‘Wear sunscreen. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, that would be it. The long term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience.’ – Baz Lurhmann
1 ‘It’s better to be flawed and funny than perfect and silent.’
…wrote journalist Daisy Buchanan, in dedication to the late Carrie Fisher. The price of speaking openly is that, at some point, you will say the wrong thing – you will put yourself in a bad light, you might even offend someone. But, not only will this authenticity make you better company, it’s also important for creating close relationships.
2 Be nice to other women
Western society loves a ‘cat fight’ – think the media’s obsession with Team Jen vs Team Angelina, or the column inches devoted to Trousergate. Women are taught to be rivals rather than #bros, which divides and limits us as a gender. Resist this contagious, Mean Girls esque behaviour at all costs – and in turn if a female friend does speak well of you in front of others, know that they’re generally worth keeping around.
3 When in doubt, seek help backstage
There are situations in your life – in your professional career, or at the start of a new relationship – where you want to perform as your best self (suppressing those stories about your ‘crazy’ former boss, for instance). But you still need a safe space to vent those emotions. That’s where your ‘backstage’ helpers come in; your family and your close friends who – for better or for worse – have seen you at your lowest, beyond any performance, and in turn you have them. Never take those people for granted in your life.
4 Love yourself
This isn’t, to refer to a previous post of mine, about being a narcissist, and it definitely isn’t about selfies. It’s about doing those little things for yourself – running a bath, taking your makeup off, cooking a delicious breakfast just for you – that you might do for a loved one.
5 Don’t limit your creativity
Studies prove that doing just one creative thing a day could make you happier. But it isn’t just about painting a portrait or writing a novel. In her brilliant book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert quite rightly extends the definition of creativity beyond these narrow boundaries to everything from figure skating to gardening. Agapi Stassinopoulos does a similar thing in Wake Up To The Joy Of You. There are so many ways to be creative – new digital platforms are created every day, while old skool pursuits like ‘knitting’ are enjoying a revival among the Shoreditch-based youth of today – and the important thing is that you are creative.
6 Warm socks, tea and talking to your best friends
…will make you feel better about most things. Optional addition of Cabernet Sauvignon.
7 Don’t ‘settle’ in your romantic relationships
It’s a matter of mutual respect. It’s ugly to assume you’re ‘doing someone a favour’ by dating them, and it’s wrong to go in with that mindset. Yes, it’s daunting to date someone you’re intensely attracted to, or whose company is so sparkling that everyone wants to talk to them – but it’s a risk worth taking. Focus instead on being your best, and most deserving, self.
8 Living a creative life is a gift
Most people don’t want to hear about your business idea. Or your app concept. And especially not your bloody novel. Work hard, stay motivated, and know that achievement comes from doing, not boring someone to death with your ‘vision’. A caveat: if someone does offer to help you, and sincerely means it, appreciate it for the huge favour that it is.
9 Loving someone is about accepting their flaws
And despite what the Match.com adverts suggest, ‘flaws’ come in greater forms than a face full of freckles. But no one’s perfect, and I’ve learnt that actual ‘love’ is about learning to accept those flaws, whether it’s a tendency to say the wrong thing or a bad memory for birthdays. Because, God knows, most of us have a million flaws ourselves.
10 Share food
Here’s what Joey Tribiani got wrong: food, irritatingly, never tastes as good if you’re selfish with it. I’ve learnt from my mother – who often insists on the whole family having a taste of her restaurant meal, no matter how delicious she finds it – that half the enjoyment comes from sharing the experience of eating with the people you’re with. ‘Italian family’ style dining, where serving plates are shared between the whole table, has the right idea. Incidentally…
11 Your mother is probably right in 95% of situations
But there’s always the other 5%. So fight your corner there, tiger.
12 Say no
A lot of women – including myself – are ‘people pleasers’. This isn’t synonymous with being a nice person – in fact, you may prove a stressed, unpleasant party guest after an hour spent on the DLR to travel to the middle of nowhere, and you would mislead a restaurant to accept the wrong menu order only to file a scathing review on OpenTable. Take a breath and ask yourself what you want to do.
