If I could give my younger self any advice, it would go something like this:
“Dear Little SJ,
You know all those stories you want to write, and all those words you want to string together into pretty little necklaces of imagination? Yes? Well, I just want to ask one thing. What are you waiting for? Do you think the words are going to spontaneously arrange themselves onto the page, astounding passersby and setting off fireworks to announce their own fabulousness? No. They need you to bring them to life. So, go and do it.
Also, you know all those hours you spend standing in front of the bathroom mirror hating everything you see? Give that up, for a load of reasons, but mainly these: you are so much lovelier than you think you are, and you will meet a man, eventually, who thinks you’re so beautiful that he’ll tell you every day how much he loves you. Yes – every day. Can you imagine it?
Learn how to take compliments.
Now, look around at all your friends. Do you see them, standing around the lockers at school, having a laugh? Treasure these people. Twenty years from now, they will still be in your life, and you will love them just as much as you do now, and they will be just as important to you. You will all have things to go through in life for which you’ll need one another’s support. There are things facing you that you won’t have a hope of getting through without these guys on your side. So, look after your friends.
Find a sport, and start doing it. Seriously. I know you think your P.E. teacher is a demon sent from hell to torment you, and you’d much rather be reading a book, but trust me. Your creaking joints and wobbly bits from the future are imploring you to do some exercise now, when you’re still young enough for it to become a habit and make a difference.
You don’t really need me to tell you to take care of your family, and to try to behave like less of a hormonal Hulkette at home – but I’ll do it anyway. ‘Take care of your family. Stop behaving like a hormonal Hulkette. They love you, you love them – end of story.’
Don’t feel weird for liking to read, enjoying the books and music you enjoy, or watching movies that nobody else watches. Later in your life, your tastes in books, movies and most especially music will help you to make friends, convince people you’re cool, and even (almost) allow you to impress a boy. But don’t hold your breath on that one.
Also, you are cool. Trust me.
Oh, and speaking of boys – that guy you like right now? Forget about it. And the one after him, the one after him, the one after him, and the one after him. After that, you’ll start getting it right. More or less. Here’s a shortcut: go for the boys who are kind, considerate, funny and sweet, and who are brave enough to show you that they like you. Don’t go for the hipster types who pepper their conversation with Neil Young lyrics and whose guitar cases have the Woodstock logo painted on in Tipp-Ex. I know why you keep falling into the same trap, but just trust me, and let me save you from years of heartache. All right?
Spend more time with your grandmother. In fact, go and pay her a visit right this minute. When she goes, the pain of it will be so huge that it will leave a crater in your life. Treasure her now, while you can.
Try to take it easy on yourself. Don’t spend years beating yourself up for mistakes you’re going to make; don’t allow yourself to be spoken to in ways you don’t like; don’t allow anyone to make little of you. Don’t allow yourself to feel like you deserve to be treated like this, because it’ll take years to get out of that mindset. Don’t worry when your life falls apart in the last semester of your last year at university – it’ll suck, but you’ll be fine.
Enjoy your PhD studies. Remind yourself every day that you’re doing a PhD, and how absurdly cool that is. Remind yourself how much of an achievement it is. Be proud of it. It will go by so fast that soon, it’ll feel like you didn’t do it at all. And that’ll be a shame.
There are people who’ll come, and people who’ll go, and it will hurt. But your life will carry on and things will work out better than you could have dreamed. Don’t get too attached to things and places; there are people, too, who you’d be better off not getting too emotionally dependent on. You will lose more friends than you will gain over the course of your life, and you will feel like it’s the end of the world every time someone walks out of your circle. It’s not. The ones who are important will always find their way back.
You are a slightly socially awkward person, and you have no balance, and you’re never sure what to say in any given moment. This isn’t going to change. Learn to embrace it. Eventually, people will start thinking it’s endearing instead of ridiculous.
And, overall? You’re okay, little S.J. You’re okay.
With all my love (because, did you realise, it’s not big-headed or weird to show yourself some love once in a while. Did you know that?)