Ten years ago, right at this moment, I was 18. I had just finished my first go-round of the Leaving Certificate, and was midway through my second attempt to achieve the points I needed to get into the course I wanted (I didn’t, but that’s another story). I was a brand, shiny new ‘adult’ and I hadn’t a clue what I was getting myself in for.
So, as it is New Year’s Eve, which is traditionally a time for reflection, I thought I’d cast my mind back on the last decade, and consider what I might tell Past Sarah if I ever bumped into her on the street – anything that might have helped her as she was back then.
- There is a way to get where you want to go, even if it’s not on the path you envision originally. This has served me well in life – I didn’t have a specific plan of where I thought I would be by the end of my twenties, but still in college and still living at home probably didn’t factor highly in that vision. That said, both of those things are my reality, and I don’t consider myself in a particularly bad place right now.
- Listen to your mother. My mother was not someone I listened to as a teen, and even into my early twenties. And I’m sure I’m not alone in that. But she (and the rest of my family, but in particular her) has been my absolute rock. No matter what jam I get myself into, or what kind of day I’ve had, she is always there. Even when I don’t agree with her advice, she never wavers in her support and love for me, and although it may have taken me time to realise it, it’s largely because of that that I am where I am today, and I am forever grateful and full of love for her for that.
- Keep going. There are times when things will feel unbearably tough, and like it might not be worth carrying on, whether it be at work, in college or in daily life. But keep going. There are people shouting for you, and just around the corner the path gets easier for a bit (I’m still waiting on this bit in some cases, but I’ve been reliably informed it’s coming!).
- Keep reading. I read a lot at 18, but in my twenties I fell out of the habit. I recently got back into it though, and while coming back to it is like finding a snuggly blanket you forgot you had, it’s also made me realise how much I missed it, and actually, how good it was for my mental health to have that daily escapism and ramble through imaginary worlds.
- Don’t fault yourself for your weaknesses. At 18, one of the reasons I repeated my final year of school was because I failed my maths exam. Maths was never a strong point of mine, partly because I always searched for a non-existent meaning behind the equations, and partly because I’m just not really a numbers kind of girl. But I had trouble admitting my weakness and refused to attempt the lower level paper, and as a result failed the exam. Now? Ten years on, I teach statistics labs and seminars to undergraduate first years in university. Who’d have thought it?
- Keep running. I’m finding as I go through this list that a lot of them being with ‘keep on’ doing whatever. I guess 18-year-old me wasn’t actually doing all that bad, but I seem to have fallen out of a lot of good habits! Anyway, 18 year old me had run on the school athletics team. Sprints were my favourite, the 200m singles event and the 4X100m relay. I was never the gold medal winner but I got one or two plaques in my time. In the time since, I stopped running regularly, and between my lack of regular exercise, generally bad diet and some health issues, I fair piled on the weight. This year I’ve worked really hard to lose 3 stone and plan to conquer Everest (or a smaller, more manageable sporting feat perhaps) in 2017.
- Believe in yourself. 18-year-old Sarah did not believe much in herself. The world ahead was adult and scary and didn’t have the safety net of school in it for much longer. However, nearly 29 year old Sarah is actually quite proud of her achievements to date. A degree, a masters, half a PhD, two teaching jobs, friends, family, still with her lovely man, and many other personal achievements keep me going on the tougher days.
- Ask for help. I am much more able to ask for help now than I was back then. I was caught in some nonsensical ‘must do everything myself’ cycle, which meant I struggles silently with all manner of things, big and small. Now I realise there is no shame in needing help – there is strength in numbers and nobody can do it all, whatever it may be. It’s totally ok to be just human.
- Friends are the best. Actually, this more of a reverse reflection. 18-year-old Sarah was much more sociable, but it’s something I’ve not been great at over the last few years, partly stemming from a period of working nights, and it is one thing I regret. That said, I don’t really do regrets, so it’s just something I need to change – 2017 is the year I stop being such a hermit and start scheduling more time for my friends, particularly those that have stuck unwavering-ly with me through my hermit phase.
- Tea solves everything. This is something I’ve come to realise over the years. With a few exceptions, there’s little to nothing that can’t be made better by sitting with a cuppa and just breathing for a second. I think there’s a practical element that distracts you and also a chance to step away and clear your head from whatever is going on. I appreciate that I’m veering dangerously into Mrs. Doyle territory here, but there comes a time when you just need a moment, to yourself, to gather your thoughts back into coherence, and I need to remember that it’s ok to stop and drink the tea, for the sake of sanity.
I realise these are not earth-shattering philosophical realisations, but when I sat down recently to evaluate myself and where I am, these are things I found myself, in one way or another, wishing I was still doing. A lot of them, when you strip them back, tend towards self-care, towards taking time for and caring more for both myself and those around me, as well as reminders that I’m doing ok, if I can just keep going.
What about you? Are you into the whole ‘New Year, New Me’ type of resolution? Do you reflect on where you are at this time of year? I’d love to hear your thoughts! And I do hope, wherever you are, that the coming year is everything you’d like it to be for you.
Athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh!