There are whole sites and books dedicated to knowledge people would share with their teenage selves. Below is the knowledge I would not only share with my teenage self, but I know a few adults that would benefit from hearing it as well. These are not necessarily all of the most important points, and there are others, but this is what is going through my mind at the moment.
A quick caveat to this, there are always exceptions to the rules but I’ve found these truths to more universal than not.
You can’t have it all
Chances are if you want to truly be successful at something then you will have to make sacrifices in other
parts of your life. Maybe once you get to the top of your profession you can settle back and focus on your relationships or hobbies, but generally to really succeed you have to give.
The myth that women can have it all, career and family, has had a significant detrimental impact on our society, and the happiness of women since the 60s. We bought into this myth that women could pursue careers and still be amazingly attentive mothers, in tune with their children. Women felt that they were a failure if they didn’t produce perfect children as they continued to pursue their career aspirations. After all, if men could do it so could we.
The issue is that men didn’t do. Absent fathers have been a mainstay of history, and it’s not that they didn’t want to be a part of their children’s lives, but with being the worker/breadwinner and pursuing their careers this wasn’t an option.
Women seemed to forget this point during the sexual revolution and moving into the corporate world. Instead they had to prove themselves more capable than men in the workplace, to get ahead, and more capable than men in the family, as they were still attentive mothers, even with their career.
It’s like men allowed women in to the workforce, as long as they didn’t slack off on any of their duties they had before, and women ridiculously bought into it.
There is nothing wrong with making the decision to be a mum or successful career woman. Many women have managed to do both, but usually not within the construct of big business or without the support of a great husband/family/paid help.
Everybody fakes it sometimes
And I’m not talking about sex here. I spent a long time thinking I was the only person in the room struggling, that I was going to be found out for the fraud that I was. Everyone else had it so together and always understood what was going on. They were on top of things and I felt like a kid playing with grownups.
Then I worked with two amazing women on a senior management team of mainly men and I realised that this was not true. In reality most people in the room don’t know what’s going on but they just nod sagely and work with people they trust to nut it out later, or don’t bother about not knowing. In reality I was actually one of the most capable and competent managers in the team, they had just been playing the game so long that they had become expert bluffers.
I’ve since realised that two things are true of the majority of people in the workplace:
- We all feel like frauds at some stage and we’re waiting for people to find us out – this is an actual condition called Imposter Syndrome. Interestingly it was long thought that women suffer from this much more than men, but that has been proven untrue.
- We are all frauds at some stage, but if you keep quiet about it and find ways to deal with it then no one will ever find you out.
Having said point 2, there is nothing wrong with admitting that you don’t understand, or asking why in the room. Chances are that at least half of the other people present with silently thank you for having the guts to say “I’m a little lost with what you mean by that” or “Could you just explain for me again exactly what you need us to do?”
We all live in a constant state of fear about not understanding things or people thinking that we are stupid or incapable. This is not unique to you and if you can find one or two people that you really trust in your office/life then it makes it a lot easier to be able to confide in them when this sort of thing happens.
The important thing is to do it anyway, push through. Chances are that you are capable of doing it, and if you aren’t then quite frankly it will be a learning experience that will help you for next time.
You are more amazing than you think – especially the women
This is another phenomenon that isn’t entirely focused on women, but in my experience women suffer from it more than men. Trust me when I say that more often than not women are more capable, intelligent and downright amazing than they give themselves credit for. I think that a large part of this comes from us not being able to boast, because that is not an attractive feminine trait. So instead we are humble and we slowly convince ourselves that we are “alright but nothing special”.
Again, in my experience, this is usually bullshit. In my experience I have worked with a lot of men who are more than happy to tell you about their brilliance and put their hand up for every opportunity/promotion that comes along, but need help using the photocopier and seem to struggle with some very basic concepts when it comes down to it.
The women just plod along, we accept our lot and think to ourselves “oh he’s going for that job, and he seems so capable that there is no chance I would get it so I’ll just stay where I am.”
A wonderful friend of mine once told me that she never turned down an opportunity because “you never know what you might get from it”. This also meant that she was very good at promoting herself and making sure that people understood what she was capable of and what she had done. She totally changed my attitude to myself and where I might be able to take my career, and she made me realise that it was a job as a successful woman to do this for other young women.
You will make bad decisions (with hindsight)
…but if it was the best decision at the time based on the information/emotions you had then don’t beat yourself up about it. If you know that you were making a decision that ran counter to your beliefs and didn’t sit right with you, and it does turn out bad then you need to rethink how you make decisions – but you still shouldn’t beat yourself up about it.
Having said this, I beat myself up about every bad decision I’ve ever made, or even times I didn’t seemingly make a decision but bad things happened. I’m trying to get better at this, it’s a slow process.
