• Annabel Emery

25 Things That I Would Tell My Younger Self

I read an article a few weeks ago, which was titled ‘a letter to my younger self’; a 25 year old reminiscing on the mistakes, regrets and life lessons that stemmed from her awkward teenage years. It got me thinking about the things that I would say to 14 year old Annabel Emery (and with a chance to unearth some not very flattering teen-year photographs for context).

Adolescence is a struggle for most, but everyone experiences their school years differently - there is often a fair balance of positives and negatives, but imagine having the future 'you' being able to shed a bit of light on the way you dealt with those situations when you were less full of wisdom? If I could wave a magic wand and bibbity bobbity boo myself back to year 7, when 11 year old Annie was beginning high school, this is what I would say to her…

1. Leave your damn eyebrows alone.

2. Be a shepherd, not a sheep. It’s ok to follow the crowd sometimes, but don’t be afraid to experiment if what you want to do is different to your friends and peers. It’s always better to be the one that stepped outside their comfort zone and inspired others, then to always be the one influenced and pressured into things that you perhaps you didn’t want to do. I was a very socially influenced teen - which had advantages when it came to engaging in activities I perhaps wouldn't have given a chance (like the Duke of Edinburgh Award and Army Cadets), but it perhaps also kept me from going down other avenues due to the fear of social rejection.

3. Understand that you are constantly developing. Who you are now, may be completely different to who you end up being when you’re older - and even then you never stop growing. Everything that you experience will eventually contribute to certain aspects of your personality and essentially become a part of you.

Also, don’t worry about looking like a baby monkey forever, you’ll develop physically too…

4. Be kind to everyone. It can be hard to find the courage to stand up for yourself and others when you’re at that awkward age of trying to find social acceptance, but one thing I wish I had had more control over was knowing when to call people out when I felt they were morally wrong and needed guidance. I always made a point of being friendly or kind to everyone I met, because you never know when you are going to need that person in your life - and even if your paths never cross again, the right thing is to do is always give everyone a chance. Of course, you're only a young human and there are times when you stray from that path and don't always recognise that what you or your friends are doing is wrong. But there were plenty of times that I witnessed mistreatment of both myself and others, and kept quiet.

(The days of me keeping my mouth shut when I disagree with something are now LONG GONE.)

Imagine for one horrific moment, that you bullied a classmate - you have undoubtedly altered and influenced who they will be for the rest of their lives. YOU have that incredible power over someone. We all do. It is terrifying but also amazing to think that you can wield that power for good. You can change peoples lives through those small acts of kindness and they’ll be forever grateful for it - be cruel, and you'll leave scars on their souls for eternity. Be a Lisa, not a Nelson. 

5. Go at your own pace. I was a late bloomer. I always had quite a mature outlook on life, but I was still very childish in my humour and appearance - I didn’t hit puberty until a few years after my friends, which was rather traumatising at the time, especially when other classmates would point it out. I went from being nicknamed ‘Lil Blondie’ and ‘Shrimpy’ in years 7 & 8, to standing at the back of all the school leavers photos in year 11 because of a growth spurt that rocked the nation… I’m now 5ft10" and stand taller than all of those that made fun of my height back in school. Yeah science! But don't think that you need to race ahead or play catch up, your time to shine will arise when you're ready.

6. Not everyone will leave school and meet prejudged expectations. As a kid I had a lot of friends; big circles of very diverse people from different backgrounds - mainly because of all the extra-curricular activities that I did. So I was never short of people to surround myself with. However, I looked up to the girls in my year that appeared to be more popular, ‘older’, definitely prettier, more ‘mature’, wealthier perhaps… I idolised those that seemed to have confidence, that all the boys fancied and who always got picked for the sports teams. Not all of those ‘achievers’ are achieving what I thought they might today. And that is absolutely fine - they may even be doing better then I originally thought. My point is, don’t compare yourself to others in terms of success, because straight A grades and a boyfriend at 16, doesn’t mean you'll reach self-actualisation and godliness by the time you’re 25. The things that you consider important when you're a teen are probably not going to matter when you're in your mid-twenties.

I am constantly enthralled by people that I shared my teenage years with, and those that surprise me the most are generally the people that I perhaps didn’t share much in common with at the time, that now inspire me on a daily basis.

7. Be open-minded and intuitive. Our millennial generation astounds me. We are so educated and open minded about our planet and its inhabitants. Look how far we’ve come with same sex marriages, fighting sexism, the rise of feminism, veganism, sustainable living, reducing plastic waste, animal and land conservation… etc. etc. We are becoming far more in tuned with our minds, bodies and souls. But it seems to me that it takes a couple of life experiences before you begin to open yourself up to anything that isn’t on a school curriculum.

