Dear 18 year old Leigh, 1995
This letter is a good-old fashioned pep talk to help you realise how amazing you are. I don’t want this realisation to take as long as it did without the benefit of hindsight.
I could give you generic advice: tell you to ditch the fakers, the haters, and the takers. I could tell you that the most confident people are often good actors, making it up as they go along. They don’t really know more than you. I could tell you not to waste time on the shallow people, the people who don’t deserve you.
All of that advice is important, of course, but it is not specific enough for what you need to achieve your full potential.
You have the world at your feet, and yet you hesitate to seize it. I know you lack confidence and self-belief, but really you shouldn’t.
We both know you spent your formative years being bullied by someone. Someone who should have known better.
That someone told you that you were fat and stupid. They told you that all the teenage dramas you experienced were because you were fat and stupid. You were told this so many times that you believed it.
This makes me so, so sad. It is, of course, complete and utter nonsense.
You are by no means fat. You have curves in all the right places. Those curves, the boobs especially, often attract unwanted attention. You might not believe it, but one day you will embrace those curves, show them off. You will wear clothes of a style, colour and pattern you could not imagine wearing, and you will rock those outfits.
Do not waste any more time thinking that life will improve, that your confidence will soar if only you were taller, skinny, prettier. Confidence has nothing to do with personal appearance, and everything to do with self-belief.
Yes, you should probably do more exercise – find something you enjoy doing, don’t worry about what others think. Exercise can help with confidence, and perk up your happiness hormones too. Think this girl can, too!
You are also far from stupid. You are rubbish at maths, but so what? Maths is not the be all and end all. There are so many other things you excel at. You are creative, with an enquiring mind. You have a fabulous memory, and a wonderful imagination. You want to write.
I know you want to make the most of these talents. You have ideas, but don’t know how to channel them. Over the next few years, opportunities will come your way. You will surprise yourself by following through on some of those opportunities. But self-doubt strikes, you find a reason to back out, and you don’t realise the full potential of those opportunities.
Silly girl. Remember this advice, and do not let history repeat itself.
In about 10 years’ time, a new concept called blogging will appear on the internet. I know you don’t know much about the internet yet, but in time you will not know how you lived without it. Blogging is where you have your own little corner of the internet to write about whatever you want.
You do find blogging eventually. You dip your toe in, cautiously, worried what people might say about your writing. It makes you feel a bit more fulfilled, but still there is so much more you could do with this talent.
As the years go by, you slowly but surely gain more confidence, and that’s great. But there is always something missing.
A few years later, something unimaginably awful will happen. There is wonderful, indescribable beauty within the tragedy, which is something you will try to hold on to. The tragedy has helped me realise that life is short, to seize opportunities as they come, to realise my value, to find my voice, to not care what others think, to make a difference to the world, to forge my own path.
This tragedy is being endured, I am surviving because I am strong, tenacious, passionate, a fighter.
And so are you.
Yes, you already have these values. You have them in spades, bucket loads. You just don’t recognise it yet.
Take note of what I say in this letter. Your older self knows better, believe me. Late is better than never, for sure.
But don’t wait for tragedy to strike. Don’t waste time wishing to be something you will never be, or for things you can never have.
You are already good enough. You are special, loved, with so much to give to the world. You are wonderful as you are.
Respect yourself, value yourself, follow your instinct, and you will flourish. I promise.
With so much love,
37 year old Leigh, in honour of International Women’s Day 2015.