What I would say to my twenty-year-old self

What would I say to my younger self, if I could re-live my youth? I’m sure that many people over a certain age (not necessarily ‘old’, just no longer honoured by the accolade of ‘young’) must think the same thing. The mistakes we made in our greener days, the fears and hopes we had, the dreams we believed in as though they were invincible … until life experience taught us that they weren’t. They were mortal, just like us.

So what would I say to the old me? Or rather, the young me?

Maybe something along these lines.

  • Don’t get engaged within three weeks of meeting the man you believe to be the love of your life.
  • Having nonetheless set your heart on it, don’t cancel your wedding for your mother, who has threatened not to come to the Big Day if you go ahead with it.
  • Don’t think it’s the end of the world when the passion for the love of your life, now your husband, fades. But hey – that doesn’t mean you can just sit around letting it fade without doing anything about it. Love and desire need to be worked on, believe it or not. The ‘living happier ever after bit’ does not come naturally. If you don’t do anything about it, then your husband will eventually betray you. Both (Oh, yes – Hubby No. 2 hasn’t yet come along.) And you’ll end up alone.
  • Don’t allow yourself to be smothered by an over-protective parent. When they shroud you in a love that is born out of too much concern and too little letting go, their love will gradually mutate into something that becomes a demon and consumes your entire life. Even psychotherapy and hypnosis won’t help. You don’t yet know this, sweetheart, but I do. Oh, I do I do I do!
  • Follow your mind rather than your heart. A simple maxim, and easier said than done. But so very wise. And wisdom is what I’m trying to impart, right?
  • Don’t waste too much time worrying about your looks, figure, or what people think of you. You were gorgeous, for crying out loud, so what the hell were you worrying about? But at the same time, don’t let yourself become a frump or an outspoken monster and not bother at all about how you look or what people think. As in everything in life, ‘balance’ is the key word.
  • When you wake up every morning, smile to yourself and say: ‘I’m young, I’m attractive, I’m healthy, and I’ve got my whole life in front of me!’ One of these years the words will no longer be applicable, so enjoy saying them while they still are.
  • Although it’s a cliché, I’d also add believe in yourself. Everyone is different, and the specific way that you were made is unique to you. Make the most of what you have been given, including those gifts you’d rather send back to the maker. Do not squander any of them!
  • It’s good to dream, so don’t feel guilty about doing so. But when one of your dreams doesn’t come true, try not to be bitter. It probably wasn’t a realistic dream in the first place. (I mean … concert pianist? – come on, get real!)
  • If you fear that you’re going in the wrong direction, be brave enough to make changes. For instance, if you realise that you’ve chosen the wrong subject to study, or even the wrong university, don’t be a coward – do something about it!
  • If you have an ambition which truly is your lifelong dream – as in the one that you are passionate about and can’t imagine living without – then do not EVER give up on hoping that it will come true. Remember the words of Emily Dickinson:

‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul

And sings the tune without the words

And never stops – at all.

But I have to warn you that you have some tough times ahead. Want a few examples? Okay, here goes. A wedding in which your mother will come wearing black, and refuse to be on any photographs with your new husband. A miscarriage followed by two difficult pregnancies. (But worth it in the end, after the birth of your two wonderful children.) The unexpected demise of your first marriage. (So perhaps Mummy had been right all the way along.) A second marriage which results in the joy of a third child, but also in the despair of betrayal, twenty years down the road. (That was just four months ago and I’m still in shock. Perhaps my younger self could give me advice?) And then the unbelievably rotten luck of having not one, not two, but THREE agents over the turbulent years, each one of whom believed in your literary talent but let you down in the end. No published novel to date. But hey, Hope is the thing with feathers, right?

To sum up, my darling – as Mother used to call us – you will cope. You will not give up on your novels, or your dream of love. The right man really COULD be out there waiting for you (third time lucky?), and the right agent and publisher too. You are stronger than you think, and will bounce back every time a little higher than the last. Think of yourself as a kangaroo. And remember the words of Emily Dickinson. Print them out and stick them on the kitchen wall. Or in your diary. Please, please, just don’t lose hope, no matter how bad things get. There are some bloody fantastic times ahead too.

Good luck with the future!



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