Less than two weeks before turning twenty, I am set a number of challenges by friends older and wiser (or at least one of those two). It isn’t completely out of the blue – I asked for their ideas on what needed to be done before my teenage years were done with. Why? I guess part of me needed to know that I wasn’t missing out, that I wasn’t wasting my time. For a long while I have been fascinated by the revelation that we only ustilise a fraction of our mental and physical potential, and astounded by the realisation that we often let one very ordinary day drift into another until we can’t recall the bland from the dismally unexciting.
So the other part of me, in all honesty, wanted a push in the right direction – the one where we live a bit more in the moment like we all say we’ll do ‘from now on’ when something reminds us not to take life for granted. We shouldn’t need reminding but I wanted to see what I’d make of it once I had been.
I also happened to pick a most eclectic group of people, and frankly the biggest part of me was just curious to see what they’d come up with.
From an old school-friend I’d barely spoken to in nearly two years – Put yourself through your paces
When I was fifteen, the 274 steps of Jacob’s Ladder in Cheddar were my Everest to conquer and in the heat of the summer, the steady climb of the Gorge’s footpaths that followed were both a challenge and a chore. So it was here that the task was set for Wednesday, 16th April 2011.
At 4.08pm – undeterred by the threatening English weather – we both paid the best part of a fiver to endure an otherwise unnecessary uphill struggle along with the humiliation of being overtaken by a boy no older than eight mastering the mighty steps two at a time.
But almost as soon after we’d set off – and our heart rates had plateaued to somewhere around a normal level following the fitness test that it was reaching the first few milestones – we came to the summit. It took all of fifteen minutes so then, spurred on by both our unexpected achievement and our stubborn determination to get our money’s worth, we hiked up another 40 steps the top of the lookout tower. Though English drizzle created horizons of haze, we must have passed thirty minutes or more taking in the countryside from all angles.
Ironically, when I was fifteen on that Geography field trip to measure footpath erosion, I probably asked ‘what’s the point?’ And yet, on this occasion, when no comparable purpose was served, the point was evident. It was something different, spontaneous and a little out of the ordinary – and if I’d spent just another afternoon at home it would undoubtedly have turned out as quite forgettable – this, simply enough, was not. And that kind of proved that just because a habit isn’t one that needs to be broken, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t break it every now and then.
From an old work friend whose chats made every early Saturday morning shift bearable – visit Brean Lesiure Park, a family favourite of her own
I know it’ll sound premature to start harping on about my younger days before I even reach my 20th, but I learnt the secret to rediscovering your youth by setting off to complete this challenge with three cars full of friends, and it comes in the form of this one word: Waltzers.
I can’t remember the last time I laughed uncontrollably, like the way my 16 month old nephew does when you pull off his socks. The G-forces of spinning in tight circles kept my belly-laughing head pinned back to the seat and had my eyes barely able to open to see the world whizzing past at high speed. I out-screamed every child and deafened my two mates who sounded as though they might as well have been on laughing gas – total hilarity and exhilaration for just £2.
I came off that ride saying if I could do it every day of my life, I would. But I take it back if it means I’ll tire of it – instead I’m left hoping that there are always those things in life to split my sides with laughter every once in a while.
From my well-travelled, philosophical older friend – gatecrash a Chinese party, “the best” kind he’s ever snuck into
To unfamiliar ears this suggestion might seem plucked from absolutely nowhere but for me, with my friend, Mark – nothing surprises me anymore. We both have our individual trips to India in common, but how would a different kind of Asian experience compare?
I can’t take any points for adventurousness as I found myself – very coincidently – invited to enjoy a buffet of authentic, home-cooked Chinese food. But it showed that we don’t have to venture too far to educate ourselves about different cultures.
Months earlier, meeting Qingyi and Wenyi for the first time- the same two girls later responsible for my first taste of a real Chinese feast – China found its way to my own living room as Qing performed a dance of her heritage in beautiful, traditional dress. Then I was, quite literally, wrapped up in it – dressed head to toe in the same South Chinese ensemble. And now, a part of the culture sits on my mantelpiece as a Birthday gift from the girls; an intricate Chinese fan and a stunning framed artwork of the Asian woman warrior known as Mulan.
Since my own ventures to Asia in my Gap Year, I have appreciated the importance of understanding other cultures and taking an interest in their similarities and, equally, their differences. But it had never occurred to me to find them on my doorstep. This is just one example – think how many people you know of from a place besides our own country. Ask yourselves what you really know about theirs. The questions may not have occurred to you before then, but the answers could make a lasting impression.
From my peer, both a friend and a coursemate, a suitably journalistic task – Write a letter to your 30 year old self
Dear… me? No, that’s weird. Dear Vikki – even weirder. Let’s just skip that part altogether.
… Where do I really want to be in ten years time?
This could take a while…
…I’ll give it a fair shot.
First of all, I hope you are happy, and that you still know what that means. That it doesn’t come down to what you aspire to have, but from things like your Dad’s terrible rubbery chicken joke, holidaying in Cornwall every summer, the memory of having a bright yellow Skoda pick-up truck for your first car, childhood photos and longlasting friendships, spontaneity, adrenaline, not being afraid to make a fool of yourself and taking life in general a little less seriously whenever possible.
Secondly, I hope you’ve made others happy. After the weekly breakdowns worrying how you were ever going to change anyone’s life or make a positive difference as a journalist, I hope you have upheld your own promise to find the time and ways to do so. You don’t have to have millions to give away and you can’t carry the weight of the world on your shoulders – I think you would have made a good nurse, a good teacher, but I doubt I’ll ever see it as completely selfish for you to have chosen a career that you could really love. Nevertheless, as you have observed through your own experiences already, know that there is always opportunity for us to learn to be more selfless.
I wonder how you and your views will have changed. At 20, you were pondering over the relevance of marriage in modern day although until that point you had never qestionned it. You were starting to take an interest in Politics while trying to comprehend how much our fate is in the hands of others and what difference you could make. Will you consider yourself agnostic, an atheist, or have a greater concept of spirituality that goes beyond that of the soul? How will you have suprised yourself? Keep learning, keep debating and forever trust your instincts as they have rarely let you down.
Live. Hours of your adolesence were wasted worrying over things that never happened. You had learned that lesson in the years before turning 20 when the real world was at your feet, I hope you haven’t forgotten now. Continue to find solutions, not problems, to put yourself out there, to do the things you’d never imagined for yourself and to see through your ideas. Don’t pass up going out with friends or staying in with your family without good reason.
And don’t write a list of things to do before you die, you’ll never get round to them – do them every day instead, and start with these:
From one of two very special and worldly friends from China – visit the most beautiful mountain in your country. Snowdonia, look out.
From the boyfriend of one of your best friends – take a road trip One that exceeds even the hilarious trip back to Uni with his girlfriend in the car they call ‘the bananavan’
From a good friend who has known life on the wild side – skydive or bungee jump before you become too cautious
And from a friend who clearly needs to know you better – realise that your eyes are bigger than your belly. Who is he kidding? My eyes and my belly are and, evidently, always have been evenly matched.