Last week I spoke at the Glug Leeds networking event along with four other people. We each shared our thoughts on what we wish we’d known when we were 18.
After a lot of thought in preparing for the talk, I realised there were only a few really important things that I wish I’d known. Some of them I’ve only just come to in the last few years, and I think that’s an important point; it’s never too late to take on board advice, and it’s not useful to berate yourself for not knowing it earlier.
We’re all on a journey and we can’t get to where we are now without having trod our unique path.
The first thing I wish I’d known when I was 18 is that relationships are everything. As an 18 year old, I believed I had to make it in the world. I was the one who was going to achieve great things, and I had to do it on my own merit. It couldn’t be part of the team; it had to be me and me alone.
What I’ve realised as I’ve got older is that success is not an individual accomplishment. There are many, many people here helping us do what we want to do with our lives. That might be as small as someone explaining how to use specific tools to run your business more effectively, or as big as a bank manager giving you a loan.
It’s easy to believe in the culture of individualism that we’re living in, but our success and failure in work and in our lives is dependent on the relationships that we have with others.
The second thing I shared with the Glug audience was that boring stuff is surprisingly important. I’ve worked with lots of different businesses since I was 18 – in fact, in the last six years I’ve worked with over 40 brands – and one thing all the most successful businesses have in common is that they run their business in an effective way because they care about boring stuff.
That might mean they focus on doing well all those things which frankly sound completely dull, like HR, operations, facilities management, health and safety and progression plans. Working for myself, I’ve had to be in charge of all the boring things (as well as all the exciting thing) and I’ve gained a newfound respect for how important these elements are in running a business.
Lots of modern marketing businesses attract people with perks. These might be a ping pong table in the office, free massages, beers on a Friday afternoon, company days out or some other fun activity. These are great for team building and for lifting people’s spirits, but ultimately they’re not a replacement for running a business sensibly and effectively.
I think it’s easy when you’re 18 to be distracted by these perks and not ask important questions of the employer you’re talking to, like “How does your HR department work?”, “What’s the progression plan you have in mind for me?” and “What’s the pension scheme like?”. Thinking about these things feels very boring, but getting it right can aid you in business success; you won’t be worrying about small things because they’ll be sorted, so you can focus on the big, fun, exciting stuff instead.
The third thing I wish I’d known when I was 18 is not to ignore the causes of mental health problems. I think this was something which resonated with a lot of people in the audience, and it’s because we don’t talk about it enough.
During my second year of university, I realised I was suffering very badly from depression. Since that point I’ve undergone therapy a number of times, most recently last year when I suffered with anxiety for the first time in my life. I feel very lucky that I had access to therapeutic practices when I needed them, and was able to address the causes of my mental health problem – not just the symptoms.
When we’re busy or when we have limited funds, it’s very easy to try and find solutions for the symptoms of mental health problems, rather than the causes. The symptoms are sometimes easier to treat, because they may have a medical solution. For example, if anxiety gives you problems with your digestive system, you can take medication to calm this down. Sometimes, it’s essential the symptoms are treated rapidly to protect your health and the health of others.
I see a lot of my students who are struggling with mental health problems for, perhaps, the first time in their life being given access to symptom treatment but not cause treatment. The reasons for this are many and highly political (hey, stop cutting funding and resources!). But it’s also on us to recognise that mental health problems are often rooted deeply in our past and the lessons we’ve learnt about how to behave or how to think, even if those lessons have been unconscious.
By addressing the causes of mental health problems, not just the symptoms, we can start to work on how we feel and how we relate to each other in a much more meaningful way. I don’t think symptoms should be left untreated, but neither do I think the causes should be ignored. Having the time and space to talk about some of the causes behind my mental health problems dramatically improved my happiness, as well as my empathy for others.This in turn has increased my successes.
With that in mind, the fourth thing I wish I’d known when I was 18 is to lighten up.
My mum will tell you I was always a very serious child; very thoughtful, often with my head in a book or distracted, often thinking about the problems in the world or the problems that I was involved with. As I got older, this translated into an attitude where I was unable to laugh at myself. I took myself and my work very seriously, to the point of which I became po-faced and sometimes paralysed with fear of being embarrassed or laughed at.
Over the last few years I’ve learnt that I can be silly, funny and even ridiculous – and I can still be respected and liked. For all of the problems in the world, which we should absolutely be fighting against and looking for ways to solve them, the world is an irrational, bizarre, ridiculous and joyful place. Things happen for no reason. The universe is chaotic. We have a silly streak inside of us that makes us do things we didn’t anticipate.
It’s really important we embrace this and make it part of who we are. When I did this, I realised I could let go of the way I thought someone should act if they were successful or happy or cared about their work. Instead, I could just get on with actually caring about my work, being happy and being successful.
The final things I shared with the Glug audience that I wish I’d known when I was 18 is a quote from Brené Brown.
Brené Brown’s TED Talk videos on shame and vulnerability came at a point in my life where I really needed to hear those messages. Since then I’ve read her work, watched her Facebook live videos and tried to integrate the messages she shares from her research into my own life.
One of these messages is this: you are worthy of love and belonging.
This is one of the most powerful statements I have ever read. When I first shared it with my partner, he immediately began to say “…if you do what?”. This is the point of the statement; knowing that we are worthy of love and belonging not because we have done something or said something or acted in a certain way, but just because we are human.
Acknowledging this statement has enabled me to feel happier with myself, care for myself more and care for others even when they are acting in a way which makes me feel frustrated or sad.
In this article about valuing your time I said this:
I want you to know your time is worth something, because it’s precious. You do not have much of it and you must value it because of that. It’s not about your skills or education or any other factor; you must value your time simply because one day it will run out.
My ideas on this are inspired by Brené Brown. Your time is precious because it is limited, not because of who you are and what you do. Because you exist, you are worthy of love and belonging.
I wish I’d known this when I was 18, because so many things in my life were done out of the belief that I was not worthy of love and belonging. I think lots of us do things because of this belief.
We’re in relationships we don’t like because we think we’re not worthy of real love. We’re in jobs we don’t like because we think we’re not worthy of being at a better company. We shy away from making new friends or trying new activities, because we think we’re not worthy of being accepted into a community or being shown affection and care. I definitely did all of these things at some point in my life out of the mistaken belief that I was not worthy.
Acknowledging that you are worthy of love and belonging is hard because we’re conditioned to believe we are only valuable if we do something ‘valuable’. What Brené Brown is asking us to do is give unconditional love to ourselves. Many of us struggle to even give unconditional love to others, let alone our harshest critics. But even beginning to think it could be possible that you are worthy of love and belonging will change the way you feel about yourself.
It’s not easy to remember it, and it’s not always easy to practice it for yourself or others. Here it is again so it’s clear in your mind:
You are worthy of love and belonging.
I loved doing the Glug talk and really enjoyed watching my co-presenters share lessons from their lives.
If you can this week, spend some time thinking what you wish you would have known when you were 18.
What one lesson or piece of advice would you give that person? Even more importantly, do you think you are living and remembering that advice now, when you have the opportunity to put it into practice?