I finally watched The Shape of Water.
It had been on my list for a while, and having finished my degree a few months ago, I’ve had more time on my hands to do things.
One line in particular really stood out.
It was spoken by a cheerful old man reflecting on his life so far:
“I wish I’d slept around more and looked after my teeth better.”
It got me thinking.
What useful bits of advice would I tell my younger self?
I’m not exactly an old geezer but there are some things I definitely wish I’d known before starting.
It’s a big change, after all.
You live away from home for the first time. You have to fend for yourself. Bills have to be paid and sh*t has to be cooked.
It’s scary stuff.
For me personally, there were some things I expected to be challenging. For example, I expected making new friends to be – well, not challenging as such – but something important that needed to be done.
The same goes for partying.
(I definitely can’t hack four or five nights on the bounce any more!)
There were other things which ended up being challenging which I hadn’t even considered before, such as those sad goodbyes.
These last three years have been one hell of a learning curve, and I feel I’ve come out the other end a (slightly) wiser man.
Now I’ve never really done a post like this before. It’s chock full of things which are really personal to me so I was in two minds whether to release it into the world.
But here goes!
I’ve managed to condense my tips into the following 9 ‘things’…
Thing 1: Journal
Not knowing what to write can feel uncomfortable.
You’ll face that dreaded resistance.
What do you write? Should there be a certain structure to it? Do I need a fancy notebook.
None of this matters.
Honestly it doesn’t.
Everyday, for the past 7 months, I’ve simply written in my notebooks whatever pops into my head at the time.
Mostly, I write utter sh*t. I skip from one subject to another, like when new ideas randomly rise to the surface.
Some days I’ll write 3 or 4 pages.
Other days, just a half.
Some days I’ll write after dinner.
Others, before I go to bed.
It really doesn’t matter. Free-writing like this clears all the gunk that’s swimming about upstairs and gives you space to think about things that are actually important.
If you stick to it and don’t worry about you’re writing, you’ll be amazed at what can happen.
Just try it.
And remember: it doesn’t matter what you write.
No one else has to read it.
Thing 2: Meditate
I think the word ‘meditation’ puts people off.
It really doesn’t have to be like any of this corny bullsh*t you see on the internet with your hands in your lap and a clear blue sea in front of you.
Strip it back to what it’s actually about and any form of mindfulness like meditation can be extremely useful.
Once again, this is something I incorporated into my daily routine about 7 months ago and the results have been terrific.
Every morning, for about 10 minutes a day, I’ll set a timer on my phone and begin my practice.
First off, I sit on the end of my bed and take two deep breaths with my eyes open.
Next, I slowly close my eyes and do a 2-minute ‘body scan’.
Basically, I observe myself from top to bottom and try to notice any aches or pains I might be feeling.
I notice sounds too, such as cars passing outside.
I won’t focus on these sounds or sensations though. I’ll simply notice them.
Next comes the bulk of the practice. With every in breath, I count one, and with every out breath, I count two. I continue this natural breathing pattern and count in my head up to 10 before resetting back to one.
It’s okay if your mind wanders whilst this happens. It’s perfectly normal, in fact.
The goal of meditation isn’t to control your thoughts. It’s to stop letting them control you.
What I’ve found is by doing around 10 minutes every morning, I feel more present in my day-to-day life. I do less “time-travelling”, as James Altucher puts it, and feel more mentally ready for the daily challenges I face.
A really good place to start is by checking out an app called Headspace. There’s a really good introductory course which basically goes over the routine I’ve outlined above.
I honestly can’t recommend meditation exercises like this more highly enough!
Thing 3: Practice Gratitude
On a podcast I listened to earlier this year featuring Tony Robbins, he said this:
“Trade your expectations for appreciation, and in that moment, you will change your life.”
Equally as inspiring is a quote on my calendar:
The secret to having it all is knowing you already do.
How do you get to this place?
How do you come to really appreciate what you have and not wish for more?
One way of doing this is to really think about those who are important to you before you go to sleep.
Really think about it and how wonderful these people make you feel.
Why are you so grateful to have them in your life?
Is it because they make the most amazing curry you’ve ever had in your life?
Do they always make you smile when you see them?
Or are they the person you always phone up at the crack of dawn when you’re feeling sh*t and need someone to talk to?
Feel the gratitude flow through your body.
It doesn’t just have to be people you’re grateful for. Maybe it’s the opportunities you’ve been afforded throughout your life or the place you’ve grown up in or something else entirely.
I’ve tried to practice being grateful more during the past year (when I remember to). Like meditation, it definitely helps you feel more grounded.
Thing 4: Be Yourself (or at least don’t be a false version)
This one’s a big one for me.
I’d say that for the majority of my first year at uni, I tried to be somebody I wasn’t.
I tried to be that cool guy that didn’t say much because he thought idle chit-chat was bullsh*t.
He thought he was better than everyone else.
Looking back now, I’m horrified! I thought I was cool when actually I was just being a boring f*ck.
There aren’t many people who are interested in hanging out with people who don’t speak or share how they’re feeling with anyone!
I realise now that what I was actually doing was acting out my insecurities.
I’ve never been one for really enjoying chatting in big groups and so when me and my new flatmates were sat around our flat kitchen telling stories about ourselves, I clammed up.
And as I’m sure many of you can vouch for, once five minutes have passed and you still haven’t had your voice heard in a group, the tension builds.
