x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Try to fill your teen years with more effort but less angst

I’d have liked to tell my 13-year-old self to stop taking herself seriously. The older you get, the more you realise what a ridiculously puffed-up moron you used to be.

It’s been four years since I started writing this column. Next week, I will be enjoying a week of revelry at university before the studying begins, along with a new University Life column. I am no longer sprightly and youthful but made wise with experience and the intellectual gravitas of age — or teenage, anyway. There’s a lot of greasy skin and pimples, and requests from people to stop being immature, but still.

Going to university means that lots of people will ask you for advice about how they should be spending their high school years. No one can dictate anybody’s priorities and interests, but I’ve been pondering what I would have changed about the past few years if I could. This is harder than expected, which means perhaps I am content and have found my Zen centre. Probably I’m just lazy and think that living life to the fullest sounds like a lot of hard work.

I’d have liked to tell my 13-year-old self to stop taking herself seriously. The older you get, the more you realise what a ridiculously puffed-up moron you used to be. Being seen with parents was a mortifying taboo, even if they were only there for your school’s parents evening. There were a thousand other worries: did the best-looking guy in your class smile at another girl yesterday? Enough tears shed to fill a bathtub. Oh, did he bump your arm in the corridor today? No washing that arm for a week. And was the bump accidental, or on purpose, or accidentally-on-purpose?

Five years on, nobody cares. The boy is long forgotten, your narcissist self-consciousness has dissipated and the Earth didn’t spontaneously combust when you repeated an outfit at a party.

I could have made an effort to befriend people with utterly dissimilar interests, or used the library more. There are shelves I’ve never even strayed near, including, er, all of non-fiction. There was always the chance to kick the football harder, to ask more questions in class, to sing more lustily in choir practice. Actually, scrap the last bit, there wasn’t a need to make the choir sound more off-key than usual.

I do wish I had taken the initiative to do something really worthwhile. I don’t mean lots of minor community projects or volunteering stints to assuage my conscience, but something that made a real, meaningful difference. A couple of guys in my former school founded a charity that brought clean water to entire villages in Africa. Potential lives saved by just two 16-year-olds – that’s truly inspiring.

It’s all very well to deliver platitudes about doing your best to do more, now that I’m not going back to school and won’t follow my preaching myself. It isn’t necessary to be on your toes 24/7 to have a fulfilling life, although it won’t hurt when you apply to university. Get your me-time, too.

Snuggle up with a book before bedtime, do what you’re frightened of doing because you’ll only get more cautious as you grow older, and make the most of the unique, terrifying and exhilarating roller-coaster ride that is teen life.

The writer is an 18-year-old living in Dubai