A few weeks ago, I collected snippets of advice from all my girlfriends about what they might like to say to their 16-year-old self. The open letter was published on International Women’s Day 2022 and was phenomenally-well received by all but one.
The one in question is a teenage boy I mentor once a week in Beijing, China. While he thought that the advice shared in the letter was great for his female friends, he felt he was lacking guidance, direction, and clarity … that things would all work out okay in the end. He wanted to hear it from a bunch of men in their 20s, just as my female students had heard it from a bunch of women in their 20s.
In 2019, the Economist labelled Gen Z (those born between 1997 to 2012) as “stressed, depressed and exam-obsessed”. An eerily precise label, it seems teenagers today need ever more reassurance that things will work themselves out.
So boys, here you go: a bunch of advice from a group of brilliant guys in their 20s. I’m going to squeeze in this opportunity to say a huge thank you to all those who contributed to this open letter; your feedback is immensely appreciated.
In a world with so many gazing eyes and constant pressure to conform, remember to have your own thoughts, your own values and own ideas. At the end of the day, these are what make you interesting. WY, age 26.
“Impossible is nothing” echoed through my head as I remember that iconic Adidas and David Beckham advertisement; clutching my bag tight as I boarded the bright blue KLM plane. 16 year old me was determined to become a professional footballer, doing anything necessary to make it happen, including moving 9,000km from my family to a new and very foreign country. 9 years later, no professional contract in hand, having never had the opportunity to pull on my country’s bright green jersey, I still have a smile on my face. Life comes at you fast and can twist and turn in so many unexpected ways, but you have to have faith in yourself, know that you are so capable, regardless of what others may tell you. Through my love of the beautiful game I was given the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people, attend incredible institutions and travel the globe. This journey shaped me into the person I am today, brought so many friendships and opportunities, and has given me memories for a lifetime. Yet none of this would have happened if I had not stepped onto that plane, and had the bravery to wave goodbye to my family. So in the end, you have the whole world in front of you at 16, and you have no idea where your journey will take you, but the most important thing is to trust your gut and always hold your head high in the face of uncertainty. RM-H, age 25.
I guess there is a lot I’d like to tell my 16-year-old self. The one thing that would have required the most balls is to stand up for what you believe in. I wish so badly that I could tell my 16-year-old self to be the bigger person and speak out when someone is acting in a way that you know is wrong. It’s a terrifying thing to do, standing up against your friends who are making crude remarks and degrading others … but if people respect you, they will follow suit, and you’ve got to bite the bullet and break the mould. It just takes one person. AP, age 27.
Find role models, do an exchange abroad, and follow your passion! Might not be obvious where the road leads now but you’ll enjoy the journey! TM, age 32.
1. While it’s important to have failures sooner than later, it’s more important to analyse and take the right lessons from them. Your adversities will be the forerunners of your success and achievements. 2. There would be people around you who you dislike for many reasons. Try to understand their perspective and their situations and acknowledge your feelings that arise as a result. The number of such people would grow exponentially over time and your self awareness will help you remain calm and avoid unhappy life experiences. Empathy and compassion will be your most effective tools to navigate a happy life. 3. Whatever you’re doing or going through will one day connect the dots and make sense even if it doesn’t right now. You’re absolutely on the right path. SB, age 31.
Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. Dwight D. Eisenhower said that and I think it’s actually pretty decent advice for those 16 year olds who are a bit too focused on controlling their next steps in life. If I look back at the major milestones of my life thus far (Bachelor’s, Master’s, first job), none of them turned out in the way my 16-year-old self would have envisioned. Every major step I have taken has taken me in a new direction, one I would never have been able to predict or plan for as a 16 year old. And that’s okay! These unforeseen turns have been the most exciting parts of my life. Still, you should prepare, even if you don’t know what direction your next step in life is taking you in. Study for your exams, prepare for your interviews, those are the things that you can control. Give yourself the best possible basis. I think that will make dealing with the uncertainty of growing up (I am in my mid-20s and I am still growing up) a lot easier to deal with. To sum up, don’t expect your life to play out the way you think it will, but make plans anyways. ML, age 24.
Give yourself a break and stop being so hard on yourself. I guarantee whatever big issue you’re caught up in at the moment will matter for nothing in 5 years time, let alone 10. Also make sure you value your friendships above everything. They’re undoubtedly the most important thing you can have and only get more important with time. So make the investment now and you’ll reap the rewards for life. PF, age 26.
Here we go, biting the bullet and sending to avoid doing too much of what I advise against 😂😂. I'm not sure this is especially boy-specific and it's something that I know I can still be guilty of (perhaps even when writing this!), but I'd tell my younger self to not overthink things I write, say and read! It's very easy to avoid reaching out or hide away because it feels too awkward to make those plans or send that message, but these things rarely turn out badly and you'll almost always be pleased you did in the end. OM, age 24.
I’d tell my teenage self to go and explore more! You are only young once and life can catch up with you pretty quickly. Exams are important and everything, but you don’t need to sacrifice your wellbeing for good grades. If you’re smart, you’ll do okay regardless. JM, age 29.
1. I wish I took more risks when I was younger! Failures are so much cheaper when you're young, and becomes more and more expensive as you age. 2. Look after your finances. Start learning how to invest your money if you haven't already. The earlier the better. Financial security breeds confidence, creates opportunities, and enables risk taking in many aspects of life. 3. Travel the world. Get outside of your bubble. Experience life from a different lens. It changes you. HL, age 32.
A brilliant article on "8 Things Your Teenage Boy Desperately Needs You to Teach Him": https://raisingteenstoday.com/things-your-teenage-boy-desperately-needs-you-to-teach-him/
Young Minds for mental health support: https://www.youngminds.org.uk
Beyond Equalities, a brilliant organisation who work with men and boys to promote gender equality, inclusive communities, and healthier relationships: https://www.beyondequality.org
Olea Education Ltd.