What I Wish I Knew A Decade Ago

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My Mum and I on my first day of uni

This week marks a whole decade since I packed everything I owned into the back of my parents’ car and moved to Leeds for uni. I can still remember how it felt to sit in the back of that car, surrounded by all of my belongings and anticipating all that was ahead of me. I chatted away nervously to my parents as the emotions washed over me in quick succession - excitement, nerves, fear, pride. I can still remember swallowing down those butterflies as we drove along the M62 and into the unknown.

Moving away to uni is a rite of passage that so many of us experience, but I think that because it’s so common, we rarely stop and think about what a monumental experience it really is. Within the space of a couple of days you are torn from your home and the people you’ve known your whole life, and thrust into a new city and a flat that you’ll share with roommates you’re still yet to meet. And that’s before you even get stuck into any lectures or actual work.

It’s bizarre and testing and thrilling, all at the same time.

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about that scared and nervous 18 year old, putting on a brave face and throwing herself into uni life. I’ve been thinking about what I wish I could go back and tell her, the advice that would have made that transition, and the years that came after, a little bit easier. And so here I am, doing what I always do - writing about it. Here are things I wish I knew a decade ago…

Being yourself is your superpower

We are always told that being yourself is enough. What I’ve learnt over the past few years is that being yourself is not just enough, it’s your bloody superpower. During the time I was at university, and for a fair few years after I graduated, I thought I had to bend and mould myself to fit in. I was like a chameleon, trying on different personalities and styles all of the time, and rarely being truly and authentically me.

But the truth is, it doesn’t matter how good you are at playing the role, sometimes people still won’t fancy you or want to be your pal. I realised that by being myself I’d be much more likely to attract the right people and opportunities into my life, and since embracing my own personality and quirks, the universe has more than rewarded me. I wish I could go back and tell 18 year old Sophie to stop with the pretence and trust that being herself would get her to where she wanted to be ten times faster.

Don’t worry about the future too much

I spent so much of my time at university worrying. I’m a natural born worrier, so this is no surprise, but when I look back I could kick myself for how much I stressed about really pointless things. In my head I thought I needed a big grand life plan, and that every single decision was monumental. I spent countless days, weeks and months feeling frustrated at how little I actually had control over, and panicked that I didn’t know what the future would hold.

I wish that someone had told me before I headed off to university that worrying about the future is just about the most pointless thing you can do. Go out and have fun, embrace the things that bring you joy, and trust that life will work out exactly as it’s meant to be. I never did master the perfect life plan, but a decade down the line I’m happier than I ever dreamed I could be, so I really didn’t need one.

Success is different for everyone

I don’t know if it’s because of the type of degree I did (I studied economics), but I felt like it was drummed into me at uni that success meant earning as much money as possible as quickly as possible. I knew within a couple of months of starting uni that I didn’t want to be an accountant or a banker, and that I wanted my career to take a more creative path, but that didn’t stop me feeling like a failure when I saw all of my classmates getting exceptionally well paid jobs at investment banks.

The older I get, the more I understand that success means different things for different people. I know now that my version of success is getting to do a fulfilling job that I love, being able to be creative every single day, and still having enough time to live a life outside of work. I think 18 year old Sophie knew that deep down, but I wish I could go back and tell her that it’s okay to go after your own dreams, rather than trying to live up to somebody else’s standard.

I’d love to know what you wish you could tell your 18 old self - what are the lessons that you’ve learnt over the years? Hit reply and let me know!

This essay first appeared in my newsletter, The Weekly Pep Talk. If you'd like to subscribe, you can do so here.