yourself and eat better and move more to make you strong, healthier and more powerful, not to fit someone else's ideal of what you should look like
2. People will like you
I met my best friend when she moved to the village when we were both two years old.
We were inseparable. My childhood diaries (I kept a daily diary from the age of 6 to 24) record that nearly every day of my childhood we played together, along with our younger siblings (who were also best friends). We went on holiday together, our families had Sunday lunches together, we shared lifts to swimming, ballet and music lessons. We were totally parts of each other's lives.
But, at the age of 13, we fell out. It was my fault. I won't go into the details – but I did something stupid, hurtful and self-centred at her birthday party.
The thing was, it wasn't just her that fell out with me. It was all our other friends. People who we had also both been at playschool and school with together our whole lives.
I was alone.
None of them spoke to me for three years – until we were 16. Luckily, there were some girls from another village who would talk to me and included me in their stuff and I'll be forever grateful to them. But, it wasn't the same.
This falling out left a mark on me that left me feeling that no-one would ever like me. It's left me being scared of picking up the phone because my automatic assumption is that people won't want to talk to me. The scars of the experience live on today, no matter how many good experiences of meeting new people and making good and happy friendships I have.
YOUR TAKEAWAY: Please know, that even if a few people don't like you, there are many billions out there who will. Every new person you meet offers you a fresh start, so treat every new relationship as a new beginning and don't let the baggage of the past destroy friendships before they've even started.
3. Stop taking yourself so seriously
As a teenager, I started taking myself very seriously. I think it was partly because I'd fallen out with my friends, so it was much harder to have fun. But, it was also linked to how ambitious I was for my future, and the serious kinds of things I read.
I was very interested in deep, emotional literature (think Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, or A. S. Byatt's Possession) and I found most of my peers quite frivolous. It didn't help that I didn't find people around me at my schools who had the same values and aspirations as me.
So, I didn't have an awful lot of fun at school. I did go to parties, I watched the rugby at Leicester Tigers with my dad, I watched Friends on the TV (that was the zeitgeist), and enjoyed time with my family. But, I didn't have enough of the deep belly-laughs with my girlfriends that I wish I'd had.
At university, I did have loads of fun. I found a wonderful group of friends who were like me and thought that having tea and toast in the afternoon, alongside a conversation about the future of the nation or the meaning of life, as well as dancing the night away at cheesy student nights, was fun.
YOUR TAKEAWAY: In amongst working hard for your goals and your dreams, please find every opportunity you can for big-belly laughs and giggles with your friends.
4. Find a sweet-geek
I wasted a lot of time in my teens and twenties fancying the wrong sorts of guys.
At school, I fancied a guy for about five years who turned out to be gay.
At university, I liked the bad guys who'd already had too many girl-friends and, I knew, hadn't necessarily been faithful to them.
Now I know the only kind of guy you should spend your time on is a sweet geek, like the wonderful man I'm now married to. (He believes that the label ‘geek' is a badge of honour. I'm not so convinced.)
The thing about sweet geeks is that they love you for who you are. They look you in your eyes, love you for your smile and your intelligence, and respect your boundaries.
All my friends who have successful long-term relationships are also married to sweet geeks. They're the future.
YOUR TAKEAWAY: Stop wasting your time on the bad guys and girls and find yourself a sweet geek. They'll probably be a bit shy and awkward, but if you're kind to them you'll get past that and you'll have a much happier time as a result.
5. Take more risks
I've held myself back more times than I'm probably even aware of because I've been scared to take a risk.
But, it's the times when I have pushed the limits of what I'm comfortable with that have lead to the biggest successes and breakthroughs in life.
I was scared to stand for election at the Cambridge Union society against someone else (it felt mean and overly competitive). Instead, I was co-opted into a position when someone else resigned. If I'd been brave enough to stand, I could have been president. Maybe.
When I was miserable in my first job, I should have left at least a year earlier. I didn't because I didn't know what I would do instead. As a result, I became incredibly miserable and unhappy – ultimately breaking down on a glacier in New Zealand with no-one I loved around me. If I had left my job, something would have turned up.
And I should have taken more everyday risks, like picking up the phone to talk to people who I know care about me (I know this doesn't sound like a risk to some people, but it was (and still is) to me). As I've written about before, you hold yourself back if you're not willing to get out of your comfort zone.
YOUR TAKEAWAY: If something is a little bit scary, it's usually a good thing. It shows that you're stepping out of your comfort zone and exploring the limits of your capabilities. If you don't take risks you'll never know what you're truly capable of. Take a chance on yourself and see where it leads you.Tweet this: Take a chance on yourself and see where it leads you.
6. You're more capable than you think
I've always had huge faith in myself – after all, I believed that I could go to Cambridge University from the age of nine, and continued to believe it until it came true. But, what I now understand is that I could have achieved so much more, done so much more and experienced so much more if I'd had even more belief in myself.
All the stuff I've said already about not believing people will like me, being scared to pick up the phone, thinking I was fat. All that (and more) has stopped me from living life to the full. It feels like such a waste and such a shame.
I should never have let those gremlins get in my way.
YOUR TAKEAWAY: If you can dream it, you can do it. So, ignore that limiting voice inside your head and start working out what steps you need to take to make it happen.
7. Listen to your limits
This may seem a little contradictory with the previous points, but you need to know that you have limits. You are not a machine, you are a human being. Learn to read your body and your soul to understand that you're pushing yourself too hard when you have a migraine, or your eczema gets so bad that you can't sleep at night. This is just your body's way of shouting at you when you wouldn't listen to its whispers. You can do everything you want to do, you just need to pace yourself and do it within your own parameters.
YOUR TAKEAWAY: Our bodies are excellent barometers of whether we're pushing ourselves too hard. If you start getting physical or mental symptoms that make your uncomfortable, take stock and see what they're really trying to tell you. Then, adjust how you're living to accomodate what your body and mind needs.
Over to you…
Can you relate to any of the things that have held me back / made me unhappy in my past? How will you benefit from the hard-won wisdom?
In the comments below, tell me what you're taking away from reading this blog post and how it's going to change your life going forwards.