I recently returned from a trip to Brazil where I was talking about teaching life skills to teenagers. By happy coincidence, the previous month I'd finally got round to reading Dear Me, a letter to my sixteen-year-old self. If you've never come across it, this is a book that consists of letters written by a selection of well-known names to their younger selves. What words of wisdom would they pass on after the experience of so many years. As J.K. Rowling writes in the book's Foreword, 'the overwhelming message of this body of letters seems to be: Be yourself. Be easier on yourself. Become yourself, as fully as possible'.
So I started my Brazil talk by quoting some examples from the book. A lot of the advice is very practical. For example, the actor Hugh Jackman advises his teenage self to “Buy shares in Google when they are invented!!!!” Other advice is more personal such as these words from J.K. Rowling. “Stop smoking NOW. Stick up for yourself a bit more. Forgive yourself a lot more."
Some advice comes up time and time again. James Woods is just one of several people who refers to listening to others: “Listen more than you may be inclined to do. Talk less.” Many writers refer to the low self-esteem they experienced as a teenager. “Expand your horizons," writes Gillian Anderson, "your world is a bigger oyster than your low self-esteem wants you to believe. Follow your dreams not your boyfriends.”
I also came across this letter from Lucas Cruikshank. “Don't fret about the whole 'shy thing' you're enduring right now. I mean, give yourself a break!” In case you don't know, Lucas Cruikshank was one of the very first YouTube stars. His was the first YouTube channel to reach a million subscribers. Lucas was actually sixteen years old when he wrote his letter so he wrote it to his thirteen-year-old self.
Writing a letter to your younger self is a fun activity. You should try it sometime. The book thoughtfully includes some blank pages at the end where you can write your own letter. After reading Lucas's letter, I wondered what advice I'd give to my thirteen-year-old self.
So that's me in the photo when I was thirteen years old. It's from a provisional passport I needed for a trip abroad. (I love the fact that it has a space for a photo of my wife.) And here's my advice to my thirteen-year-old self:
“Don’t take life so seriously.” I used to worry a lot when I was a teenager.
“Work more with other people.” I don't remember ever doing group work or even pair work at school. (This was a long, long time ago.) I didn't really appreciate the benefits of working with other people until after I'd left school.
“I know you hate speaking in public but it will be very useful one day.” I was extremely shy. I still don't feel at ease talking in front of other people.
“Think more about other people.” I admit it. I was very self-obsessed as a teenager. Aren't we all?
“They can be right too!” OK. Point taken.
“Learn to speak Portuguese.” I originally put 'learn to dance' but after spending a few days in Brazil, I realised how much I love Portuguese and how much I'd like to learn it.
I think a lot of the advice I'd give to my younger self is similar to the advice we'd give teenagers today: Learn to deal with stress, understand the benefits of teamwork, be more self-confident, think more about other people, respect other people's opinions. These are all life skills. And Portuguese? Is learning a language a life skill? We had a discussion about that over dinner. Answers on a postcard, please.