A Note To My 16-Year-Old Self

By Caro Walmsley, May 11, 2018

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we asked some brilliant local women, all of whom have achieved their own professional successes, to tell us what advice they’d give to their 16-year-old self.

What we got from them was a selection of empowering, honest responses that we have collected below in the hopes of inspiring young people everywhere to #BeSomething.

We now hope to add to this collection and build an anthology of inspirational professional stories from men and women across the country, and would be delighted if you’d like to add yours. Let us know what your professional now would say to your 16-year-old-self at [email protected]

"Doorways open when you work hard so be brave and step outside of what you know."

“My goal was financially surviving the transition from dependence to independence. I had left home and was living with my sister in a bed-sit doing a couple of A-levels at the local college. Looking back I’m not sure why I was even doing those A-levels. I certainly had no thoughts of going to University and had no conscious understanding of the role A-levels could play in getting me there.

What would I tell her now? I would tell her to be ambitious and find someone to tell her about all the squillions of different possible careers and to assume that she could do any of them. I would tell her that as she’s good at exams, doing academic qualifications would be a great way of proving her capability and would provide a step up and a pathway to loads of options. And I’d tell her that nothing is fixed - doorways open when you work hard so be brave and step outside of what you know. One thing always leads to another.”

- CH (Company Owner & Director)

“You CAN do anything you want. You don’t have to follow the crowd. Don’t listen to everyone around you. Listen to what’s inside you. You can do things differently your way and get on to achieve more than you now feel is possible.

As a teen I was told quite blankly I probably couldn’t do A-levels and University was never discussed as an option. My future was laid out as a likely secretary to some guy in a London financial institution or something similar. That made me more determined to do what felt more fun and interesting than the route chosen for me by the school system.”

- VH (Company Owner & Director)

"Very little is impossible; don’t limit yourself in what you can do."

“Nothing in the world, or our lives, will ever be perfect. So, don’t judge yourself against perfection, as it’s an impossible goal to live up to. Instead, treat yourself, and those around you, with kindness, with compassion, with warmth.

Be open-hearted, generous of spirit, learn from your mistakes (and recognise that you won’t always learn first time). But not living up to some perfect view of the world doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have big dreams, big ambitions. Have big ambitions and grand visions for all of life: for family, friends, relationships, work.

Stay curious about the world and what you are capable of. Very little is impossible; don’t limit yourself in what you can do. You will never be expert enough, qualified enough, prepared enough. That’s okay. Have courage to believe in yourself and try. You will surprise yourself at how staying open, staying big hearted (to yourself and others) will take you to places you never thought possible.”

- SW (Strategist & Consultant)

“Be curious, learn about how the world really works and know that you can make an important difference. Decide how and where you want to do that and go for it! Don’t stop until you get there. You are important and capable, know your powers and use them wisely.”

- MH (Company Owner & Director)

“Don't assume ‘they’ (be it the bosses, your other colleagues, the men, the older ones, the more experienced ones…..whoever) always know best. You are there for a reason: don’t be afraid to ask questions, to challenge. A critical, questioning eye isn’t naive, it’s curious and can be of enormous value.”

- LW (Company Owner & Director)

"Trust yourself and try to be brave enough to take some risks now because this may help you find the things you love to do."

“You have so many options to choose from but very little certainty about where your choices will lead you. So don’t be afraid of making the wrong choice – what you choose now will start you on your journey but will not BE your journey. Just a first few steps along what will be a winding path with lots of twists, turns and crossroads. Even dead-ends which force you to reverse or take a u-turn. Along the way you will learn some surprising and unexpected things that will help you make better decisions as you go.

You can get help with your decisions - take advice, listen to people you trust, ask questions and be open to new opportunities and new people but most of all listen to your own self. If something feels right for you then give it a go and see how it works out. If it doesn’t feel right, then don’t do it. Trust yourself and try to be brave enough to take some risks now because this may help you find the things you love to do – you can always start over.”

- AMI (Company Director)

"Do not let 32 sixteen-year-old girls influence your thinking. Do not allow their narrow-minded thoughts to define who you are. Do not allow others to influence your decision-making. You don't need to be someone else because you lack self-esteem to be who you are. You are a thoughtful, kind and considerate person and those qualities cannot be beaten.

Self doubt is a bitch and she will lead you to places you don't need to explore. Have courage and take confidence in your gut feeling, for it is wiser than you know."

- HM (Company Owner & Director)

"Be bold. Don’t settle for what you have for fear of not finding something better. The old proverb of when one door closes another opens holds an absolute truth and don’t wait for experience to prove that to you.

