A letter to my 16 yr old self …

Summer, 1981

Dear Andy,

Hi, it’s you from 2015. Don’t get up off the settee, stay where you are and enjoy the cricket because things are about to change. Let’s cut to the chase – you know that nagging sense of guilt you have right now watching the test match? That sense of guilt you carry around with you and wear like a cloak? Well, it doesn’t ever go away, it continues to follow you around, so try and get used to it. Stop searching for answers as to why it’s there, because you won’t find any, it’s part of your DNA, sorry.

Also, whilst we’re being honest, you’re not that bright. Ouch, sorry, what am I like! How can I put this … you know how you’ve never really worked hard at anything at all whatsoever, but somehow you’ve always got by and done quite well? Well, that changes from hereon in too I’m afraid. You can’t just turn up any more, instead you have to plan and prepare things in advance, you have to invest time and effort in seemingly unpleasant tasks to get the desired outcome, weird as that must sound to you. Fundamentally, you have to earn any merit from now on. I know it’s a difficult concept for you to grasp aged 16, and I know you are struggling with it, so let me explain it a different way.

You know how you want to be a singer like David Coverdale? Well, David had singing lessons as a child when all his mates just wanted to play football.  He started singing in pubs and clubs when he was about your age and he had to lie about his age to sing in bands in clubs in the north of England.  He was booed off stage, had bottles of piss thrown at him, he was chased off stage and was skint for years travelling in a beaten up old transit van up and down and up and down the M1 for what seemed like eternity, long before he ever joined Deep Purple/Whitesnake and sang to thousands of adoring fans and made his fortune. Shocking as it may seem, he didn’t just practice singing in the mirror for a couple of weeks, using his mum’s hairbrush as a microphone, waiting for the phone to ring. Like you he had a dream, but unlike you, he worked hard to get that dream.

You know Kenny Dalglish? When he was your age he didn’t just want to be a footballer who asked his mum and dad for a football kit for Christmas so he could become one. He didn’t score a goal against St Dominics U-11s and decide he was ready to play at Wembley, no, he went outside every day in the wind and the pissing rain and he practiced his skills, kicking a ball up against a wall time after time after time until his toes bled.  He drove his parents and neighbours mad.  He played football against everyone and anyone he could. He played against older blokes who tried to kick seven shades of shit out of him, so he could get stronger and better. He played football at every possible opportunity, often sacrificing lots of other, more enjoyable things in the process.

You see Ian Botham at Headingley on your TV in the 3rd test match of the Ashes? He’s not there, playing the match that incidentally will go down in history as one of the greatest comebacks of all time by accident. He didn’t just arrive on the international cricket scene because he thought it might be cool, he did it because he was driven, he had ambition, had desire and bags of endeavour, as did Coverdale, as did Dalglish.

I know it’s shit 16 yr old Andy, but you can’t dream your way to success, sorry. It won’t just ‘happen’. Nor will you live forever. You’re mortal, dare I say it, and you’ll like this least of all … you’re pretty average. Ouch!

But hey, don’t be maudlin’ young fella mi lad, for there’s some good news! You see, you can actually be anything you want! You can be Coverdale, or Dalglish, or Botham, but, and it’s a big but, you will have to earn the right. You might not appreciate this, and I know you feel like this is a shitty stupid thing only old people say, but you really do have all your life ahead of you. Look at you, you healthy stick insect!

I’m not going to tell you what 50yr old Andy without this letter aged 16 turns out like, but it’s not at all bad, so imagine what 16yr old Andy can do armed with this advice? Get out there and make life happen, don’t let life happen to you. Life really is amazing, but only if you allow it to be. Make tough decisions and seize opportunities when they come your way. Don’t be afraid to stand up and fight for everything you believe in. Above all, and this is the hardest thing for you I know, but don’t worry what others think of you. You have an inherently good soul, so trust in it and wonderful things can and will happen.

Oh and finally, and there’s no easy way to say this, but you never did marry Steph Middleton, that snog at the Xmas disco last year, that was it I’m afraid.  But don’t worry, because someone even better comes along, so just hold tight and hang on in there and amazing things can and will happen, just so long as you work hard.

Yours,

Me, aged 50

coverdaledalglishbotham

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Ch-ch-ch-changes …

I would argue that the most common, most fundamental attribute that underpins life, and society as a whole, is change. George Bernard Shaw said many years ago that “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything”.  Charles Darwin is quoted as saying “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change”, whereas Ghandi (who always seems to have a quote up his raggedy sleeve) said “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”.

These are all very inspirational quotes, designed to fire us up, to spur us on. Such quotes are emblazoned on t-shirts, made into posters, and proudly displayed behind glass frames on the walls of boardrooms of power-hungry CEOs. Even schools and universities use such quotes to inspire students. Life coaches build their businesses around them, and many of us reach for Google in times of need, to find a nourishing quote upon which to feed ourselves, to give us strength whenever we’re feeling weak or vulnerable.

All of which suggests change is good, and embracing change is best of all. But what about those in society who are frightened by change? To some, change paralyses and stifles, and rather than thriving they in fact withdraw. Such people see danger in change, not opportunity. For them, change means uncertainty, and with uncertainty comes fear and foreboding. There are no stylised, inspirational quotes for such people.  You won’t find:
“Change is shit, run away from it”, Socrates – adorning any clothing or hung in any hallway.
“Change sucks, turn your back”, Stephen R Covey” – I don’t think so.
“Resist change! Stay in thy bed!”, Pontius Pilot, Psalm 16 verses 3-4 – hardly.

Regardless of age, gender or social standing, the times they are-a-changing. Political uncertainty, religion, economics, politics, climate change, overpopulation, technology – the reasons are many fold and omnipresent, and whatever life we choose for ourselves, change is difficult to escape.

For Embracers, this is all exciting, this is what makes life worth living. Not knowing what’s around the corner makes such people feel edgy, adrenaline fuelled. They seem to feed on life’s natural uncertainty and thrive, growing stronger, often becoming leaders themselves, further driving through and effecting even more change.

For others, Escapers, they find it all rather daunting and spend much of their time hiding, withdrawing and moving as far away from change as is humanly possible. Unfortunately, change is endemic and stitched into the very fabric of our society, and so whilst hiding and running may bring temporary relief, it usually catches up with us eventually.

Like sexual preference, your default state and tolerance to change, the thing which makes you either an Embracer or an Escaper is, I would argue, in-built, it’s not something you can alter.  As an Escaper, you can work hard at being more Embracing, but you’re always fighting from the position of being an Escaper.  You can wear the t-shirt, rehearse the quotes in a mirror, even preach them from a pedestal, but deep down, you are what you are, facing a constant, daily battle fighting against what comes naturally to you.

And if you’re a natural Embracer? Just be nice and try and find time in your dynamic, ever so busy, thrusting lives to think about those less fortunate.