A very long time ago (five whole entire years) I graduated from university on my 21st birthday. It was a momentous occasion. I thought I knew everything there was to know because I’d studied philosophy and answered difficult questions about the universe. I thought I knew loss. I thought I knew what life was going to hold. I thought I knew what hard work was. I didn’t know anything. Five years later I’ve learned so much but all I really know for sure is that there’s so much I don’t know. But in honour of my 26th birthday, here are some things I do know.
Forgive, but don’t forget the lessons you’ve learned.
Forgive your parents for calling you fat as a teenager. Forgive your friend for getting so drunk on your 22nd birthday that you had to take her home and miss your own birthday. Forgive people for big things, forgive them for little things. The space that anger is taking up is all inside you – they probably don’t even know you’re angry. Let go of the anger, but remember the lesson. Be better than others have been.
You don’t need to be liked by everyone, you don’t need to like everyone, but you should never be a dick.
I used to be so embarrassed about who I was. Then I used to show off about how quirky I was. Both those things are cringeworthy. What do you love? Go with it. I sew my own clothes. I have uttered the phrase “there’s a great song you have to hear by the guy from Deep Purple’s side project band” (it’s seven minutes of glory guys) and I’m not ashamed of that. I cry at adverts, like the Lloyds Bank one where the horse comes home from war. I’m who I am and I’m not ashamed of it. Some people aren’t going to like it and that’s fine, there are some people I just don’t click with either. We’re all adults, we won’t be mean, we won’t be cruel, we’ll just get on with doing us.
You’re going to make some terrible mistakes
I stayed with a boy who read my diary. I hurt myself because I was afraid to admit that what I wanted wasn’t what everyone else told me I should. I took out an overdraft and a credit card when I really shouldn’t have. These things happen. Take a deep breath, square your shoulders and dig yourself out of the hole.
Make time for yourself
Stress and burnout are real, and they’re miserable. Real life isn’t like university, you don’t get summers off to recharge. I worked four straight Christmasses after university, and four straight Augusts. I didn’t have two weeks off in a row for four years. That was dumb. I was so burned out I’d lost enthusiasm for everything I liked. I had to relearn how to listen to new music and read novels. Do something just for you at least once a week. Carve out the time. I go to Pilates twice a week, take a bath afterwards, and paint my nails. It’s unashamed me-time and it keeps me sane. Do what works for you, so long as it’s positive. Alcohol does NOT count.
Stop waiting for the cavalry. You are the cavalry.
My boss said this in a work context the other week and I thought it was amazing and exemplifies so much of what I’ve learned. If you’re waiting to win the lottery, lose 100lbs, for the perfect man or job to fall into your lap, you’re going to be waiting forever. If you want something, go out and try for it. If you don’t know what you want, start by making sure you’re not doing what you don’t want and inch closer to what you do want from there.
Worse things are going to happen than you can imagine, better things are coming than you can comprehend.
When I was 22 I was made redundant from a job which although terrible, was the real job I’d ever had. I was single, broke, unemployed, friendless and hopeless. A week later I got the opportunity of a lifetime and got a new job in a field that I’d always wanted to work in. Within a month I had a great job, money in the bank, and had just met the love of my life. Bad things will happen. People you thought you could count on won’t be there for you. Loved ones will die. But new friends will reveal themselves in unexpected places, bad love will give way for good love. Never give up hope, and never judge. Remember the words of Baz Luhrmann: “never congratulate or berate yourself too much. Your choices are half chance”.
And one for the future… Be inspired by people younger than you
Because you have something to learn from everyone, and something to teach everyone.