After a while, you feel unable to speak.
This is exactly what happened to me in my first group interaction with my new first year flatmates.
And the blame rests entirely with me.
What I did after was I upheld this version of myself who didn’t talk much. Despite not being entirely comfortable in group situations like this, I do usually have at least something to offer, so I wasn’t being a true version of myself.
I like talking to people and getting to know them!
Incidentally, it’s only after I started journalling and started reflecting on my uni experiences that I realised this is what had happened.
That’s another reason why journalling is so important. It improves your self-awareness.
So yeah, be true to yourself – or at the very least, don’t be a false copy.
You might not know who ‘yourself’ is. I’m not sure I do either.
But I guarantee you’ll feel uncomfortable when you’re trying to be something you’re definitely not.
Thing 5: Bring Enthusiasm To Your Words
This bit of advice came from the fantastic The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz.
It makes perfect sense. Saying things like “how are you?” can sound like such throw-away questions if you ask them casually.
However, ask it with conviction and suddenly the other person realises you actually care. You want to find out how they’re doing.
“How are you?”
Be genuine and bring enthusiasm to your words and you’ll be amazed at how peoples’ faces light up.
This is one I’m still working on myself!
Thing 6: Develop a Positive Relationship with your Vulnerabilities
Two excellent books on this are The Angry Therapist by John Kim and The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson.
Again, this is something I’m still working on. Truth is, I’m not sure the process of building these vulnerability-relationships ever ends.
It’s something you have to constantly work at.
What I mean by this is just accepting you have vulnerabilities and you might feel insecure about certain things so just be honest about them rather than try to hide them.
All the way throughout school, for example, I use to hate where I lived. It was quite a rough area and I was embarrassed about how small our house was.
It made me feel like I wasn’t worthy in some way and that others were better than me.
With perspective, I realise how stupid this was. Sure, the dicks of the world might judge you and your family, but the majority realise not everyone is given the same headstart in life.
They’ll accept you for who you are.
What’s more, once you reveal these vulnerabilities to those who really care, you’ll become even closer.
Being vulnerable is a form of power. It shows you’re willing to stick your neck on the line, such as when you ask a girl out, knowing full well she could say no.
So practice being honest with yourself and others about who you are – even the stuff you might feel less secure about.
I’ve developed much closer friendships because of this.
And remember that everyone has baggage they carry and sometimes it helps to share the load.
Thing 7: Be Present
The quote above sums it up really well.
It also links to the whole idea of being grateful for what you have.
If you’ve got a busy day ahead which you’re dreading, be grateful for the fact people want to take up your time.
Similarly, if you’ve got absolutely nothing planned, be grateful for being able to do whatever you please.
Enjoy the moment.
Meditation will help with this one.
Prior to meditating, I often found myself thinking about future plans and/or past mistakes. Although this can be useful, such thoughts can hijack your mind.
You can forget to live in the here and now.
That’s what being present is all about.
And once you start being more present, you start to appreciate all that’s around you.
Thing 8: Friendships are never 50-50
This nugget of advice came courtesy of Joey Coleman, author of Never Lose A Customer Again.
I realise that a lot of the time, I’m the person doing a lot of the ‘checking in’ and organising stuff in the friendships I have. Not always, but more often than not.
It use to really bother me. I use to think why don’t my friends want to hang out with me?
What I’ve come to appreciate now though is that friendships are never 50-50. What I mean by this is there will always be one person putting more effort into a friendship than the other person at any given time.
They’re never 50-50.
Sometimes, you might be the person putting more time and effort into a friendship. You might be the one trying to organise a holiday away, for example, and you might get annoyed that the other person isn’t.
It might be an 80-20 split.
However, there will be other times when you’re really busy and you’re not able to contact someone as much as you or they would like. Instead, they may be the one trying hard to organise meetups and coffee dates.
In other words, it might be 30-70.
This is normal.
We all have different restraints on our time and focus. Just because someone hasn’t been in touch in a while doesn’t necessarily mean they no longer want to be your friend.
They might just have more pressing things at hand and can’t spend as much time with you as you’d like.
Sure, there will be times when someone clearly isn’t making an effort, even when you know they could. These people might be worth dropping. However, if you know someone is particularly time-strapped and usually they’d make the effort if they could, give them the benefit of the doubt.
Thing 9: It’s okay to let go
Tying into thing 8 is something I’ve only just started to appreciate over the last couple of months.
There are a lot of people who will drift into your life. I’ve still got the numbers of a couple of freshers I met in freshers week, for example, who I claimed at the time would be friends for life!
So yeah, people drift in. I’d say from those who I met at uni and considered friends at uni, I’m realistically only going to stay in close touch with 5 or 6.
But that’s okay with me. As Rockefeller once said,
“I’d rather have 4 quarters than a 100 nickels.”
It’s all about quality – not quantity.
People will drift in, and it’s okay to let them drift out.
It’s important to look back on experiences shared with these people with fondness and appreciate the small role they played in making your life a tincy-bit better at the time.
They don’t have to be friends for life. The world is but a stage and we all play our small part.
I like to think our own lives are like that too.
Thanks for sticking with me to the end! It got pretty deep pretty quickly but these are things which I’d definitely like to have known prior to starting uni.
Are there any things or tips or bits of advice you wish you’d known prior to starting a new chapter in your life, whether at college or uni or something else entirely?
I’d love to know!