By Alan Meban
What advice would I give my 25-year-old self? That question rattled around my head for days on end. I knew that I needed a pithy answer before sitting down with Vinny Hurrell in a radio studio to record an interview for his Monday night show and podcast.
Aged 25, I’d just met the wonderful woman I would later marry. I’d been working for four years. I’d applied for my first passport to travel to India to deliver a training course. I knew little about anything even if I probably thought I knew a lot about everything.
No sage advice initially came to mind as I walked the dog along the drizzly pavements pondering the next day’s interview. But what really bothered me was that my lack of inspiration surely damned me as a parent. Was I not supposed to be some sort of great advice-giver to inform and shape my child’s development? If I couldn’t channel my own introspection, how could I help a fledgling adult navigate through their teenage years? Maybe I needed to look further back than 25?
My 13-year-old self might have appreciated knowing that typing in computer games from magazine listings and being a nerd would turn out to aid employability, and that being square and never cool would become a personal badge I could one day wear with pride.
I’d definitely tell my 16-year-old self that a dodgy grade in GCSE Chemistry was an indicator that I’d hate studying it for A-Level and should probably choose an eye-opening subject like Economics, even if the teachers wouldn’t endorse this unorthodox approach.
I’d like to tell my 18-year-old self that all those gaps in my college timetable didn’t have to be filled with coffee and chat, but could perhaps be opportunities to slip into lectures to learn about all kinds of other topics and subjects unrelated to a course whose formulae would never be used after the final exam.]
I’d tell my 21-year-old self that while working in IT was fun, I shouldn’t be so risk averse and see it as a job for life. It took me another 21 years to summon up the courage to leave my first job…
All of that would have been handy to know long before I was 25. And as I tramped along the wet streets clutching the dog’s lead in one hand and a poo bag in the other, I wondered whether advice by itself was over-rated.
Perhaps it’s a matter of doing as I do and not as I say. Parenting needs astute actions rather than wise words. I should model the behaviours I value so they are picked up by osmosis rather than through verbal instruction to someone who perpetually wears earbuds and doesn’t want to listen to me anyway.
It’s about 46-year-old me being confident about myself; standing up against orthodoxy; pursuing curiosity; taking risks for self-discovery. If I keep putting all that into practice, perhaps I’ll finally take my own advice as well as passing it on to the next generation.
Alan Meban is a freelance journalist and arts/politics blogger better known online as @alaninbelfast.