Accept that you will fail in things, but make sure that you have the wherewithal to take the time to learn from the failures. If you are beating yourself up in lieu of sitting down and thinking about what went right/wrong and how you might stop that from happening again, then you are really wasting your time. I might still beat myself up but this is usually after the post-mortem and the lessons have been identified.
You are only as alone as you make yourself
This comes from an introvert. I could quite happily have little to do with other people, and at times in my life I have had very little to do with others. What I failed to realise for a long time is that this is a result of how I shut other people out and not because I was a (insert one of many negative adjectives here) person who people would not be interested in getting to know.
The other side of this is that I felt that I don’t need human connection, but nothing could be further from the truth. I need to know that I have a group of people that I belong to, a group that I can trust and be myself around. This could be only two or three people, but I need them in my life.
There is also a second part of this, you are not alone in your feelings and experiences. It is unlikely that you are feeling or experiencing anything that nobody on this planet has gone through before. Yes it is unique because of all of the other experiences and knowledge you bring to it that is uniquely you, but there are other people who can understand and empathise with you. There are also other people who have survived it and worse.
With the social media revolution came the phrase “the wisdom of crowds”, never underestimate this, because chances are if you were to post something onto the internet you would have more people than you could imagine come back and say “me too”. I’m not saying you should put it out there, because there are just as many mindless morons who might take the opportunity to tear you down over it, I’m just saying that it helps to remember that you there are hundreds, if not thousands of people in the world’s 7 billion who are going through, or have been through, the same.
Learning is more fun when you leave school
I love learning, but even I struggled with how boring they make it in school. Subjects you have no interest in that have no perceivable relevance to your life, taught (on the whole) by people who are too jaded with the experience to enthuse.
The education system is broken for the students and teachers.
But you do eventually leave and then you get to focus on the things that you want to learn, in the way that you want to learn them.
Oh, and do not buy into the whole “getting a good mark at the end of Year 12 is the most important thing in the world” theory. There is mature age entry, and having a couple of years to work out what you might want to do with your life is never a bad thing. I know many, many people who have careers that having nothing to do with their degree – me for instance. I know many others who are on their third or fourth career.
We are not my parent’s generation, where you picked a job/career at 16 and then you stuck with it forever, regardless of how much you hated it. We are the generations of constant change, where you can reinvent yourself and your career with a little confidence and opportunity.
Back to learning though. With you internet you have so many learning options available to you, the intellect and inspiration of thousands of brilliant minds are at your fingertips. Learning new things helps structure your brain to learn, so you can pick things up at work quicker.
You would also be surprised about the serendipity of learning random skills, knowledge and facts. You never know how and when that random piece of information or seemingly useless skill might afford you with an opportunity you would never have considered.
A day that I learn nothing is a sad day indeed.
You are broken, but you are unlikely to be more broken than anyone else
Your life is not normal, guess what? Neither is anyone else’s. There is no such thing as normal. When I was growing up I had a friend with a bipolar parent whose episodes made her incapable of caring for her children; a friend whose dad was a violent alcoholic who used to beat her; a friend whose parents divorced because his dad ran off with his mum’s brother’s wife; a friend who lost both of her parents before the end of Year 12; and so on.
These are normal lives, we just don’t usually talk about them very much. By not talking about these things, we end up believing we are a lot more broken than everyone else, when that is not the case. This goes along with the section on being alone above.
Them liking you is not enough
I’ve had far too many relationships in my life that were based on someone wanting to be with me, and me not really finding any reason to say no. I wasn’t really attracted to them, I even tried to dodge their advances, but for some reason I could not say no. I explored this in 30 days of choice and came to some shocking realisations, but here is a much simpler piece of wisdom.
If you are not attracted to someone, or you no longer want to be with someone, that is all the reason you need to not be with them. It doesn’t matter if people think you are great together, trust me many of these people will tell you they thought the opposite if you leave. It doesn’t matter if they love you and can’t live without you. If you’re not feeling it then get the hell out of there, or don’t go there in the first place.
This too shall pass
I love this piece of Buddhist wisdom. All of our lives are constantly changing, and as they change we learn to adapt to the new situations that we are in. It is important to remember that everything you have learned, everything you have ever had to endure, seemed impossible to get through at one stage in your life. But the struggles, doubts and pain from those experiences are a memory for you now.
Whatever you are going through at the moment will pass as well – either it will go away or you will adapt and find a way to deal with it. It’s just hard to remember that nothing remains constant, pain subsides, fear goes away, tears dry up – and even when you are happy and loving life you also need to remember that this too shall pass. Nothing lasts forever in its current state, good or bad.
What wisdom would you like to share? What would have made your life simpler if you understood it as a teenager? What would make your life easier if you understood it now?