It’s funny: I’ve asked every participant of my #LittleChats series so far what piece of advice they’d give to their younger selves, but I’ve never been asked the question myself. It’s a tough question and, unless you don’t think too much about it and stick to the cliché “be yourself!11!1!!”, everybody’s answers will be different depending on their experiences. My younger years – particularly my high school years – were some of the worst years of my life even though I was very much myself; I was always taught not to care about others’ opinions of me. Of course, this advice isn’t always easy to follow when you’re being bullied – it’s inevitable to feel hurt by others’ words, especially mean AF high school kids – but, in hindsight, I was probably bullied because I was myself. That’s the sad reality of bullies; they pick on the characteristics that make you unique, predominantly because they’re jealous that they don’t possess them themselves. I gave up quickly on trying to fit in in high school because it was obvious that I was different from the onset. I had an unhealthy obsession with the Jonas Brothers, but I also loved the likes of You Me At Six, Paramore and blink-182. Weirdo. I dyed my hair jet black and had layers upon layers which I backcombed every day to create a beehive-scene look. Weirdo. I would look forward to going home after school on a Tuesday and watching Countdown followed by The Common Denominator followed by Four In A Bed on Channel 4 (though nobody knew this until now). Total weirdo. Once I realised that I was different, I embraced it and learnt to ignore the haters. So, if not “be yourself”, what would Little Pav tell little Little Pav?
One piece of advice I often like to share with others is “whatever you do, do it for you”. I suppose this extends from the notion of not caring about how others perceive you; why waste your time trying to please others when you can spend it investing in becoming the best version of yourself? As well as ~ embracing ~ myself (*vomits a little*), I’ve always been one to follow this advice and ~ chase ~ what I want, if you will (*vomits a little more*). Take this: when I was choosing my GCSE options in Year 8 (we started our GCSE subjects one year earlier at my school – not the coursework or exams, just the subjects for ~ fun ~, I guess), I opted for Drama, Music and Dance; the infamous “triple threat”. Before we submitted our choices, however, we were invited to attend a meeting to discuss our options with a member of staff. Any member of staff. You could have chosen Geography, Media and French and been assigned an Art teacher to discuss your options with. I don’t even know who the member of staff I met with was; for all I know, she could’ve been a dinner lady. Anyway, I went with my mum, and the discussion went a little like this:
“So, Sophie, what GCSE subjects have you chosen?”
*clears throat* “Drama, Music and Dance!” *smiles confidently*
“Hmm… Are you sure? This doesn’t seem like a very secure pathway.”
“Yes, I’m sure. I love all these subjects.”
“That’s great, but have you considered something academic to balance your options?”
“No… I also love English and Spanish, which I’ve chosen as my mandatory language, so I don’t need to choose anything else.”
“Right… But you might be better off choosing something like Business Studies, no?”
“No, I’ve thought about it and I want to do Drama, Music and Dance. That doesn’t mean I won’t be successful.”
“No, that’s not what I’m saying…”
You get the gist. And, to be clear, that is what she was saying; she was insinuating that if I merely chose “non-academic” subjects I’d have no security later in life. Well, here I am, with a bachelor’s in English Language and Linguistics and a master’s in Global Marketing. Take that, lady! My point is, even though she was adamant that I chose subjects more strongly associated with job ~ security ~ (which most teachers wrongly do, let’s be honest), I went with my gut. I always knew I wanted to pursue either English, Spanish or the Arts, and I did. I also opted for English Literature, English Language, Dance and Spanish at AS level and continued all but Spanish at A2. Which conveniently reminds me: I loved, and was really good at, Spanish (and I envy 16-year-old Sophie’s ability to walk into her AS exam and write a 7-page essay entirely in Spanish) but, after Year 12, I was done. AS Spanish was bloody difficult and, when I’d narrowed my prospective degree choices to English and Dance and therefore decided to drop Spanish, I told one of my A level Spanish teachers to which he responded: “but… wouldn’t it be better to drop Dance?”. Don’t. Even. I was livid. I genuinely cried to this teacher due to the stress that AS Spanish had caused me, and he had the audacity to tell me that I should drop Dance – one of my all-time favourite subjects – instead? No. I wasn’t having it. And I didn’t. To be fair, I really miss it now and would love to pick it up again, but the studying of it in line with the curriculum completely sucked the fun out of it for me. Again, my point is: I did what I wanted. And I’m happy. So, after that anecdote, we’ve established that I wouldn’t necessarily need to tell my younger self to “do what you want”.