13 Have patience
Not a personal strength of mine, admittedly. But – whether it’s rising up to that promotion or pursuing a romantic relationship, sometimes investing time and steady efforts, rather than blinkered passion, pays off.
14 Treat yourself like your best friend
Would you let your best friend spend her evening on her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend’s Facebook profile? Probably not.
15 Never trust a fellow who went to Eton
Nor any such public schools. This is prime dating advice, here; the most well-spoken, impeccably-mannered gentlemen are the ones who will treat you most appallingly – unless you are due to inherit the family castle, or are distantly related to one of the Queen’s corgis.
16 Her success is not your failure
Say it again, and again. In the past few years, close friends of mine have – deservedly – got better exam grades than I have, or even scored my dream job. It will always hurt intensely; a physical gnawing sensation in your stomach. But that’s life. You smile, you celebrate their brilliant success, and you wear those emotions in private. Jealousy is as normal as it is ugly, and your time will come too.
17 Forgive, and let go
After a while, you’re only hurting yourself.
18 Little can replace longevity
Recently, I turned my back on a very close friend of a number of years; someone who knew me better than anyone else, in favour of another. Three months later, I realised my mistake and I was welcomed back with open arms, a personally tailored list of my favourite songs from 2016, and a discount code. I just hope Spotify will forgive me for the hot affair with Apple Music.
19 ‘Screw beauty…’
‘It’s superficial anyway, and my other attributes matter way more than my appearance.’ – another gem from Carrie Fisher. Genetic aspects – like gorgeous red hair, or long legs – are like those certificates you get in primary school just for taking part. But well-meaning people still compliment you for such qualities, as if they are accomplishments. The trick is to resist the trap – because no matter how advanced cosmetic surgery gets, we’re all going to lose our looks eventually and, as Fisher says, it’s other attributes, like kindness or sagacity, that ultimately matter.
20 Marriage and babies = not a competition
For some people it happens at 19, others will find The One at 45. So many things in our lives are driven by peer pressure – grand homes, flashy cars, up-to-date Apple devices – but committing to someone for eternity, or bringing another human into the world? They’re not milestones that you should rush to tick off, just because your best friend has.
21 There’s nothing trivial about ‘girly’ pursuits
I’ve articulated this so many times before, but never so well as author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: ‘Sadly, women have learned to be ashamed and apologetic about pursuits that are seen as traditionally female, such as fashion and makeup. But our society does not expect men to feel ashamed of pursuits considered generally male – sports cars, certain professional sports. In the same way, a well-dressed man does not worry that, because he is dressed well, certain assumptions might be made about his intelligence, his ability or his seriousness.’
22 Meditation works
…but so does walking. It’s not about which anxiety-reducing therapy is in vogue at the moment; mental health is all about the personal. So, whether it’s a long bath, a brisk walk in the park or ten minutes with Headspace’s Andy Puddicombe, find what works for you.
23 Do ‘date night’ with your best friend
Whether you’re in a relationship or not, it’s so easy to fuel a lot of energy into #datenight, and too little into time with your friends. And yet one of my most special evenings this year was going to see The Cure with one of my (very much coupled-up) best friends, drinking wine and singing along to love songs that we’d bonded over when we were 16.
24 ‘Beauty attracts beauty.’
Yet another Elizabeth Gilbert quote, actually; or, more specifically, it’s what her lover, David, tells her in Eat Pray Love. For me, it’s a mantra that if you act with beauty – graciously, curiously, faithfully – you will attract the right people in your life.
25 Be mindful
This is as simple as living in the moment, and it makes every aspect of your life sweeter. It’s a celebration of being alive at a single point in time, no matter what else is clogging up your mind. It’s savouring your food; it’s actively listening in conversation, it’s putting your phone away in the company of loved ones; it’s looking around on the Tube and noticing the richness and variety of life around you.