Birthday’s are funny things, aren’t they? Fundamentally, they serve solely as an excuse to dedicate a whole day to the celebration of you and your life, in which you are rewarded with praise, parties and presents, purely for having won the sperm race and surviving however many years of earth you personally have thus far.
I recently turned 23. 23 is a pretty forgettable landmark – it presents no new allowances like 18 or 21, and no philosophical rush of importance like 25 or 30. Even 22 had a Taylor Swift song. 23 is just a red flag reminding you that you are two years away from 25, and seven short years away from 30. Pause Taylor Swift for a second and you’ll hear a faint, monotonous ticking noise…
I feel that now more than ever, twenty somethings are feeling an immense pressure to succeed. We are a generation of perfectionists, influenced by the media and countless sources of overflowing information. Technology is developing at the speed of light, and we are expected to hold on tight or get left behind. The Earth, once gigantic, has been made smaller but technology, so that we are all just tiny fishes drowning in one big bottomless pond.
I recently discussed a personal anxiety with my friend Steve, who at 28 isn’t much older than me at all. He told me that when he was my age, he didn’t appreciate being responsibility free and wish he’d used that to his advantage. It made me realise that nostalgia and first hand knowledge allows us to look back on our younger selves and see that we were unnecessarily anxious, because nothing is as bad as it may have seemed once it is in the past. Advice can help us to view things in a different perspective. Listening to others’ regrets could stir something within us early and help to avoid our own future regrets.
So I asked 23 friends, family members, colleagues and acquaintances over the age of 30 what advice they would give if they could have a conversation with their 23 year old self:
Fraser, 52, Insurance broker, Essex.
“If you’re not happy in something, whether it’s a relationship or a job – QUIT. It is never too late to change your life, you are never stuck in anything.”
Helen, 52, Hospice nurse, Wiltshire.
“Follow your heart. If it feels right then do it! If someone else’s advice isn’t quite ‘you’ then go with your gut feeling. I married at 19 after lots of,
“Are you sure you’re not too young?/Will this relationship last?”
I am so glad that I followed my heart… As it was right! We have been happily married for 32 years.”
“Keep truckin’, follow your dreams (as you will) but be open, always. Don’t pigeon-hole yourself. I had directed my first short film at the time, had just got a distinction in my MA in Screen Direction, but I was too hard on myself, my own worst critic and I would say in retrospect, ‘girl, cut yourself some slack, you’ll find the right job for you, eventually (when technology catches up) that allows you to be whomever you want to be, and it will happen after kids, a time when many will tell you your creative career will die. Well it thrived’.
Remember, things will work out. Hone your talent, be tenacious but also kind and life will work out the way it should.”
Joe, 32, Musician, South East London
“Don’t be so hard on yourself, but don’t expect happiness to be a default setting.”
Ste, 40, Builder, Essex.
“ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, wear a condom.”
Rory Gullan, 30, Fashion photographer, London.
“At an extremely stressful time of my life, my mum asked me, ”What’s the worst that could happen?” I told her, “Well, this”, to which she repeated, ”What’s the worst that could happen?” So I told her – “I could fail.” And she simply said, “Exactly.”
Since then I’ve used this in everything I do, and everything just seems that much more straightforward. Failing is one less thing to worry about because it’ll teach you a lot more than always succeeding.”
Julie, 49, Yoga instructor, Essex.
“Believe in yourself and all that you do. Don’t worry about what other people think, just know that you are attractive to others.”
Joe Mehmet, Salon owner and top hairdresser.
“Invest in your future rather than live for now. As time catches up with you and then you realise that you haven’t got enough for the rest of your old life; In your twenties it’s all about fun fun fun but when you hit the fifties you need security as pensions won’t be enough – nor will the state look after you.”
Jake Mavity, 35, Director and producer, London.
“Slow down. I thought there was a mad rush to achieve stuff when actually life is bloody long and you don’t have to have it completely nailed by 30. And relax. Twenties are rubbish compared to how fucking awesome your thirties are. The fun of the twenties with no insecurities and more cash. Bliss.”
Bobby, 33, Music journalist, Essex.
“Nothing is ever as bad as we imagine it to be, and that feeling anxious is natural. It is perfectly normally to feel scared, but to let that fear prevent you from doing what is good for you is the most frightening scenario of all.”
Tav, 36, Club manager, London.
“Don’t expect anyone to provide for you; the sweetest money you’ll ever make will be the money you make for yourself.”
Michelle, 53, Actress, London.
“The minute you have a back up plan you are admitting defeat. Don’t look for love, it will always find you.”
Bobby, 69, Club owner, London
“If you look around a table and can’t pick out ‘the mug’, you’re it.”
Ian, 32, DJ and photographer, London.
“There will always be more parties.”
Sid, 70, Antique dealer, London.
“Just live life as it comes. Always be polite, manners cost nothing.”
Jo, 42, Makeup artist, London.
“You are beautiful. Just be confident, listen to your inner voice and do what makes YOU happy.”
Mike, 47, Managing Director, London.
“Think twice before you cross someone because it will always come back to you. Honesty is the key to life.”
Jens, 70, Property developer, Surrey.
“Don’t rush into things. Take your time and think through your options. You are only 23 and still have 50-60 years of living in front of you.”
Siobhan, 47, Deputy head teacher, Berkshire.
“Don’t get to your 40’s and say. “I should have done that.” Life presents people with opportunities all the time. Some people take them and some people don’t. Don’t miss out!”
Richard, 35, Film editor, London.
“Don’t panic. Smile. Laugh. Have lots and lots of sex.”
Vero, 43, Saleswoman, Dorking.
“Don’t smoke. Get your cervical smear test. A friend of mine had to have her entire cervix removed in her late twenties because they found cancer.”
Julia, 58, Artist, Surrey.
“Self development, self development, self development. Make it a life long commitment and investment to become the best version of yourself in mind, body and spirit.”
Victoria, 54, Social worker, Essex.
“Trust your instinct, and don’t let pressure get in the way of it. At 23 I had doubts about my engagement, but went through with the wedding so not to let any one down. As soon as we were married he became extremely abusive and I found myself divorced by 25. Don’t waste years of your life unhappy. As soon as something doesn’t feel right or make your life better, remove it from your life.”