I’ve always loved reading those stories about the advice older people would give to their younger selves. It’s a fascinating insight into the lives they’ve led and also a remarkable revelation of how similar the themes in our lives are: love, loss, friendship, grief, success, failure. We’ve all experienced these emotions at one point or another; some more extreme than others but that doesn’t make it more or less valuable.
I’m turning 28 today and when I look back 10 years ago, I have to laugh. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine, when I was 18, that I’d be living the life I have now.
Those who know me quite well understand that I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’ve battled my share of bad days. However, I am grateful for them because they’ve made me a more compassionate person, more aware of the world we live in and more in tune with others and their highs and lows. That’s not to say I’ve learnt it all – even today, I’m still learning new things but my experiences nowadays are more positive, thankfully.
What would I say to my 18 year old self? Let me count the ways (as told through Blair Waldorf because she is my spirit animal).
Dear 18 year old Nur,
1. Life is tough my darling, but so are you
You were so sheltered growing up; you never had to worry much about anything really except for studying and getting good grades so you could get into uni. Now, you’re an adult living in the real world. You’re not struggling yet but you will. You’ll meet some amazing people who’ll remain your friends even when you’re living in different time zones, but you’ll also meet some not-so-amazing people who won’t care a bit about hurting you. They mainly come in the form of boys, who seem to be madly in love (or is that lust?) with you, only to leave you doubting yourself after many sweet nothings were whispered.
You’ll meet one in particular who’ll break not just your heart, but your spirit and make you feel like you’re worthless. But don’t give up; hold on because you are made of stronger stuff than you realise. You’ll soon meet another boy who’ll slowly piece you back together and make you understand that you. are. enough. It’s not an orthodox friendship/relationship, but it works and that’s all that matters.
Not long after, you’ll get another blow (I won’t say what because it will break you right now if I told you) and it won’t be easy; but because you’ve already been broken and fixed, you know you can do this. And thank god you can because you need to be strong for those around you, who will need you to be their pillar of strength and support. So just keep doing that. Even after all the dust settles, it won’t be perfect but you just need to keep being strong and positive, and a source of comfort for those that need it.
Out of everything, this is what you need to remember: when everyone was telling you in your teenage years that you were a strong person, this is what they meant. Not that you were bull-headed and stubborn (well, actually that too) but that you are resilient and capable of dealing with anything, good or bad. You are the proverbial rock and it takes a lot to break you; and when it does, you’ll find the courage and strength from somewhere to rebuild yourself into a better, wiser, and smarter #girlboss edition.
2. Eat the goddamn cake
Let’s face it – you have some weight and body hate issues. Even though you’ve been taught to self-love, you can’t help but compare yourself to your thinner, more beautiful friends. Stop that. Right. Now. Stop the comparisons and understand that if you want to feel better about yourself, you need to actually do something about. Unfortunately, your weight will fluctuate and it will play a big role in your self-esteem. However, you’ll snap out of it when you realise, at around the age of 25, that as long as you exercise enough, eat in moderation and wear clothes that fit you well, you don’t need much else.
Love your body, it’s amazing. No, that’s not just a cheesy inspirational quote. It’s true. You are so healthy and that is something a lot of people would give up their Louboutins for, so embrace it and understand that the wobbly, bumpy bits are there for a good, health-related reason.
Stop punishing yourself just because your tummy isn’t flat (it never will be, just accept it), that your butt sticks out (Kim Kardashian will soon make it an enviable feature) or that your calves are muscly (it’s a sign that you’re strong and healthy, not a bad thing). So eat the goddamn cake, because if you don’t, somebody else will and could you live with yourself knowing that?
3. Take the leap of faith
Life is a confusing mix of rules: what with trying to be a lady while living your life like a man, and also being a peach (soft on the outside, strong on the inside) and being an emancipated, take-no-BS, woman, it’s pretty bloody tough. I’m here to tell you to do the crazy thing. Listen to your gut – you’ll know if what you’re doing is truly right or wrong. This applies to everything in life: yes, go and party with the Vietnamese soap star; yes, tell that cute guy you like him; yes, dress up as a penguin on O Day; yes, be part of that art exhibition (seriously you will be asked to do this and thankfully you say yes); yes, put your hand up in a room full of Ministers and show them that you are a #girlboss; yes, go on that plane flight with the cute pilot; and yes; be willing to accept failure.
