A letter to my 18-year-old self

Forgive me. Having reached the grand old age of (cough), I decided to take a moment to reflect on my life so far, your life-yet-to-come, and take the opportunity to share with you one or two thoughts and observations you might find of benefit and of use in the years to come.

So where to begin? As you contemplate the next few years of your developing life, initially to be spent at university, ask yourself this: “Where would you like to be in 5 years’ time?” Growing up through your teenage years, you’ve never taken the time to reflect on where you saw your future. You’ve never considered fully the implications of decisions you might take over your career plans, family or even where you might want to live and build your life.

Sure, you’ve got a place at a red-brick university to study Law, a solid, financially-rewarding pursuit which should safeguard your future however you decide to go forward. But pause for a moment and consider what the next three years of your life will bring. Is this what you really want? Where do you see yourself going with a law degree? Will you be a provincial solicitor, dabbling in probate, conveyancing and marital disputes? Will you work in a large commercial organisation, posting 18-hour days and aspiring to make partner?

Or will you head down the adversarial route and become a barrister, undertaking further training and seeking admission to the Bar, working for yourself in Chambers, perhaps hoping one day to become Queen’s Counsel?

Or maybe another direction? Have you really considered your career progression? Because you need to. And you need to do it now. The three years at university will pass in a blur, not necessarily a chemically-induced blur from cheap and easy access to alcohol & drugs. Time flies, and not only when you are having fun. Days turn into weeks, which pass to months and then years. In the blink of an eye, you will find yourself on the stage, receiving your degree certificate to the acclaim and applause of your family, friends and peers. Then what?

If you haven’t secured work (or further training) by this stage, you will find yourself at the entrance to a daunting maze which will, in all probability, lead to people and places you don’t yet know. And when you reach the centre of that maze, you might not like what you find. By the time you have found your way out, you’ll be distressed and frustrated to discover that the ship you bought tickets for has already sailed.

But on the flip side of this, you might find yourself opened up to a world of fresh opportunity, ideas, people and places you had never considered in your wildest dreams. The pressure on kids going into GCSEs and ‘A’ Levels is immense, and there can surely be few who come out of the education system exactly where they dreamed they would be as a starry-eyed 6- or 7-year-old, ready to take on the world and win.

As you grow older, you will, I hope, learn to embrace changes and new openings. Something which presents itself as a problem can also be an opportunity, a chance to take your life in a new and unimagined direction, with different, unexpected consequences. This can be a huge force for good in your life, but please, please, make sure you learn (or find ways) to recognise these opportunities, and to grasp them fully should the mood and desire take you.

Never make a decision or follow a path just because you want to please others, or for reasons of self-consciousness or ambivalence. This is your life, and as far as we know, it’s your only life. Please, please make sure you live it. Merely existing is not going to be enough, not for you, not for anyone.

Have a plan, by all means, but don’t be afraid to change it. Adjust it here and there, according to the choices you make and the challenges you face. Don’t be afraid to rip it up and start again, if needs be. Nothing lasts forever, and nothing is set in stone. But set yourself goals and make them time-led – what do you want to be doing in 3 years? 5 years? 10 years? Where do you want to be, who do you want to be there with? These are things which seem as if they will fall into place naturally, and for the most part, they usually do. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need some degree of control and planning. Fail to prepare? Prepare to fail. Clichés are clichés for a reason.

You will learn that, despite your better nature, and your normally positive outlook on the world and the people in it, you will be basically on your own. Nobody, unless you are exceptionally fortunate, will be there to look out for you, to hold your hand, to give you the break you might need or deserve. We live in an individualistic, capitalist world, a world of self-determination and increasing social isolation, and it’s only going to get worse. Communities will slowly disintegrate as we pursue an ever more inward-looking lifestyle, existing in our own bubbles and eschewing the sense of community & togetherness which undoubtedly enriches our lives, and which, as pack animals, we need to ensure a thriving future in terms of personal development, satisfaction and happiness

You will need desire, drive and positivity for success (in the employment and, perhaps, the economic sense) and to make good things happen for you & your family. But if you lose your way, fear not. There are always opportunities to change course, to take your life (and the lives of your family, should you choose to be part of one) in another direction, making the most of the fresh encounters, chances and prospects you find ahead.

Listen to me! “You will learn…. you will need….”, reinforcing the very egotistical and isolationist behaviour about which I am trying to warn you! Not so. In the rapidly changing modern world, you yourself have a need, a responsibility, a duty even, to grow, learn and develop the skills you will need to make your way, to carve for yourself a happy and fulfilling life, in whichever direction that may lie.

So please, do me (and yourself!) a huge favour – take some time to really think about what you want from this life. Who, what, where. Questions you really do need to answer, however rough the draft, to make sure you give yourself the best possible chances and choices ahead. Try not to look back on your life wondering: “How did I get here?

With love. So much love, concern, confidence and hope for what lies ahead.

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