It was about two years ago that I did a column about all the things I would tell my teenage self if I could travel back in time. I thought about it again this week because a Twitter thread started by @genderlogindia on the same subject threw up some interesting and some rather surprising responses.
But as I read through all the stuff that women would have told their younger selves, I began to wonder whether we would not, in fact, be better off if we gave those bits of advice to those that need it most: our teenage daughters, or simply teenagers who could be our daughters. The things we wish we had known when we were young are exactly the things that young women out there could benefit learning from.
So, this Sunday, here is a random scattering of the wisdom (such as it is) that I have gained through my many decades on the planet, for the benefit of all the younger ladies out there.
* First off, repeat after me: Nothing matters very much; and very little matters at all. Memorise the phrase. Internalise it. And say it back to yourself every time you feel overwhelmed by life. It doesn’t matter what the current crisis is. It could be anything from your first love dumping you to not getting into the college of your choice or gaining a few kilos. Just repeat the mantra to yourself, and in time you will realise how true it is.
In a few years, you will struggle to put a face on the first frog you kissed; none of your work colleagues will give a damn about which college you attended; and when you look at your younger photos, you will marvel at how amazing you looked (if only you’d had the sense to realise it at that time!).
* It is better to be clever than to be cool. Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against cool girls. They have the best clothes, the funkiest haircuts, the most rocking accessories and the most amazing swagger ever as they float through life, surrounded by admirers of both sexes. So, if you are a cool girl, then good luck to you. But if you are a clever girl, you will make your own luck. You are the one who will get the coolest jobs, you are the one who will end up with the most interesting career, you are the one who will have the best ideas. Your cleverness will last even as their coolness fades (and sadly, it always does). So, please, be clever enough to see that.
* Focus on female friendships. Yes, I know, those raging hormones are making boys look very attractive indeed at the moment. But don’t ever turn your back on your girlfriends. Take time out to have all-girl lunches or dinners if you can’t quite manage all-girl holiday trips. Bond over Gossip Girl (or whatever your generation’s equivalent of Friends and Sex And The City is) or Gone Girl, or The Girl On The Train, or even the Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest.
And never ditch your female friends just because a boyfriend asks you out at the last moment. It is these female friendships that will survive and sustain you long after that boyfriend is history.
* This is the time to embrace all the possibilities of life, to try your hand at different things, to experiment and explore. So, don’t be in a hurry to settle down, both in your personal and professional life. If you can afford it (or, more accurately, if your parents can) take a year off and do exactly what pleases you.
Go trekking in the Himalayas. Teach in a village school. Intern with a newspaper or advertising agency. Go backpacking through Europe. This is probably the only time in your life you can do this sort of thing. After that, it will be time to get a steady job with a decent paycheque that allows you to pay your own bills. And then will come marriage and babies to curb your freedom (and whatever you may think now, they will do exactly that). So enjoy your time as a free agent; it will be over in the blink of an eye.
* And finally, don’t be too hard on yourself. Don’t set yourself impossible standards and then punish yourself for failing to meet them. Push yourself to do better and be better, by all means. But also, be realistic about what your body and brain can accomplish. Not everyone is a natural size 0 (and nor should they be; what an incredibly boring world that would be to live in!) so focus on being healthy rather than on being skinny. (Supermodels like Gisele Bündchen or accredited beauties like Deepika Padukone are genetic freaks. Judging yourself against their standards is plain stupid.) And not everyone has it in them to win a Nobel Prize for literature or physics.
The best way to get the most out of life is to make the most of what you have instead of mourning all that you don’t. So, stay positive, stay sane, and stay blessed. And treat each day as the first day of the rest of your life.
From HT Brunch, November 29
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