Saying yes won’t guarantee success, sometimes you’ll fail spectacularly but that’s ok. That’s what risk-taking is about, it’s always a 50/50 throw of the dice but when you ‘fail’ you won’t really fail because you’ve experienced something – an emotion, a lesson or even a reward. Just simply be and the rest will follow.
4. Say the truth that’s in your heart
All too often, you’ll find yourself not being honest with yourself and others. You’re afraid of judgement, of heartbreak and of losing whatever it is you’re afraid of losing. But don’t be afraid.
Admittedly, you’ll start out by saying what’s in your heart, but as you get older you realise you sometimes have to calculate whether it’s worth being honest; so much so, that the older you get, when it does come down to saying what’s in your heart, it’s said in a way to ensure minimal damage to your ego and your heart. I want to tell you that you may have protected your ego and heart, but you also may have lost out on a chance to find out ‘what if?’.
This will matter the most in your early 20s, for example: you’re going to meet a boy who you’re madly head over heels for (I’d say love, but is that too much?), and let’s be honest, you still are in love with him (there I said it). At first you’re too afraid to admit to yourself you really like him; you convince yourself you’re excited to see him because you have a solid friendship and you love being in his company. Because you’re afraid of losing the friendship which you value, you’re afraid to tell him how you feel. You’ll keep wanting to each time you see him but you chicken out, and that’s understandable. But you know what? You stop talking to each other anyway because life has a funny way of doing that, so you lost the friendship. So put on some red lipstick and your best heels, and tell him how you feel because I’m pretty sure there was a period where he was madly in love with you too.
5. True love is limitless
Whenever you read or hear about love, it’s always about romantic love. No one ever talks about sibling love, or even love between friends. You do hear about love between a parent and child, and you only know it in the context of the love you have for your mum, which is pretty big.
But then you meet Baby Buddha (not his real name, in case you were wondering). Oh, Baby Buddha – you never thought you could love anyone as much as you love him. Your mum babysits him for almost five years and in that time, you and he form a bond that is a mix of sibling and mother & child. He comes into your life during a period where you are feeling empty and broken, and he teaches you to love again. Over the five years, you play with him, you fight with him, you teach him how to spell, you dance to the Wiggles together, you cuddle him when he’s sad, you make jokes with him and most importantly, he opens your eyes to another type of love.
A love that isn’t selfish, that’s limitless and one that gives continually. Words cannot possibly describe how much joy he gives you and how proud you are of the beautiful human he is becoming. You now understand, not completely but almost, what it must feel like to have a child and love him/her so fiercely, that nothing else compares. That the bond, the love you have, is unbreakable and will always be with you no matter where life takes you. And knowing that is a comfort, and makes you realise what true, unconditional love really is.
6. Do what makes you happy
Seriously, do it. I’m happy to say you’ll slowly figure it out and that in ten years you are pretty happy with your life. However, in between those ten years, you’re going to be in a few jobs that aren’t necessarily your dream jobs, but they afford you the lifestyle you enjoy. After several years, you’ll realise the money is not enough. You’re not happy anymore and it’s destroying your soul (really, it is). You don’t look forward to doing anything; everything is so droll and your life seems meaningless. Thankfully, you’ll wake up one day and realise enough is enough! It’s time to cut loose and start afresh.
Oddly enough, this moment is inspired by a quote your year 12 English teacher gave you in a card on your graduation dinner night. It’s by Mark Twain and reads:
It’s always been in the back of your mind, and it’s now that you truly understand the meaning of the quote, and what Mr Twain must have been feeling when he said/wrote it (I have no idea where it comes from).
You know what makes you happy now, but you’re not doing it yet. You are in small doses, but you’re still unsure whether it’s worth pursuing full-time. Everyone around you says you should, so maybe when you turn 28, it’s time to really consider it.
Stay gold, 18 year old Nur.
28 year old Nur.