My son has just celebrated his 20th birthday. My son isn’t a teenager any more. There is a sub context there which is how bloody old that makes me, but more relevantly, how quickly he has become the fine young man he is now and how important the next decade is likely to be for him.
One’s twenties are a pretty momentous decade with major steps being taken. Even though we stretch things out a bit more these days, statistically my son is still likely to meet the person he will marry or with whom he will at least spend a large chunk of his life. On the other hand, statistically, he probably won’t have children until the next decade, giving me the determination to hang on in there at least until then, just so I can get payback on his realisation of how hard it is to be a parent (joking!) (Or am I?)
He is also likely to make decisions to get started on some sort of career, even if in the modern world he will probably change career a couple of times later on – but the initial decisions will be made in the next five years. Scary stuff. Exciting stuff! The good news is: it probably won’t feel like it at the time.
I also think that it may not be the easiest time to be a young man. Young women have so many cool role models these days, and it’s okay for them to work things out in equally cool girlfriend groups like Taylor Swift and her mates or Lena Dunham and co. Meanwhile the media slams lad culture and finds it hard to come up with any male role models apart from David Beckham, whose sons are closer in age to them than him these days.
I turned 30 soon after my son was born, so with one generation’s worth of experience over him and even in today’s world changing at supersonic speed, there are some truths that prevail, which I thought I would share. Forgive me if there are some real clichés here, but then sometimes the clichés are the truth:
- Starting with: Decide to be happy. A terrible cliché, but so true. How you feel about your situation is down to you, and happiness is largely a decision. Some people seem naturally able to see the glass as half full, others write a gratitude diary to remind themselves of their luck in life. Focusing solely on the negative is a gigantic time-waster. And self-pity is very unattractive.
- Ignore the ‘follow your dream’ inspo stuff. We can’t all be yoga instructors in Bali or the next Bill Gates. What’s wrong with finding a profession which stimulates you AND pays the bills? There is a lot of satisfaction to be found in being able to provide for yourself independently. You’ll work out what it is that really grabs your interest and motivates you as you go along.
- Family is everything. It’s another cliché , but it’s true.
- Life isn’t fair. You know that already, which brings me back to No 3, family. If (God forbid) anything awful happens, you know who has your back.
- Having said that: Love and money both matter. Try to live your life giving a lot of the former and earning some of the latter.
- If your friends suggest something and you find yourself wondering if it is a good idea, ask yourself: Would my parents want me to do this? If we wouldn’t but you still want to go ahead, then do – at least you’ve considered the consequences!
- It’s better with a partner. As a die-hard traditionalist I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t think we’re better off in couples. I didn’t go out with a plan and a checklist when I met your dad, but twenty-five lucky years later my advice is try and find someone you find attractive who ‘gets’ you, someone with whom you are deeply comfortable and who has your best interests at heart – not just their own. Don’t rush it but when you find that person, give it your all to make it work.
- Until then, be respectful to all women. And, never assume, in this field especially.
- Most students feel overwhelmed at some point during their studies and may even experience anxiety attacks or worse. If you feel like the stumbling blocks are becoming bigger and rolling up faster, talk to someone. You have our numbers.
- I won’t do a big health spiel because I think you get the gist, but there is one thing you need to do: cut back on your sugar habit. Especially in drinks. Learn to love tap water. Keep up the health habits throughout the next decades, you know people in their 70s who are fit and healthy, it took effort for them to get there.
- Watch your relationship with alcohol. This is probably a tricky thing to say to a 2nd year student at an English university, where booze culture is rampant, but according to a major new study into the happiness of men, the misuse of alcohol is named as the single-most powerful factor in ruining a man’s life, no matter how intelligent he is or how fortunate his background. More here . Have a beer and a laugh with your mates but make sure you can also have a laugh with your mates without that beer.
- Surround yourself with radiators and avoid drains. These are metaphors for people and we all know who is which.
- Speaking of radiators: you can fix most things in your home with WD40 or duct tape. If you can’t fix it with WD40 or duct tape, you probably need to get someone professional in.
- Don’t make excuses, but learn to forgive. Yourself, your parents (we’re only human after all), the rude bar staff in the Olde Cock Inn – don’t give anyone the power to ruin your day. Also, the air is fresh on the moral highground!
- Have faith in your resilience. Yes, there will be failure, that’s part of a life well-lived. You’ve done well so far, so have faith in yourself !