My advice to young teenage Annie, would be to do your homework on topics that aren’t covered in your RE or history lessons. Read the news, talk to people, learn the life skills you’re not going to get a gold merit for. It’s so important that we educate our future generations in politics, culture, finance, health, mindfulness, well-being - how to deal with pain and heartbreak, how to begin businesses, how to sell our talents. There is so much that is missed in our schools that we should be encouraged to seek out in our own time too.

Teaching magic tricks to the children of Lombok, Indonesia

8. Take on every opportunity possible. My mum always said that I wasn’t happy unless I was stressed under the immense pressure that I put on myself to achieve. And it’s true; I joined every club I had spare hours in the week to join. I did several different dance classes, musical theatre, Army Cadets, the Duke of Edinburgh award, a fire fighters course, a dance leaders course, athletics, cross country, I went on weekend camps and hikes, participated in shows and performances, joined the gym… and I’m still the same now. I love being busy, I love creating and learning - and though I did have a few run-ins with teachers over unfinished homework due to my hectic schedule, it was worth the skills and fun I took away from them. Be sure to try out numerous activities and hobbies until you find something you really want to pour your blood, sweat and tears into!

Photo from our BTEC performing arts show at the Regent Theatre

looking dapper in my ACF uniform at one of our weekend drill camps

9. Have your voice heard and help others to talk. Teenage life is confusing and can prove difficult when you feel like you’re heading into it lonely and blind folded. When I got to college I suffered heavily with depression because of things that were going on at home, but at the time I had no idea that that's what it was. I just knew that I wanted to cry a lot and felt very angry at the world. However, I didn't receive the help that I really needed and some friends didn’t take it to kindly either, claiming I had changed and that I wasn’t ‘the same, happy Annie’ that they wanted to hang out with before (kids can be so cruel).

When I moved on to university it worsened, until my third year where I finally found the courage to speak about it with a counselor who was able to direct me in getting the help I had needed for so long. Now I openly encourage anyone who may be experiencing something similar to know that it’s ok, and it will be ok, if you allow the right people into your head space. Persevere with yourself.

10. Eat well and travel at every opportunity. Whether it’s trips with your family, friends, schools or clubs, always try and take on opportunities to roam - those are the ventures that you’ll build strong bonds with others on and learn things about yourself and your peers that transcend the classroom walls. Travelling for 13 months has taught me more than any exam revision ever could. And a few Netflix documentaries have eradicated old eating habits...

11. Treasure your family. As everybody inevitably does, I have lost members of my family now that I wish I had spent more time with in the previous years. I wish I had gone to visit my Grandpa more in hospital, but instead I was probably busy socialising or crying at the amount of built up coursework I had…but their time with you is so precious. I used to be so awful for sneaking my phone out under the table at family dinners, or avoiding family visits by planning outings with my friends instead. I wouldn’t dream of doing that now. Especially as I have now spent so much time away from home, I want to appreciate every second I have with them the next time I see them. 

my mum, my best friend in the whole world, as we said goodbye last May before I set off for South East Asia. You can see the tears in her eyes. This photo is everything to me

12. Don't be irrational.  Kids have a tendency to rush into things when they feel enthused or pressured. Don't get that tattoo that you think you want just because you're now of legal age, don't rush in to relationships or pressurise yourself to take action and make decisions quickly without much thought. Take your time and consider that every action has a consequence. Besides, you will DEFINITELY regret that tat of your first boyfriends initials when you break up 2 months later… 

don't worry, not my arm

13. Not everybody thinks like you. I wish I had known that I wasn’t the only person thinking a certain way, nor was I special for thinking that way either. I often felt very alone in the way I perceived my world - but growing up and travelling has definitely taught me that there are thousands of others out there fighting for the same cause that I am, with similar creative talents or with correlating ideas. However, I struggled earlier on to ever understand people that seemed to have different ideas to my own. I soon realised that we shouldn’t be judgmental of differences - instead, we should celebrate the variety of thinking that surrounds us, after all, it's what advances the human race.

14. Follow your gut instinct. You’re pressured into deciding on subjects and colleges at a very vulnerable age, where your world can be quite bewildering. A lot of students have added pressure from parents or teachers who all carry certain expectations of how they think you will perform in certain subjects, but I say screw their opinions and take on the challenges that you feel in your heart that you want to tackle. Because damn it, I wish I had taken up music and learnt to play the piano or guitar, or carried on with my highest grading subject; history - but I stuck to what I knew and did Art, which surprisingly I ended up hating.

