Advice I can’t give

Recently I read the advice that a 28 year old journalist believed she would give her 18 year old self – if she could only get the young lass to sit down and listen. One of her recommendations was to, ‘take advice almost exclusively from women in their fifties’. For a moment I felt flattered, but since then I have been fretting that I seem to have acquired scant wisdom worthy of sharing.

It makes me wonder what I have been doing with my time. I clearly need to stop faffing about and bank some enlightenment if I am to help my teenage self on her forward voyage.

Since it has been school half term, I have spent my week catching up with some of my favourite people. What strikes me most from these conversations is that – whatever their age – all my friends seem to be making bold and confident decisions about their futures. When did I become such a ditherer? I don’t seem to have much to trade back in these conversations – thankfully my friends are not after my advice or experience.

I will at least acknowledge that over the years I have become a strong encourager of other people; I am very confident about supporting other people’s life changes. ‘Leave your safe 9-5 job/draw down your pension/take a sabbatical? Why ever not? Acquire a HGV licence? Of course. Join a dating site, set some new job alerts? Silly not to. While you are at it, treat yourself to some botox and design your own body art. You deserve it.

At this stage of my life, I would have hoped to be advising my 18 year old self to take more risks – and reassuring her that while her nose will always be large, she will eventually stop obsessing about plastic surgery. Instead, I find that I am paralysed with inertia. I find myself wanting to check if my teenage self has a safety net – not a very rock ‘n’ roll approach but one that my dad would have at least been impressed with, being a man who adored a reassuring insurance policy and back up plan. He was also responsible for our family nose, so he may also have shown some understanding there.

Staying with my mother overnight this week, I am surprised when she compliments me on the ‘patience’ I seem to be displaying during a trying phase of my life. I haven’t the heart to tell her that this is my new found aversion to risk and that my paralysis of fear is just masking as serenity – at least I am saving on botox. Work colleagues compliment me on my calmness in stressful situations and it seems churlish to share that I just haven’t the energy – or confidence – to emote energetically right now. (They might also be disillusioned to learn how agitated I can become in the middle of a sleepless night when the adrenalin eventually decides to make its appearance).

My house purchase lurches again – this time I am tied up in legal knots over missing title deeds and another delay is on the cards. I believe that, faced with the same hurdle, my younger self would distract herself by taking a trip to Ikea and designing an interiors mood board with the optimism of someone who knows it will be alright in the end, and if it is not alright, then it is not the end. Instead, this old worry wart has started to believe that she may be a lodger for the rest of her life. I challenge this negativity with, ‘on what evidence do you base this anxiety?’ and the answer comes back, ‘on the three abortive property sales you have had over the last 12 months in a buyer’s market’. Fair play.

I catch up with Favourite Daughter and marvel at the maturity and wisdom that she exudes. I have no worry about the decisions she makes, I just admire her sense of self and bravery – even though I know she works hard at it. I hope that spending time in her company will make me a little less fearful and one day I hope to take this parenting role back off her again. FD thinks I am invincible but my mother should really be admiring her granddaughter’s patience, not mine; FD allows me to talk my worst fears out loud before advising that some retail therapy in Zara will distract me from overthinking. She then makes sure that we visit the cottage that is so reluctant to become mine and stands in the rain admiring the view and showing me where my sunflower seeds may eventually get to flourish. FD takes photos of my grumpy face as I drive her back to the station and refuses to give up until I eventually smile. She whatsapps me my smiley face later in the day when she is back home in London (I share the evidence with this blog so that you can see how lush she is): she messages, ‘ Love you, mumzoid, you have got this.’

So, let’s forget my 18 year old self – I am not that person any more and my memory is not what it used to be. Instead, what advice can I rustle up for the present day? I dig deep and bring you:

  • life is what happens when we are distracted making plans. My plan was to share a tartan blanket – and a sea view – with a significant other. I still have the tartan blanket. I still have hope. Plans change, so must we. Trust that there will be a new and better plan.
  • if we feel tired and weepy, then sleep usually does do the trick and having an afternoon nap is a treat we most definitely deserve (perhaps best kept to weekends if you work in a classroom).
  • a good hair cut – and a fab hairdresser – will always make us feel better. Stay loyal to your hairdresser of choice.
  • a cheesy baked potato is always the best comfort food (add another filling if you must).
  • running is not for everyone, but if we do run, we will never regret putting on our lycra.
  • ditto for yoga.
  • invest in good friends (run and do yoga with them if you can). When we hit a low patch, they will be the best cheer leaders we can have and will allow us to bore them rigid with our overthinking. They will eventually say, ‘wind your head back in’ and we will eventually listen. Make sure we are also always there for them – although in my case, they rarely call in the favour.
  • allow yourself a pity party, but always set a time limit. We will bore ourself – and our amazing friends – if we drone on indefinitely.
  • If nothing changes, nothing changes. There is usually something tiny that we can change. Changing your bed linen is progress on a ‘bad’ day.
  • Zara usually does do the trick – check your bank statement before diving in. Better still, always check your bank statement first thing in the morning before diving onto your social media.
  • If you have children, listen to them. Allow yourself a little credit for the wise and interesting people they have become – but do not tell them this. If you have no kids, borrow your friends’ adult children.
  • factor in a belly laugh if you can, with the people you love. Crying is fine, but so is laughing and if we are crying tears of laughter, then we are on the mend.
  • when things are going well again – and they will eventually, I promise, be grateful and enjoy the ride. We have earned it.
  • get a 5 year diary. Once you have the hang of it, you will start seeing those incremental changes recorded; you will see the progress you have made. Congratulate yourself. (however, if you find yourself just moaning year on year, then ditch the diary).

I feel a little brighter just listening to my own wisdom. I do not think I knew all of these things when I was 18 and there was certainly no Zara ‘back in the day’. I am older. I am now wise to the fact that my mid life years have proved very ‘messy’ but then perhaps this will take a little pressure off future expectations. Life can be inconvenient and tartan can go in and out of fashion, as Vivienne Westwood and the Bay City Rollers demonstrated. I may have hit a wall right now, but this fifty-nine year old is advising herself to lean against it and take a rest; I can use my nose to smash through the wall on a day when I am feeling more like my teenage self.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Well written. I would open the door a bit and say any advice from a woman over the age of twenty is probably better than anything you will hear from a stinky old man. I am of Scottish decent so there is never a bad day for tartan. S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y Night


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