And don’t worry about not having all the big answers and not being sure. Nothing has to be forever; each experience is a step along the way. There is not one single path, you can change routes at any point and your journey will be far richer as a result."

- LA (Consultant)

"Take a very deep breath and do what scares you. You’ll have fun when you do."

"Sometimes life is unfair. What you can do is keep supporting the good fight, speak up and support others. If you can do something to positively change things for yourself and others then do it. If you can open a door for someone else you will have made a massive difference. If you refuse to work in a way you know is not right, you can change things for the better."

- VM (Agency Group Director)

"Follow what you enjoy and where your passion and curiosity takes you. Your career won’t be straight as an arrow, but you’ll see how the patterns emerge and how everything eventually connects. Be yourself. Always. I know that sounds strange to your ears when you are so uncertain, so uncomfortable in your own skin, but it will get better.

You don’t need to aim for perfection, nearly there is usually good enough. It’s okay to be an introvert, to reflect, to take your time. Trust that your ideas have validity; have the courage to air what’s buzzing in your brain. Add your ideas to the collective to build something new, and to solve the tricky problems.

Acknowledge the doubts (for you will never entirely conquer them), but then set them aside and do it anyway. Take a very deep breath and do what scares you. You’ll have fun when you do."

- SC (Head of Customer Experience)

"Don’t let the fear of failure stop you speaking out, bringing your voice to the table and having the courage to believe that you have something to offer. Be confident, but not cocky in your ideas and your work. Accept that if someone has asked you to do a job, they have the belief you can do it.

Enjoy the ride – wherever your professional journey leads you can be an adventure. Learn to understand that each project, each role is part of that adventure. Do the best that you can do rather than worrying it is not going to be good enough for someone else".

- HL (Company Owner & Director)

"Do not fear failure, seek and embrace experience in the pursuit of confidence."

"Work hard, drop the attitude, dance to your own tune & don’t be swayed by others. Take risks, stay out of trouble & follow your heart, always!"

- AR (Solutions Architect)

“Never be afraid to speak up: if something is wrong, if you don’t believe in something, in lessons or in the workplace. Use your voice. Asking questions does not mean you don’t understand, nor that you are ignorant. You are not expected to know everything and it is liberating once you are fully able to accept that.

Don’t let opportunities where you could have asked a question, could have defended something you believe in or could have suggested a better way pass you by because of fear of making a mistake and being labelled as wrong. Don’t be afraid to rock the boat. Don’t be afraid to be heard."

- AS (Social Media Strategist)

"Don’t be afraid to speak up. In those small but frequent moments where you find yourself with your thoughts confidently raging in your mind, but frozen on the tip of your tongue scared of being judged - let them out. Breathe. Don’t cushion your fear with reassurance that one tiny sentence won’t make a difference. Those seemingly trivial words are the small steps to asserting your voice."

- SB (Client Relationship Manager)

"I know it's only your male friends that are interested in computers, and I know you feel like it's a club you don't belong to. Don't let that stop you for so long. Women wrote the code that sent men to the moon. There have been a lot of inspirational women in tech. Be one of them."

- CE (Creative Developer)

"You have already learned some great lessons, including everyone deserves respect no matter who they are or where they come from (an attitude you'll find essential for effective networking later on) and that there is always another way to do something (you'll become an expert at never giving up!).

What you are not so good at is tuning in to how you are, what you need and most importantly asking for help. No one succeeds in a vacuum, make sure you ask for the support that will make the journey easier and a lot more fun!"

- MG (Company Owner & Director)

"Firstly, it’s okay to be uncomfortable – this drives change and let’s you see the best in yourself – and all the truly inspirational people I’ve known have had the shared ability to not give a crap if they look a bit silly, or stupid, to learn something new – this also promotes confidence to others, and I’ve found people really admire it which also increases respect.

Secondly, stand up for yourself, even if no one else agrees with you this doesn’t mean your opinion isn’t valid. If you create a forceful voice for yourself (respectful, of course) then others will naturally respect you – and the amount of agreement you get from just speaking up is actually a bit astonishing.

Finally, no one else necessarily knows what they’re doing more than you – maybe they’re just faking it better (this is really a result of the above two things!)."

- MS (Solutions Director)

“Take courage, do not fear failure, seek and embrace experience in the pursuit of confidence and allow the confidence you develop to promote your authentic self. You will do things others said you couldn’t, shouldn’t or wouldn’t and you will find a love in continuing to do such things. Reclaim these words, allow them to underpin your actions because you, like every young person, deserve the opportunity to #BeSomething.”

- CW (Founder of Further My Future)