Advice I’m not qualified to give, but am giving anyway

Or, “stuff I wish I’d known sooner – not that I would have listened, in the event of actually being told”.

My sister officially became a teenager last Sunday. I say “officially” – emotionally, she’s been one for about the last four months. It’s come as quite a shock to my mother: “she doesn’t talk to me anymore, and she goes off in strops all the time. She’s turning into you”. Thanks, Mum*. And welcome back to the world of teenage girls. I suggest you buckle up.

*To be fair to our mother, I was a horrible teenager. I still am a lot of the time sometimes, at the age of 23.

I recently read a piece by one of my favourite writers, Daisy Buchanan (to the book geeks, yes, that is her actual name), that made me go “Aww!” It’s an open letter and commencement address to her younger sister, who’s about our age and has just graduated. Click here, if you’re interested. And, in the absence of anything more pressing to write about, I thought I’d do my own, but for my much younger sister. So here’s a handful of useful nuggets I have found to be, well, nothing but useful. I’ll try and keep it as unpretentious as possible, but you know what I’m like; that won’t be easy. I’ll give it a go.

So then…

1) Work hard at school. There’s no shame in being the diligent, conscientious one. Figure out the things you like and are good at, and get better at them. It really does make life so much easier, both now and later on.

2) Read. Read loads. You’ll never be lonely again (well, almost). Getting totally emotionally involved in a story is an unrivalled joy. You’ll never be stuck for something to talk about, and you’ll pick up all kinds of information – you’ll end up like Stephen Fry, basically. It also improves your spelling and grammar with zero effort – the more you read, the more you get to know when a word or sentence looks wrong. Which, while it isn’t the most important character trait, does make you a lot less annoying to get e-mails from.

3) Get a part-time job as soon as you possibly can. It will do you the world of good, even if you’re pretty ace already. It’s the fastest and most effective way to become more responsible and a good team-player (guess who’s spent too much time on recruitment sites recently. Eurgh). And, if you’re earning your own money, no one can tell you what to do with it – because it’s YOURS and YOURS ALONE.

4) Ignore magazines, and indeed anything or anyone that tries to tell you how you should look, or that you should be thinner. (Such as Mum. Please don’t follow her example. Please.) The overwhelming majority of diets don’t work, so just kind of pay attention to your body – it’s quite good at telling you what you need. Unfortunately, a large part of the rest of the world doesn’t quite seem to trust women to know what to do with their own bodies just yet, so it’s up to you to tell them to bugger off and mind their own damn business.

5) Experiment with your looks. The time will soon come when you have to look like everybody else, and while you’ve still got the “teen” suffix in your age, it is not that time. Put bright blue streaks in your hair (maybe wait until sixth form to do this, I know what your school’s uniform policy is like: militant), try out flicky black eyeliner or neon pink lipstick. Make-up is a good thing – unless you apply it with a tablespoon. It can cover things you don’t like and enhance the things you do like. Have fun with it, it’s cheaper than clothes.

6) Fancy someone you shouldn’t. In a legal sort of way, I mean. One of those boys who thinks they are God’s gift to women – you know the type. They’re not, so get this out the way early in life and you’ll save yourself a metric shitload of drama. Then find someone who’s kind (this is underrated, and shouldn’t be) and who thinks you’re wonderful. And makes you laugh til you yelp like a seal in distress. Yes, you can vomit. But it’s important.
     6b) You don’t have to have a boyfriend, either. (Or girlfriend, for that matter.) I didn’t have a proper relationship until I was nineteen, which was… fine. I didn’t absolutely love being the only person in my friendship group who was single, and it can feel especially bad when your best friend gets a guy and suddenly she’s not around half as much, but you’ll do the same thing one day. Plus, relationships are bloody hard work at times – factoring a whole other human being into your everyday life can sometimes be a case of moving from one uneasy truce to the next. You can quote me on that, it’s probably the truest thing I’ll say for a long time.
     And the majority of relationships that start before university/the age of 20 do NOT last. A rare few do, BUT MOST REALLY, REALLY DON’T. I cannot emphasise that enough, you’re just going to have to trust me on it. You might get to your A-levels, look at a couple you know and think, “They’re going to be together forever, and get married and have babies”. Give it two years, love…

7) Learn that being cool is a myth. Or rather, the coolest people are the ones who just do their own thing, like what they like and stand by their opinions, even if those opinions aren’t popular.

8) Stay in touch with friends who move away. Take it from someone who is God-awful at doing this. Even if you just drop them the odd Facebook message, it still helps. It’s never anything but lovely when you hear from someone you haven’t spoken to for ages: “Oh! They were thinking of me? Well, that’s made my week”.

9) Be nice. Polite. Kind. You know, not a dick. If you find yourself in, say, a shouty situation, or a serious personal disagreement, and manage not to make it worse, then it’s a start. Being able to walk away with a clear conscience gives you one less thing to worry about.

10) I’ve saved the best two things for last, you’ll see:
     10a) Always, always, ALWAYS send hand-written thank you notes for presents. ALWAYS.
     10b) If you’re feeling down, look up videos of babies laughing on YouTube. Ditto baby animals doing pretty much anything.
Yeah, you’re welcome.

OK, now I have a request of any blog-readers that may be out there. I’m planning to enter a feature-writing competition, and I need some assistance. I’d like to write something about mental health in university students – you know, cheery stuff – for reasons you’re probably aware of, if you’ve read previous posts. So, if anyone found that being at uni either triggered, or worsened any mental health/emotional issues/problems they had, and fancies dropping me a couple of lines about it, then please do. Names won’t be used in the piece, obviously, and I’m certainly not going to be gossiping down the pub about anything I do get told. I am particularly interested in people who actually managed to use their uni counselling service – did it help? Etc, etc. I will also be writing about my own “I think I’m losing my mind” moments in the feature, too. So, if anyone feels able to share, I would be very, very grateful.

Music time! If I could have anyone write the soundtrack to my life, it would be Gary Lightbody – he just has an unparallelled knack for writing simple songs with all-time melodies; tracks that are effortlessly epic. And he’s one of those rare singers who sounds better live than he does on recordings (the Northern Irish accent helps too). This is one of my favourite tracks from the new Tired Pony album – an album that feels like being reunited with an old friend – easy and joyful. And here’s another – it starts all slow and yearning, then takes you by surprise about 1:18.

And this lady needs to make a comeback; it’s been years. That isn’t one of her best songs, by a long way, but it’s a fun, playful one.

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