I can see that ominous 3-0 looming in front of me... I can feel it in the creak of my right knee that wasn't there 10 years ago. Neither was this pesky line in my forehead or these silver, straggly hairs that keep emerging from my brown mop. In fact, there are a lot of changes that have occurred within me over the last decade, not just aesthetically. So I'm writing a letter to you, 19 year old Sinead, as you freak out over turning 20 (for god's sake, you were just a baby!) but I do have some advice for you...
Don't be afraid to let go!
Next time you're sitting at lunch in The Buttery and one of the girls suggests a night out in Tramco, don't start start debating with yourself whether you should go. Just go! Don't obsess over the fact that you can be shit company (you're usually not) or the fact that you don't want to get shit faced (so what? You love a dance!). Don't start lying about that assignment that needs to be started as an excuse (when everyone knows you'll be up typing 5,000 words with numb fingers four hours before it's due in).
You're 20 years old, living in an apartment with 3 lovely girls in Dublin city centre, it's your first taste of freedom away from the stability and monotony of Newbridge. You have a tight knit group of friends. You have the thrill of student life at your feet! 21s, Tramco, Q Bar, The Palace, Barcode... Taste it!
Yes, you are in a new routine, a new stage of life with different expectations. It's okay not to know how to behave but don't miss out on making some great memories because of uncertainty. The only person standing in your way is YOU so give yourself permission to loosen up, let go and enjoy life. Trust me, this acceptance will come but you only have a window of opportunity to maximise living in Dublin with an optional alarm in the morning. You will make amazing, hilarious, wonderful and some questionable memories but go ahead and make some more! Embrace the uncertainty of this stage of your life, don't run away from it!
You WILL be a good social worker!
So what if you chose social work because you weren't sure what else to put down on the CAO? So what if you don't have the social care/residential/youth work hours that other people have? So what if you haven't had ever worked with or even met a social worker before? Stop the endless comparisons! You chose the profession. You got the points. So let me be clear: you are just as valid and deserving as every other person sitting in that classroom with you.
The confidence will come with experience. Your voice will come with practice. So will the language and the knowledge. You're a student, you're not supposed to know everything! And don't worry about those who pretend they do, they're wracked with anxiety every bit as much as you are (maybe even more so). The language of any social work course will often be dominated by a discourse of human rights, personal autonomy and social justice. You'll pick it up, don't sweat. Let yourself be judged by your examiners and placement supervisors, not your inner, critical voice. You know she only ever says one thing!
It's hard to believe now but you'll be in your supervisors' shoes one day, providing guidance, mentoring and advice to new students. You'll speak the language of the profession with a passion that you've developed over the years. You'll find comfort and challenges in the role. But most importantly you will realise that you are a good social worker, without the need for external validation.
Remember this the next time you cast your mind back to that blank CAO form and agonise over why you didn't choose primary school teaching as your first option. Social work is the profession for you. Don't obsess. Just accept and trust your ability.
For God's Sake, take an interest in your appearance sooner...
I'll keep it brief because I truly could be here all day but trust me on the main learning points:
1. Get long layers through your hair and stop tying it in a pony tail.
2. When the hairdresser offers that copper tint in your hair scream no.
3. Discover skinny jeans before 2009.
4. Experiment with make up more; lipstick suits you, you'll always need under-eye concealer, primer is your miracle potion and don't give up on eyeliner so quickly!
5. Discover eyebrow threading before 2014.
6. Wear more sunscreen (but just a bit, you know, you still want a tan).
Write the book!
I'm saying this from a place of love and fondness but sweet Jesus, it's been in your head for over a decade. Stop arsing around. Turn off Friends/Sex and the City/ER/The Shield/Suits (repeat to fade). Stop redecorating your office. Don't buy so many cheesy wall hangings. Just bloody write it. So many hours have melted away watching mind numbing television when you could have been mastering the one talent you have that could potentially change your life. So what if you have a Friends quote for every scenario and you've nailed every obsure trivia Buzzfeed quiz; that means nothing. Write the book. You know it's a good story, otherwise it wouldn't still be in your head.
Let them go
Don't force relationships with people who aren't meant to be in your life. The important people in your life will stay there, as long as you put your share of effort in. The others will fade away, and guess what? That's okay! Not everyone likes you and you don't like everyone so stop forcing it and stop beating yourself up. You have absolutely no control over how others perceive you so why invest so much energy and worry into it? Let them go. You'll grow to realise just how important your values are in your life and you'll understand that it's important for you to share a value system with the people you want in your life. If people don't share your values, that's okay, don't judge but it's okay to let them go. You're going to spend a significant amount of time during this decade beating yourself up and making yourself feel bad over trivial things. You don't need someone else doing it to you too. If they leave a bad taste in your mouth, let them go. It doesn't make you a bad person. You'll survive (and they will too).
They're only thoughts
Here's the deal: you're going to get thoughts that pop into your head randomly. Sometimes they will scare you and sometimes you'll feel compelled to carry out actions to cancel out the thoughts. They will be overwhelming, they will feel endless and they will leave you feeling empty, frightened and hopeless. But remember, they are just thoughts. It is not an underlying sign that you are losing your mind or that you are going to die. It is just your mind giving you a bit of a hard time, but sure look, you just love doing that to yourself anyway, as we've discovered! Don't obsess.
When the thoughts come, just treat them like an unwanted visitor. Let them occupy your spare room but don't pay them any attention. Don't offer them breakfast and leave the heating off. Keep neutral. Don't let them see how much they bother you. Grit your teeth, keep your head up and let them stay as long as they like. Believe it or not, they will eventually get the message and head off but at that stage you won't even notice their absence because you've stopped focusing on them. Yes, it's really this easy!
Don't take Andrew for granted
Stop the comparisons
My one message overall to take into the next decade? Stop living your life from other peoples' perspectives. Don't compare yourself to everyone else. If something makes you unhappy then change it. But just be happy with the cards you've been given. You have your health, good family, friends, a job that you love and a hobby that excites and inspires you. Anything else is a bonus.
You will have a period in your 20s when you come to terms with your existence and the isolating nature of being alive. But don't let this frighten you. Embrace it. You are you and you will only ever be you so stop trying to change that. Live your life.
Signing off now until I see the big 4-0 in front of me...