Here’s my advice for teenage girls: don’t make the same mistakes I did
First off, get to know yourself, ideally before you are in your mid-30s
Because Im so wise, Im sometimes asked to give careers advice to teenage girls at schools. And I love doing this, because the girls I meet are invariably excellent and I want to save them from making the same mistakes I did. (Kids, its not as funny as you think it is to take drugs at a music festival in front of your boss.)
But, increasingly, I feel Ive been focusing on the wrong areas. Ive definitely made more mistakes in my personal than my professional life, and thats really saying something given I once caused an actual bomb scare in my office and had the entire building evacuated by the emergency services (long story, another time).
Im not diminishing the importance of work, because my job has given me independence. But Ive known so many young women who absolutely kill it in the workplace, yet have no idea how to take care of themselves. When I think back on the ages of, oh, lets say, 16-35, its like looking at a stranger who behaves in ways that make literally no sense a character from a Channel 5 soap. Thats because I didnt know myself, and I really recommend getting to know yourself before your mid-30s.
Consider that tip number one. Here are my others. Because if those who cant do, teach, those who arent qualified to teach, impart wisdom.
1 Throughout your life, ask regularly, Do I actually like this person I am sleeping with?
Despite my best efforts, I did have some nice long-term (which for me means longer than six weeks) boyfriends along the way. But when it came to the short term, I went for the seven dwarves: Grumpy, Dopey, Snarky, Druggie, Creepy, Cheaty and Mr Me Me Me. I would never have been friends with any of them, yet I slept with them. More than once! I cried for days (weeks) when they dumped me, insisting to bemused friends that, even though I didnt like him, I did love him. Kristen Roupenians recent collection of stories, You Know You Want This, is smart on this: how what we call love is often more about ego, self-projection, validation and fear of loneliness. I didnt hurt you Im the instrument with which you hurt yourself, a man tells the woman hes dumping in one story, and though hes a jerk, hes also right.
Dont let undeserving people be the instruments with which you hurt yourself. Also, read more short stories, everything from Lorrie Moore to JD Salinger, Stephen King to Jhumpa Lahiri.
2 Dont be ashamed of being human
I have huge admiration for women like Helen Fielding, Nora Ephron and Dolly Alderton, who are able to write about their lives and feelings in near-real time. It takes me half a decade to process the shame, and another five years to understand why I felt the way I did. This is a waste of time and a waste of self: being ashamed of your feelings is just self-loathing. Instead, watch the speech that actor Michael Stuhlbarg gives to Timothe Chalamet, his onscreen son, at the end of Call Me By Your Name at least once a day. We rip out so much of ourselves, to be cured of things faster, that we go bankrupt by the age of 30 and have less to offer each time we start with someone new, Stuhlbarg says.
Feelings are good, even if the actual feeling of crying for three weeks over Mr Me Me Me is not. When I understood this distinction, I finally moved out of my 20s and into my 30s (admittedly, at the age of 34).
3 Learn how to cook
Knowing how to feed yourself is a form of self-respect, and being able to feed friends is a lovely way to thank them for listening to you cry over Mr Me Me Me. This year, I swear on a stack of Nigellas, I will learn how.
4 Find a new narrative
Traditionally, stories about women are stories about finding love, while stories about men are adventures. You know this. But did you know that stories about men are more likely to be written in the first person, while stories about women are more often in the third person? A teacher at school told me that, and it was years before I understood her point.
5. Do not doubt yourself
As a young woman, you will find there is no shortage of men who will try to make you doubt yourself. Not all men, sure but quite a lot. I have had men explain my own articles to me, because they understood what I really meant to say better than I did. All my biggest regrets stem from moments when I didnt trust my intelligence, but instead let a misguidedly overconfident man control the narrative.
Well, except that time I caused a bomb scare at work. Its OK, I can talk about it now. Ive worked through the embarrassment, got over the moment the bomb squad entered an evacuated building to sweep my desk. See, what happened was oh darn, Im out of space.