“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” ~ Confucious
An old school friend of mine passed away. Over the years we’ve lost others; to suicide, accident, misadventure and illness. But this is the first of my friends who has passed due the cumulative stresses of aging.
I’ve been looking at photos of us all from when we were at school and university, from when we were young and fearless and life was in front of us as an endless rolling wave of possibilities. I can see that this is one of the blessings of youth – to be eager-eyed and unbowed by life experiences. I see that in my friends’ children now and I’m awed by that energy.
But there is a blessing to being older too. And that’s the blessing of wisdom.
If I could teleport back through time here are the things I wish my wise older self could have said to us all back then, back when we were still at school and contemplating the lives we might lead:
- Don’t choose a career to please your parents or impress your school or anyone else. Don’t be pressured into making study and career choices that hold no joy except the promise of a prestigious occupation or a big paycheck.
- It’s okay if you don’t know what you want to do when you leave school. Education is important, and those basics of literacy and numeracy will never go out of style. Get an education for the experience of it, and to broaden you, but know that your life may take you far from your starting point, and that’s fine too.
- Travel while you’re young. Take a gap year. Take off after you graduate. Take off before there is a mortgage or a partner or the kind of job you won’t be able to leave for more than a week or two at a time.
- Don’t do drugs. Not the injectable kind, or the snort up your nose kind, or the magical pill kind. And don’t ever see drugs or alcohol as an escape or a solution. If you need an escape change your life or get some counselling. If you’re depending on drugs or alcohol but you are telling yourself there is no problem – there’s a problem. And don’t drive under the influence of anything, ever!
- Don’t stay in a relationship with someone you don’t love, and don’t get married just because everyone else is. Don’t feel pressured, ever, to marry, have kids, or do things you don’t feel ready for. Most importantly don’t do any of these things just to make someone else happy. The cost will be too high.
- Have an interest that has nothing to do with your career. Maybe something you enjoy now. Don’t put it down and forget about it when you leave school because you aren’t ever going to set the world on fire or be the next greatest thing with the musical instrument you play, or the sport you enjoy or the craft you do on weekends. Cultivate that as a life-long interest and you’ll be going a long way towards gifting yourself strong mental health.
- Learn to cook. Seriously. Just some basics. And learn to clean the house, to manage your finances and other basic adulting skills. This is the stuff that is the background of life, and being able to do these things will give you confidence and freedom.
- Have a bucket list. They aren’t just for old people. If you’ve always wanted to surf Indonesia, trek the Himalayas, wander through India or drink espresso in Italy then hold those plans in your mind and work towards them. Keep adding to that bucket list so there is always something to look forward to, even as you tick things off. Don’t leave it till retirement. By then you may be incapable of the things you could have enjoyed more fully when you were younger.
- Relationships take work. And there is nothing like a relationship that has weathered the highs and lows of your life to bring you comfort and stability. Put effort into the important ones. Work through your problems and get help if it’s needed. Sometimes we need to learn how to communicate or to break old patterns so that we can move on, together.
- Once you have a job or career don’t let it take over your life. Same with family and relationships. Save some time that’s just for you. No time for yourself will breed exhaustion and resentment and is a recipe for burnout and breakdown. Everyone needs time to themselves to recharge and to indulge interests that others might not share.
- Look after your health. It’s so easy to take it for granted when you’re young but looking after yourself is a kind of insurance policy that your older self will one day thank you for.
- Do what’s in your heart. Even if it won’t make you money. Even if everyone else thinks you’re mad. Don’t die with the dream still in you. It’s never too late to start, but don’t leave it too long, okay?
Thinking of you, and sending love, Nicole ❤ xx