Matthew Parris hit on a wonderful idea here: what would you write to your 16 year old self if you could do so now? And he has executed it brilliantly, with some corking ideas:

By acting bravely we become brave; not the other way round . . . You can walk away from bores: they’re used to this and develop thick skins . . . Whenever contemplating taking out insurance, don’t — but deposit the amount of the premium in an earmarked savings account. You’ll almost certainly end up miles ahead . . . People who say their first impressions are always right are people too pig-headed to revise them; first impressions can be wholly wrong . . . If you think you might be about to be sick, you are about to be sick: run to the loo . . . There’s usually a reason why friendless people lack friends . . .

Me, I’ve always wondered what I should say, because I really stuffed up years 17-20.  It would include:

“Don’t wimp out of applying to study PPE just because you’re worried all those public school applicants will be too bright.  They’re not, and will end up copying your homework, but not before you’ve screwed up your first year studying the wrong subject.  And, yes, appearances do matter.  Deal with that tweed jacket, you’re not 40.  And no-one thinks anyone is interesting for wandering around with a copy of Joyce or Chaucer.  It just screams ‘no girlfriend”.   Don’t assume anyone knows all that much just because they talk confidently.   It is often a substitute, not a sign, of underlying wisdom.”

Oh, and (UPDATE), reading a bit later, I would add: “Raising kids is only frustrating if you try to do too much at once.  Just managing a toddler is challenge enough.  Managing a toddler at the same time as trying to write an essay/cook eggs hollandaise/trade the markets is a recipe for madness”.    And “Never, ever try to start or settle arguments by email”.

In the comments below Parris’s piece I thought these were good:

The small things really do count – don’t underestimate the value of small kindnesses. Grand gestures are less about the recipient and more about the person giving them.

If you have to buy umbrellas or gloves, buy cheap ones; they are designed to be lost, or left behind on the bus within a week of purchase.

In marriage: Good looking and wealthy are nice-to-haves; Kind and good-hearted are non-negotiable. What kind of person do you want to be awake with you and a screaming baby at 2am?

In my formulation, it is “staring at immobile traffic on the M4, 20 miles from home, with three children fighting”, but I get the idea.

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4 thoughts on “Writing your younger self a letter of advice . . .

  1. My message to myself:

    DO NOT do interviews for random blogs thinking you are being funny and tongue in cheek. It WILL come back to haunt you.

    In fact, don’t use the internet at all.

  2. Paul, now you must post the link. Please. We’ll keep it to ourselves.

    Seriously, the other advice would be “whatever advice you think might work when you’re in your 20s will be superceded by the advice from your 30s”. And ditto, up the generations, till you’re 60 and no-one listens to you anymore.

  3. Mine would go:

    ‘Dear Paul C

    Please remember to always look to people younger than you for advice as you get older; they will tend to be less sullied and guilty of bad things and this makes their advice worth more. In particular, though, listen to 13 year olds, for they can be most wise, though occassionally hard to grasp and somewhat smelly.

    More importantlly, if possible try to get hold of some rich parents, as a surprisngly large amount of evidence shows that if you’ve got this bit sorted you can do what the buggery you like, and so can your children.

    Never get involved in gang warfare, or the blogosphere.

    Cricket is essential, but note that offspinners are generally those who can’t bowl fast or do proper spinning.

  4. As someone who has bunged perhaps 1000 tennis balls at the distant birch tree in the garden, spinning them left to right (right handed), in the hope that one day the currently one-year-old D will face such a ball and be bamboozled by his mid 40’s father, I find the last comment most distressing.

    Well educated parents are as good as rich, I think.

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