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With anxiety levels for
UK teenage girls at an all-time high, Emma Barnett, a former stress-head, gives
her younger self a good talking to.
I know you are probably too busy talking on a three-way phone call right now (to your friends you saw only two hours ago at school), to take this in. Or fearfully procrastinating for a few more minutes in front of the TV (probably watching Ally McBeal or Sex and the City), before you carry on revising. But please stop and take a minute to hear me out.
1. Your exams do really matter. I get that. It will give you enormous self-satisfaction to do well and you should. You aren’t dumb. But, and this is a big but, no one will ever care about these results beyond the next round of exams. And guess what, once you have your first job – no one ever cares what level of university degree you achieved. They only care about the last job you had and whether you are a decent person to work with.
2. Staying up all night to learn each subject off by heart is a great strategy for acing exams, but how about figuring out a few subjects you really enjoy and taking some more time to understand the bigger themes in those areas? For learning and forgetting everything once an exam is over, is actually a big waste of your time at school. You won’t get this space, energy or inclination back ever again. Go and seek out your favourite teachers and ask for reading recommendations or insights that aren’t on the syllabus so you can actually learn and remember something from your school education.
3. You have a really long time to find a great guy. You don’t need a serious boyfriend right now. I promise. There is no rush. You won’t even know yourself when you do meet him – but you will know him. Instead, focus on forming and protecting really strong bonds with good girls and nice guy friends. It is harder (although not impossible) to make really good friends the older you get. Even if you leave school with just one brilliant friend, guess what – that’s worth 10 loose connections in a supposedly large, fun group.
4. Big social groups are lots of fun but they also don’t really exist in the same intense way beyond higher education and guess what, beyond the school gates, they are a fiction. You can just be you. And by the way, everyone is just as worried as you are, about everything. You don’t need to look a certain way or think a certain way according to a group you have been labouring to please for the last decade. (Whisper it, but the relationships and the set-up in Sex and the City et al just ain’t real. For one – you will learn that your working friends will never have the time, all at the same time, to meet for a stylish lunch nearly every day of the week. Plus you don't know this now, but the cast of SATC really don't get on that well in real life).
5. Teachers are human. As are your parents and all the other adults around you. They have experiences you can and should learn from. Do occasionally engage them as if you want something (because you do). They have knowledge and perspectives you can only dream of right now. I promise. They also mess up and make mistakes, which is forgivable too.
6. Don’t be a sheep. It’s actually very cool to have original thoughts and think of yourself beyond your current situation. Education is only one part of your life. I cannot stress how much there is more to come for you. You think you know so much now, and you do. But the learning curve is going to be steep but brilliant – as long as you are open to it and don’t expect any huge Mark-Zuckerberg- style overnight success. He is an anomaly, not the norm. It’s a long road – and the people you are on it with are always temporary, if you want them to be.
7. You are actually really healthy and agile right now. Regardless of your body shape, age is massively on your side so please, please, please find a sport you bloody love now. Because you won’t be bothered once you properly discover going out and drinking at uni. And by the time you are trying to succeed in the workplace, you are going to need to want to exercise for the joy of it. Believe me. I say this on health grounds alone and nothing to do with your weight. I swear.
8. Enjoy the structure school gives you now. Even if it feels stifling and you really want to move on and be an adult. Life is never so directed again. But that’s ok too. Just get a sense of yourself and what you enjoy. You will come back to these findings again and again when you are older.
9. You will be ok. I promise. It all will be.
10. Now get some sleep. Lots of it.
Emma, the 29-year-old you, who can’t remember anything about most of the subjects she learned at school (because she was too busy worrying and revising all of the time).