It’s almost midnight and yet, I can’t step away from the huge bag of nostalgia at my feet. I’m back in Ireland for part of the summer, staying at my mom’s house — the one she’s just sold. All around me are boxes and books, my wedding dress, and “the bridesmaids dress you looked adorable in at your aunt’s wedding …when you were 3.”
While I chastise my mom for being a hoarder, turns out I have kept every letter I ever received until I left college. There are postcards from my friends’ vacations, my report cards, and dozens of photographs of me in questionable prom dresses that I designed myself. (The horror — a career in fashion did NOT beckon).
Among all of this I found the letters my then boyfriend sent me when he went off to college, leaving me to my final year of high school. My memories of this time were clearly rose-tinted because while I thought they were filled with him missing me, in fact he can barely be bothered to write more than a few lines of drivel. It made me want to go back and have some stern words with my 17-year-old self and tell her not to bother pining after him for a second longer.
Chatting with my other school friends, I canvassed opinions on what advice we’d give to our 17-year-old selves if we could go back. Here goes …
Love your figure.
Because my goodness, it is so much better than it will be at 43! Appreciate your voluptuous chest; one day after two children, your boobs won’t sit in the same place!
Keep hold of your friends.
Those girls that you spend every evening on the phone with and hold sleepovers with on the weekends — they will still be hanging out with you in your 40s, but sadly only once or twice a year at best. So value them while you can. Keep them close, because having people that have loved you and known you all your life in it is one of the greatest gifts. They don’t need you to have the fancy house, the great job, the perfect kids — they loved you before the dental work! They remember you when you were the most YOU.
Do not think he is “The One.”
Because chances are he isn’t. There are plenty more fish in the sea. So, if your beloved heads off to college before you, stop pining and crying at parties and put your dancing shoes on, girl! Life is for living, so don’t waste a second of it on a boy who isn’t wasting his time on you. Yes, he was your first love; yes, you lost your virginity to him. But that doesn’t mean you have to be with him forever. There will be another one and he will be better!
Smoking is not cool.
Not now, not ever. Step away from those cigarettes.
Things usually work out OK. Sitting up all night fretting over exam results isn’t going to change them. Worrying about what others think is also a route to unhappiness. It is OK to go your own way; follow your own path and not the crowd’s. The things in life that shock us or upset us usually come out of nowhere; the things we stress over daily rarely happen!
Have as much fun as you possibly can because there will be a time when you are too busy with work, kids, running a house, and folding laundry that going out will be something you do only on a special occasion. So while you have zero responsibilities apart from writing an essay on time, get out there and have fun. If a friend asks you to go to a party — go! Nothing to wear? Borrow something. Always say yes! Be safe, but don’t be afraid to try new things. Whether it’s sports, or dancing, or art classes, or whatever — get out there and enjoy yourself! Go and explore!
Do what you love, not what you think you should do.
This motto is one I still adhere to in life! You only get one life. It flies by, so don’t spend it doing chemistry at college if you secretly want to be an actor. Always follow your heart and your passion and you will find your true path. Don’t go to the college your boyfriend is going to just because he is there. Follow your own dreams, not someone else’s. (I’m eternally glad I didn’t follow my then boyfriend and studied journalism in London instead. It was the best decision I made!)
Don’t let anyone ever tell you no. Someone turned down signing The Beatles! Cindy Crawford was rejected by a modeling agency! JK Rowling got turned down by several publishers! If you have faith in yourself, you can succeed. And having a B plan is no bad thing — it just gives you options.
That gap year you are thinking of doing? DO IT. Seeing the world is an education in itself. Save up, throw on that backpack, and GO! There are so many adventures to have, people to meet, and places to explore. (The year I spent living in Australia and New Zealand, and visiting Hong Kong, Thailand, and India was easily one of the best years of my life!)
Take photos and keep a journal.
Because one day, you’ll be 43 and you’ll open a bottle of red wine and read about all of your exploits and you will laugh and cry in equal measure. You will marvel at how lucky you have been, feel grateful for how your life worked out, and shocked at how 25 years can just fly by … so enjoy every single second.
P.S. The best is yet to come!