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.