Thursday, 16 February 2012

Reflections on 17 (happy birthday Katie)

It's my friend Katie's birthday today. Or Ballerina Katie as I think of her. She turns 17 and amongst other things will be having her first driving lesson today. An extremely talented dancer, she has (I'm sure) a sparkling future on the stage - she's determined enough, that's for sure!

Her birthday made me think about when I was 17. It's a strange old (young) age really; you're in that odd twilight between being a child and being an adult - whilst at 17 you can go and get a job, get married (with your parents' permission), you can smoke (if you want to), you can learn to drive and you can choose whether or not you want to go to school or college. Yet you're not old enough to vote, and in the eyes of the [British] law system, you're still a minor in many ways. Whilst you feel grown up, most 17 year olds (hey, most 21 year olds) rely on their parents for clothes, food, washing etc. so even though you'd like to be independent, perhaps you're not as independent as you'd like to be.

But it's full of great stuff too - Sixth form here (the equivalent of senior high in the States) is when you make all sorts of exciting decisions about your future, about where you will go for university and, to some extent, the kind of career you are likely to follow post-education. Certainly for me, it was the place and time that I made some of my closest friends and shaped many of my views of the world I inhabit. Adults (real adults that is) tend to take you more seriously, and being let loose at the wheel of a REAL car is incredibly exciting (and slightly terrifying) - and a signifier of the independence that awaits you once you've passed your test (especially, if, like me, you come from somewhere where the transport links are rubbish and having a car enables you to actually choose where you want to go - even if, like me, it does take you 18 months and 3 instructors to eventually pass your test!)

I have said many times that you couldn't pay me to go back to being a teenager, as it can be such a brutal time as you work out who you are, what you think and who to stick with, but if I were to go back and meet my 17 year old self I would tell her to be less afraid, to enjoy the freedom to make mistakes, to worry less about the future and to enjoy the present more - people expect you to trip up on the path to discovering who you are - that's part of the fun! I would advise her to think about what kind of career she really wants, because it's the decisions you make now that can really alter the paths that lie open to you, but ultimately to enjoy making those decisions because life is too short to stress-out about those things, and not knowing is just as valid an option as knowing . Be thankful, for the friends you do have and don't worry about the people who appear to not like you - in the grand scheme of things those people will have little bearing on your life. But, above all, enjoy being relatively carefree: 17 can feel like the weight of expectation of adulthood is bearing heavy on your shoulders, but you're not quite there yet. You will spend enough time as an adult, so enjoy being a child, and enjoy being 17, whatever that means to you!

Fab advice from Baz Luhrmann
It's all been said before, and in fact, I probably couldn't put it better than Baz Luhrmann's 'wear sunscreen' (hear the track at this link) But whatever I think, and whatever reflections I have on 17, I hope Katie makes it her own and has an amazing birthday today - because that's all part of the fun!

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