Two things, recently, have made me thoughtful.
The first was watching ’63-Up’, the latest instalment in the series which started with ‘7-Up’ back in the 1960s. The programmes trace the progress of a group of individuals at 7-year intervals. I was born two years after this group, and I think I started watching the series when they reached their late twenties, though every instalment features extracts from earlier stages in their lives. You grow to know the individuals as the programmes chart their changing fortunes. This may well have been the earliest example of what we now call ‘reality TV’. I’ve found it interesting to reflect on how the lives of the men and women within this group developed as my own story unfolded – education, careers, families, interests, successes and disappointments.
This year, a programme ‘7-Up and me’ featured a number of celebrities of a similar age who talked about their reaction to the 7-yearly updates, and how the experiences of the participants perhaps mirrored or compared with their own. Memorably, the actor Sally Lindsay said that watching the series made her want to say to her self-conscious 14-year old self: ‘No one’s looking at you, kid!’
I have written elsewhere about the importance of reflection, for example in this post based on my TEDxNorwichED session this summer. I find it interesting to look back at my life and consider the choices I have made, the things which have happened and how I have reacted to them, how experiences in the past relate to the person I am today, and my possible future.
And then I read ‘Girl Up’, by Laura Bates, and this also caused me to look back and think about how I have learnt from all that has gone before. The most striking chapter of the book, which is really written for adolescent girls, features a number of successful women who were asked, ‘If you could go back, what would you like to tell your teenage self?’
Historian, author and broadcaster Bettany Hughes, for example, would tell her younger self:
‘Every cell in your teenage body tells you to experience all the world has to offer right now – just relax a bit. You have a lifetime to love, live, learn.’
Charlotte Cray, editorial assistant at the Borough Press, offers:
‘You don’t have to take everyone’s advice. Get as much information as you can from whoever is open enough to offer it to you, but know when to listen to yourself above all others – it’s your life.’
And those interviewed also suggest what advice they would give young women seeking to carve out a career in the professional arena they have chosen.
So what might you advise if you could counsel your teenage self?
I think I would suggest the following:
- Recognise that your education will open doors and give you options in the future. It is worth the time and effort you invest in it, even though you will go through a phase where school only interests you for the social opportunities it offers! Never stop working and learning. It will be well worth it.
- The friendships you forge in your teens are going to last a lifetime. Make sure you spend time with those who sustain you, and do all you can to support them in return. Gravitate towards those who make you feel better about yourself, not those who make you feel worse. If you keep in touch with these people even during the years when you are all busy living your own lives, there will come a time when you can see much more of them, and your shared history will add a depth to your relationships which is precious.
- Family matters – and be aware that those in the generations above you will not be around forever, so treasure the time with them, ask them questions and build positive shared memories. Capture these memories in any way you can – the scrapbooks and the diaries you start to keep in your teens will become increasingly valuable to you as later in your life you revisit and remind yourself of all that has happened in the past.
- The career you embark on in your early twenties will have its challenges, but stick with it! It will bring great satisfaction and reward, and enable you to have a positive impact on others’ lives. Take the opportunity to embrace different roles in different places – be bold about seeking out fresh opportunities. Say yes!
- And stick with the boy you meet when you are 16. He will turn out to be a keeper!
So what would YOU say?
Photographs: Official school photographs from when I was in Year 7, Year 8 and Year 9.