I’m also one to quote the proverb “everything will be okay in the end; if it’s not okay, it’s not the end” now and then. Again, this alludes to my miserable high school years. I hated high school throughout its entire five-year timespan; that’s a bloody long time to feel miserable. Even though I was eventually comfortable in myself, I still hated feeling like a misfit; it was lonely, it was depressing and it was consuming. Nonetheless, as I mention in my World Mental Health Day blog, I finally found happiness in sixth form. I encountered more like-minded people, was no longer infected by toxic friendships and had more freedom. No school uniform. No vile bullies. No unnecessary drama. In the end, everything was okay. Hence my belief in that proverb. And my belief in it continues; as my fiancé was experiencing hell with his Crohn’s disease, I was hopeful that it would get better, and it has. It’s a chronic illness and there’s no cure as of yet so, of course, there are worse days, but things are okay. Arguably, then, this piece of advice is a contender. However, even though I was miserable throughout my high school career, I was always somewhat hopeful that things would get better in that respect, too; I believed that I would make friends later in life, which I have who I’m incredibly grateful for, and pulled through by focusing on achieving good grades.
And that was my issue.
I’ve never seen or heard two words more frequently collocated than conscientious and attitude. Every academic tutoring, every parents’ evening, every end-of-year report: my teachers would always say that I had a “conscientious attitude”. And it’s true; I worked my damned ass off. In retrospect, it was partly a coping mechanism – throwing myself into my studies to escape my misery – but it was also in my nature; I come from a family of grafters. Except on a Tuesday when I would switch on Channel 4 and watch game shows consecutively first, as soon as I stepped in the door from school, I would crack on with my homework. Thinking about it, we had a lot of homework. If it wasn’t a mock English essay, it was a practice Maths paper. If it wasn’t Drama coursework, it was Dance theory. If it wasn’t Spanish reading, it was Spanish writing. And, boy, did it keep me occupied. Honestly, I don’t know how people completed such as well as gallivant the streets of our local town after school every evening; what that tells me is that they didn’t really try. And I tried. Hence the good grades.
But that was my issue.
Said “conscientious attitude” continued throughout my university studies. I would write as detailed lecture notes as I could, research beyond the recommended readings and study every assignment’s brief to its core. Even the 2,500-word assignments I left to write on the day of the deadline (because we’ve all been there), I was able to produce a good-quality piece of work because I’d prepared with detailed notes, further reading and a plan that aligned with the brief. And, again, I achieved good grades.
Still, that is my issue.
Although it’s all well and good to work hard and achieve good grades, it can be really debilitating. While I studied and worked my ass off, I never relaxed. I never allowed myself room to breathe or to let go. From my GCSEs through to postgraduate study, I was so completely engrossed in my studies that I didn’t really have any hobbies or interests other than to “do well”. And, while it resulted in good grades, it lacked self-care – something I’ve developed an ever-growing passion for of late. Now it’s even clearer why. Before my GCSEs, I attended drama classes at Sylvia Young Theatre School in Central London for 5 years and absolutely loved them. Every Saturday, I’d put on either a white tee with a large red SYTS logo or a black tee with a small red SYTS logo and head with my mum to London via the overground to Waterloo and the tube to Marylebone. I’d always have a ham and cheese toastie in the Green Room before class – it was almost like a ritual – and we’d stop off at M&S in Waterloo Station and grab a small pot of sushi for the train journey back. It was so nice to have a hobby outside of school; especially drama, which was so pedantic at school but so liberating there. The reason I quit was due to the need to focus on my GCSEs and, from then on, I submerged myself in my studies and never escaped.
When I started university, people would ask me “what do you like to do in your spare time?” and I’d ponder “well, I like to dance”. As I advanced through my GCSEs, I developed a particularly strong passion for Dance. That’s Dance with a capital D, not dance with a lowercase d. There’s a significant difference. Dance with a capital D refers to the subject; dance with a lowercase d refers to the art. I was so completely passionate about performing contemporary dance as part of GCSE and A level Dance and grew better and better at it with every performance but, aside from the subject, I didn’t really dance much outside of school. I choreographed my own routines now and then and ran my school’s Contemporary Dance Club in Year 10 where I taught my routines, but it was still at school. As I progressed through university, I realised that I was no longer a Dancer, and – again – that my hobbies revolved around my studies. Now, I was passionate about Linguistics.
While there is some truth in that I chose English Language and Linguistics at undergraduate because I was always good at English at school and always preferred Language over Literature, I was genuinely passionate about the subject. Granted, I probably wouldn’t have discovered such a passion had I not worked hard for it, but I find it so fascinating and, as I watch Countdown now (or still), I admire Susie Dent as she so ardently shares her findings on the derivation of a word or phrase in Dictionary Corner. There is so much to Linguistics; in simple terms, it’s “the scientific study of language”, but it’s actually so much more than that. Not only is it the scientific study, but also the psychological study, the sociological study, the phonological study and the etymological study of language. It’s understanding language in different contexts. It’s understanding that language comes in a variety of forms; spoken, sign and pictorial, to name a few. It’s understanding the connection of all the languages of the world (so, to answer the all-common assumption “does linguistics mean you can speak loads of languages?”, no – we don’t know an abundance of languages, but we have certainly explored many; most of which you’ve probably never even heard of). Anyway, as I said, it’s bloody fascinating. Although it’s extremely important to choose a subject you love for your degree, I didn’t really have a hobby alongside my undergraduate apart from binge-watching Friends in between working on assignments and playing Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp on my commute to university. Similarly to my situation with Dance, my main pastime outside my degree was linguistics-related: the Roehampton Linguistics Society, which I founded with my “linguigals” who are equally as passionate about the subject as I am. I loved the society; I made friends for life, felt more motivated to complete my assignments and had events to look forward to, but I’d still go home and watch Friends for so long that Netflix would rudely ask “Are you still watching Friends?” repeatedly.
