A letter to my 10-year-old self

I write this as I pack what seems like 18 suitcases, 45 carrier bags and 6 car-full’s worth of stuff ready to head to London for a 10-week internship. I move in tomorrow, I start on Monday. Whilst I am super excited to immerse myself into the world of work, it does sound remarkably grown up!

I turn 20 today. As the reality of that sinks in, I realise just how fast the teenage years have gone past, and how scary to think that my age no longer starts with a ‘1’. In this time, I have learnt so much, changed so much and grown so so much. Of course the 10-year-old me was still me at heart, but I am not the same person I was even last year when I wrote my previous posts let alone when I was 10.

And so I thought: if I could go back in time and write a letter to my 10-year-old self, what messages would I pass on? Any key life decisions, any big regrets? Here goes:

“Dear Martin,

You turn 10 today!

You’re probably not very aware of the world quite yet. Your Chelsea side have just won back-to-back league titles, you do know that! (10 years down the line they would also only just manage to scrape into the top half of the table, but maybe I should refrain myself from telling you that to not kill your joy.)  You’re in the last few weeks of Year 5, about to take the 11+ in September. Soon enough you will start – and finish – secondary school, before going on to university. You will have many highs and many lows in every dimension: academically, socially, mentally, physically, professionally. Maybe to start with, you probably won’t know how to cope with the lows. You might give yourself a little cry, you might throw a tantrum. But I have some advice for you:

Never be put off by the lows in life. The lows are what make you you; the struggle is part of the story. They teach you something you didn’t know about yourself, and that’s the only way you’re ever going to grow. Learning is a journey and you’ll find that the endeavour in trying – and failing – is more important than obtaining any arbitrary pre-set goal. So turn negative thoughts into positive ones. Realise you will get through 100% of your bad days. Everything that comes into your life is here to teach you a lesson and won’t go until it has taught you it. Be ready to learn, however brutal the lesson.

In your more junior years, you won’t be too smart. You will scrape by with more Cs and Ds than As or A*s. They say intelligence is a gene and considering your parents don’t have a GCSE between them, you might even pity yourself.

But the one thing you can always control – arguably the only thing anyone can ever control – is how hard you work. You will realise as you grow up that sheer persistence, discipline and hard work will get you further than anything nature or genetics had planned. You will realise that it is so important to be tenacious, to be consistent, to grind out the tough days when you have no motivation. Work damn hard at everything: academic work, job/internship work, but work on yourself, your body, your mind, your skill set (soft and technical) – just keep expanding your productive potential because you can never learn too much. Whether you’re liked or not is not yours to control, whether you were born with clever genes or not is not yours to control. Your mind-set and work ethic is the only force you’ve got. Thankfully it’s probably the most powerful force you should ever need.

And truly, it is your mind-set and attitude which you need to cultivate through these formative years. Because, you know, life will start to put you through some soul-crushing moments. You might not be sure how you will ever cope. Ironically enough, the soul always finds a way to heal; it is the mind you need to silence. As soon as a bad thing happens, human nature instinctively thinks of the worst possible thing that could happen, and the negative energies self-perpetuate. In these instances, don’t stop to think. Life doesn’t stop, so just plough on. Head down, keep going.

You will meet some fantastic people along the way. Be nice to everyone and build as many connections as you can. Treat everyone as a friend until they give you a reason not to. Smile as much as you can to everyone you can – it brightens life up! At the end of the day, everyone is the same, fighting the same battles, making the best with what they have. Bear that in mind.

But not necessarily everyone is nice back obviously. As you progress through your teenage years, take responsibility for who you are and don’t let anyone define you. In a society which tells you to never be alone, let me assure you there’s nothing more lonely than being with the wrong group of people. So form good inner principles before the social conditioning starts. Don’t worry about attracting the right people. You learn that you attract who you are yourself: the popular surround themselves with the popular, the sporty around the sporty, the positive around the positive. Focus on yourself and you’ll realise you don’t need to impress anyone but the right connections will be made.

Focusing on yourself is really important. Get into habits and start learning about what you can improve yourself on. Habits are the cornerstone to success – it will continue the momentum even after the initial motivation dies. In a world with so many unpredictables, make as many things as you can as predictable as possible, so get into a routine and don’t waste time because it’s the most precious gift you have. Wake up early, eat well, sleep well. Don’t check social media aimlessly – only check when you’re doing less brain-intensive tasks like walking. So what if you walk into a pole or accidentally ‘Like’ someone’s photo from 253 weeks ago? It’s better than getting you distracted during brain-intensive tasks like revising. (Have fun explaining though.)