Remember: Meryl Streep was turned away from her first few acting roles because she was told that she was not beautiful enough for Hollywood- and now she is one of the highest grossing female actors today. Walt Disney was told by his editor that he lacked imagination when he was fired from his job in 1919. JK Rowling was a homeless, suicidal single parent, who came up with the idea for Harry Potter by scrawling a few lines out onto a napkin. These wonderful humans bared it all and succeeded because of their determination, despite what society had tried to tell them. Never underestimate your abilities.

15. You don’t need it all figured out. I am 25 years old, and I haven’t got a flying monkeys. But I am having the best time figuring it out bit by bit, slowly and perhaps not even surely.

16. Be self sufficient. Friendships are a big deal when you’re young; feeling popular seems to be an elation most of us seek, though unknowingly we don’t realise that with popularity doesn’t always come happiness. It is far more valuable to have a balance of time spent with others and time to oneself; reflecting and being at one with your thoughts or investing time into your hobbies. A healthy mind stems from someone who can rely upon themselves and realises that their own happiness comes from within. Besides, probably less than half of those close friendships will remain fruitful as you get older - you’re going to need yourself then aren’t you?

this photo is meant to represent me being happy on my own. However, I actually have three other people pointing cameras at me

17. You don’t have to walk down the paved road of normality. In fact, I encourage you with all my heart to do the opposite. You don’t have to do ANYTHING. You don’t have to go to college, you don’t have to get a job straight away, you don’t have to marry your childhood sweetheart, you can travel, you can begin that business, you can live with your parents to save money, you can buy yourself a condo on a tropical island… you can do and become whatever you want. Utilise the modern tools and technology that we have because there are always alternative options.

18. Work hard, play hard. Pay attention, put your all into your studies, push yourself so that your assessors can see what you are capable of! But understand that work does not rule your life. You need to experiment, and party, and travel and see things and be with people, you need to explore art, music, film, literature, sports, spirituality, leisure, luxuries - and all whilst living humbly. Everything in moderation.

19. Understand that whatever you do, people will judge, and that’s ok. You will never be loved, liked or even accepted by everyone, so don’t try to please those that bring you no joy. Focus on being the best version of yourself for those that do deserve your wonderfulness. AND FOR GOD SAKE ENJOY BEING WEIRD.

20. Utilise pain. Pain can haunt us, or it can can ignite us. As the wise monkey Rafikki once said, “ah yes, the past can hurt, but the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it”.

21. Compassion is the most important thing you will harness. Compassion keeps our world aglow. It surrenders to nothing and triumphs all. It brings unlikely strangers together, it connects us all in mysterious and fantastical ways that exercise both kindness and courage to open ourselves to others. Despite wars, poverty, hatred - the more people that show understanding towards one another, the more likely we are to experience peace. We must cultivate compassion in order to live harmoniously.

22. Be enriched with the idea of experience over money. It’s important to save your pennies so that you can enjoy your time, but always remember that experiences make you far wiser and wealthier than money ever will. Those with less tend to be happier than those who strive to own more.

23. Look after our planet. Don’t be a pleb. Pick up that cigarette butt, recycle your plastics and don’t spit your gum out on to the pavement. You want a healthy future? So does our earth.

24. If you get thrown to the wolves, you come back leading the pack. Don’t be defeated by the first hurdles you come across, because you’re going to face a hell of a lot more as time goes on - you need the preparation, and with every downfall will come the determination to fight harder later on.      

25. Accept who you are becoming and love yourself. It’s cliché for a reason guys: it’s simple and it’s true and it’s one of the hardest things we have to try and do. Self pity and loathing are so much easier to succumb to - but you can see the real strength of someones heart when they have the confidence to try and overcome their insecurities.

Everyone at some point is guilty of feeling low self worth, but there is only you that can enhance yourself. A lot of effort and work goes in to you becoming YOU, and we often find that our environmental factors play a lot into how we develop during adolescence. But it is up to us to charter our own paths and become a 'better human' now. It will take time, but eventually you’ll settle into your new body and your developing mind and be grateful for your unique passions, talents, loves and ambitions.

I don’t know if anyone else has noticed, but life is for living. You don’t like something? Change it. You want to pursue something? Make it work. You love somebody? Don’t stalk them, that’s weird.

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