As I unfold in this blog, when I started my postgraduate degree, I conducted a huge Instagram follow spree to familiarise myself with the way large brands were exploiting social media as a marketing tool as – after all – I was about to study Marketing. I considered all the brands I’ve ever seen or used or liked, searched their names and clicked their “follow” button. To my surprise, most of the brands I thought of were makeup brands. I’ve worn makeup ever since I was 11; I started wearing foundation solely to conceal my acne, but I would continue to add more products into the mix – blusher, eyeliner, mascara – as I developed through my teenage years. But, back then, all makeup ever was to me was an element of my daily routine. Nothing more, nothing less. I added more products into the mix as I would notice that wearing foundation alone washed me out, and so I would apply a little blusher to add a healthy glow, a little eyeliner to enhance my eyes and a little mascara to accentuate them further. Makeup was just something that we teenage girls did, right? However, little did we know then the impact of brands. Only once I engaged in this follow spree had it occurred to me that I am a “loyal” customer of certain brands, particularly Clinique. For five whole years, I stuck with Clinique Anti-Blemish Foundation which I would apply with a Clinique Foundation Brush and remove with Clinique Take The Day Off Makeup Remover. Clinique, Clinique, Clinique. Honestly, I didn’t realise how much of a huge brand Clinique is until I was about 18. I used it because my mum used it, and she’s always been familiar with big beauty brands, but me? I was completely oblivious; I used it due to sheer influence. During my university years, I branched out on brands to add to my makeup kit, but I still didn’t really know whether what I invested in was actually from “good”, or even renowned, brands; I remember asking my mum after I’d tried Benefit’s Hoola Bronzer for the first time “have you heard of Benefit?” and she looked at me as if to say “well, duh”, but exclaimed “yes – they’re a really good brand!”. Oblivious. Then, after I’d followed Benefit Cosmetics on Instagram, I came across Lisa Potter-Dixon – who was previously their Head Makeup Artist – on their Instagram Live, and the rest is history.
Throughout my postgraduate studies, I became more and more interested in beauty. I discovered more beauty experts through Lisa and her podcast which she co-hosted with fellow makeup artist Hannah Martin Life and Lipstick and would watch endless makeup tutorials, beauty unboxings and all the rest. I was totally surprised myself as I’d always thought makeup tutorials these days merely consisted of cakey, contour-heavy looks, but I’d finally come across artists who create beautiful looks without all the huss and fuss of layering and contouring. I finally found a hobby. Now, I consider myself a total beauty nerd; I know of endless beauty brands – good and bad, successful and unsuccessful, up-and-coming and over-the-hill – and all the beauty terminology. But, most importantly? I love it.
Thanks to my ever-growing interest in beauty, I’ve become interested in listening to more podcasts (like The Emma Guns Show), trying more new products (predominantly beauty products, but they’re still new) and watching more video tutorials (something other than Friends). Not only do I want to do more of all this in 2021, but I want to develop even more hobbies, like reading actual books, which I haven’t done in years. I’ve always enjoyed reading blogs, articles and non-fiction pieces – which probably further influenced my preference for English Language over English Literature – but I want to hold, smell (yes, smell) and enjoy a good book.
So, back to the initial question: what piece of advice would I give to my younger self?
Worry less, relax more. It’s that simple.
Since my teenage years, and through all my adult life thus far, I’ve been constantly worried. Worried about “doing well”. Worried about making others proud. Worried about the consequences if I didn’t “do well”. No one else was worried; no one else cared if I had or hadn’t “done well”. What does that even mean? To me, it meant achieving good grades, but everyone else – my teachers, my professors, my parents, my partner, my friends – would’ve been proud of me regardless. I could’ve failed my GCSEs, my A levels and my degrees, and they’d still be proud. They’d still be proud because I still would’ve walked away having tried. I just didn’t need to try as hard; I needed to relax more.
Working hard is in my nature. But that doesn’t mean I can’t continue to work hard and allow myself time to relax. And that’s what I’m going to do. Maybe I should’ve started earlier, but at least I’m working on it now.
Worry less, relax more.