To be honest, you probably don’t have a phone yet Martin and social media isn’t even a thing so that won’t mean much to you, but know that you will go through a massively technology-heavy decade. One thing I would advise in hindsight is to live more through your eyes than through a screen. Bond more with nature, read more books.

But I guess that’s not a regret because life is all about adapting to your environment, and the world has moved this way. It will continue to move: a 10-year-old reading this now will live through a very different teenage life to how I lived it, as I lived a very different teenage life to my parents. Adaptability and evolving are fundamental transitions to go through in this decade, and make sure you do. Every time life gets harder, it’s because you’ve levelled up. And every next level of your life will demand a different version of you.

So don’t rest on your laurels. Good A-Levels present you with the opportunity to study at a good university, but only that – it does not guarantee you a good degree. Good application forms present you with the opportunity to have an interview, but you need to nail that to get the job. So stay humble and don’t think the world owes you anything. Many times you will think you’re some sort of big fish. You’re not even a fish.At every stage you will get a reality check. You think you are smart – there is someone smarter. You think you have social skills sorted – there will be a situation that terrifies you. Got professionalism down? There’s always another level. There’s alwayssomething to strive for.

So never stop trying to better yourself. The best progress is always the progress you can’t see happening, so whilst you live in the short-term, always think long-term. It’s very difficult to just actionably do one thing that makes you happy or set for life – it’s a culmination of the small things over the years so lay the foundations now and you will forever be one step ahead. Even if it doesn’t look like the end goal is nearing, trust in the process because it’s most likely working its magic right now without you knowing. But don’t try too hard because life becomes too forced, too tense, too unhappy. Believe in the small steps, believe in the 1% gains and some time in the future, take a step back to see the bigger picture – you will be amazed at the progress.

But despite telling you to focus on yourself, it won’t stop you constantly comparing yourself to others: why does this person have this, why does that person have that? Technology won’t help this one bit, but know that the biggest person you’re competing against is yourself. The introverted you versus the extroverted you, the lazy you versus the hard-working you, the generous you versus the selfish you. It’s ironic that in life – a game – with so many players, and the one you battle with most is yourself.

And that’s the thing: life is a never-ending series of mini-battles with yourself so make sure you keep the balance. Of head versus heart. Of work versus play. Of sleep. Of calories. Of giving up or trying again. Of giving someone a second chance or not. Of caring too much or letting go. Of over-planning or being spontaneous. Of saying yes to as many opportunities as you can versus being realistic about how much time you have.

But above all, be confident with yourself. Life is a confidence thing. If you have confidence, the barriers between something you can do, and something you think you cannot, blur. Push your boundaries and you will thrive, but you need to believe in yourself first. If you can believe in Santa for however many years, promise me that you’ll believe in yourself as you get older.

“A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because her trust is not on the branch but on its own wings.”

So just throw yourself into it. Try out as many things as you can; if an opportunity presents itself that you’re scared you may not be able to do, say yes – then learn how to do it. Never pass up the opportunity to improve yourself, and by committing to it, you force yourself to learn rather than passing it up with another excuse. Excuses will always be there for you, opportunities won’t. (Your future self will thank you greatly.)

And learn to enjoy the little things in life, because one day you will look back and realise they were the big things. Don’t take yourself too seriously because life is actually quite funny, but always take responsibility for your own happiness; it’s a fragile thing that should not be delegated to someone or something else. Why do you need other people to make you happy? What are you lacking in that getting someone’s validation will fulfil in you? Just love yourself. The most important relationship you have is with yourself. Everything happening in your life results from the way you treat yourself, through thoughts, words and actions. Cultivate that self-worth.

I want to finish the letter with this: you will have a great decade pal. One always does better than they think they are, so never lose the faith and just keep digging. Trust your instinct, stay disciplined, don’t over-think life and just learn to love yourself. Fight for everything you believe in. If the door does not open, keep knocking. Smash the door down if you have to. Persistence will get you it, consistency will keep you it.  You will also make many big decisions. Trust your decision-making. Whenever you make a decision, realise it will always be the right one, because you will make it become the right one. Never look back and ponder “what if?”; once you’ve made the decision, go all out with so much passion to make it become the right one. Be proud of yourself. Be confident. You’ll do so much better than you ever thought.

“You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” ~ Winnie the Pooh

Happy 10th, kid.

Love,

Martin”

Rarely does life permit you time to just stop and think. Birthdays are a good chance too. I am going to label the last decade as ‘the Decade of Foundation’. The moral compass has been set, the basic life learning there. I think my 20s will be the Decade of Evolvement, and it’s going to be huge. Whilst I’m at it, I hope my 30s will be a Decade of Promise, my 40s of Achievement, my 50s of Fulfilment, and my 60s the Decade for Me.

But enough thinking for one day. Best get packing now.

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