Thursday, 11 June 2015

Letter to My 16 Year Old Self

I recently read two blog posts where the authors wrote letters to their younger (21-year old) selves, you can read them here and here.

I've always loved this concept, either of writing to your past or your future self, and so I thought I would do the same. 21 feels like it's is a bit too close to be writing about, so instead I chose the age of 16*, which was probably one of my favourite years/ages at school and also quite a milestone age. I also thought that it's relevant to do this post in my birthday month, as it's been (almost) 10 years since I turned 16 and that's quite a milestone in itself!

* As I was writing this letter, it turned out to be pretty fun reminiscing about how much was still to come, so it's turned into a bit of a remembering session mixed with the odd piece of advice. Enjoy!

Dear just-turned-16-year-old-self, 

Remember when you sat at school and wondered what you would be doing 10 years from now, you tried to imagine the person you would be and the job you would be doing and who your friends would be and where you would be living and it seemed completely unfathomable to you? Well, you got there and it's pretty cool.

You're half way through Grade 10 and it turns out that your decision to choose a wide variety of subjects that would allow you to pick from a wide variety of careers after school was a good one. 

Art, English, Afrikaans and Biology Bilge turn out to be "supporter" subjects in your choice of career, but they're still useful. Especially English and Afrikaans orals. Those dreaded orals teach you incredibly valuable skills about speaking confidently in front of a group of people (you even come to enjoy talking in front of people, when it's a subject you are passionate about).

Science, Maths and Computer Science end up being the subjects that contribute the most to your current degree and career choice. Especially Computer Science. You don't end up studying forensic science (although you end up with a friend who studied it). You don't end up studying architecture, which is what you eventually decide on as your first choice of study (but you have a few friends who studied it). You do end up starting off studying computer and electrical engineering, your second choice of study. You think maybe you'll try to re-apply to architecture at university, but you don't. Ditch the hope now, put engineering as your first choice and rather get into res. You'll always be sad you never got to experience the res life at university. You do end up having some amazing times in digs though, in first and second year all your res friends would come and visit to get a taste of home life and you and your flatties would visit all your res friends to get a taste of res life. 

Do a bit more cooking at home. You find you really love cooking when you start having to cook for yourself, but a bit of a head start would definitely have helped in your first few weeks of varsity. And always remember to turn the stove off so that you don't come home after a night out, to charcoal-like mince! 

All you know about engineers at this stage is that they generally make good salaries, they work hard and a few of your cousins have engineer husbands. You imagine them fixing things underneath the hoods of cars, wearing stained overalls. Well, some engineers still wear overalls and fix things, but they're also the ones designing the cars and planes and computer programs! You don't know of any females in engineering and school never encouraged this as a viable career choice. Get out there and do a bit more research into engineers, you'll thank yourself later!

You end up being the only girl person to finish Comp Sci in your matric year. This is probably the most useful subject to you, even though it's your 7th subject. If you can, try and learn a bit more about web languages like HTML and CSS, they'll be useful later on, both personally and professionally. And Java is only one of many programming languages - you'll find out about that at varsity.

Mum gives you a book on your 16th birthday, full of advice from family and older friends. You still read it every now and then. Some of the advice is stuff you've followed. Some stuff you haven't. But you cherish the words from all the different people. A few of those special people have passed away since then. You'll remember them fondly, even more so when you read their lovely words and remember the great times you had with them.

Chanel Ball really is all it's hyped up to be. You don't know your partner yet, but he's cool. You have a great time with him and he stays a good mate of yours throughout high school. You dance with a tall blonde guy on the night of Chanel Ball. He catches your attention and it seems like you catch his attention too, as you end up dating until the beginning of your matric year. Then you break up. Your first serious boyfriend. You'll survive the heartbreak and even though you don't get back together, you stay friends.

You'll go to your first real house party in a few months. The day after, when you go to the mall and you feel a bit dizzy for no reason - that's because you got a bit tipsy, even though you didn't realise it at the time. You have lunch with that same guy at the beginning of 2015 and reminisce about that party. A lot has happened in the past 10 years and you wonder what the next 10 years will bring.

There are some close high school friends that you don't get a chance to see very often past high school. Make the most of your time with those friends now. There are some friends who you loose contact with, even though you think you'll stay in contact. There are others who you stay in contact with, even though you think you'll loose contact. And there are those friends who you don't get to see very often, but when you do it feels like you never left off. Also make the most of being surrounded by a bunch of girls, because at varsity and work you become used to being the only girl woman in the group or room. 

You meet your current boyfriend at varsity. In a maths tut (not terribly romantic, but hey, you'll learn that engineers aren't all that romantic. Just practical!). Initially he's your mate. He's the guy who you go to when you have guy troubles and to get help from when you can't do the latest maths tut. Eventually he ends up being the guy you have dated for the past 6 or so years. Just a heads up - he's a great teacher! Make use of his teaching skills earlier so that you don't have to go to extra maths lesson with your matric maths teacher in the July holidays of first year, holidays are a precious commodity when you're working! 

You'll learn at varisty that practice makes perfect when it comes to Science, Maths and Comp Sci. Instead of spending the time making notes, learning the theories and remembering the formulas rather just do past papers and past tests when learning for these subjects at school. And then do some more. And then figure out where you went wrong so you don't make the same mistake again. It'll be much better for you.

You do eventually get to see Joburg. It's not as scary as you thought and the game farms are awesome. You even end up living on the outskirts of Joburg for a bit while you work in a factory. You didn't see that one coming, did you?!

Please, don't take your privilege or the colour of your skin for granted. Your privileged high school allows you to be blind to some of these things, but I dare you to be different. Get uncomfortable and interact more with people who are different to you, even though it's more comfortable to not. Although your high school isn't all that diverse, your class at varsity is so diverse that your skin colour is now in the minority, as is your gender. Make the most of that opportunity - instead of sticking to the people you know, branch out and make more of an effort with a wider variety of your varsity classmates.

Your preoccupation with cameras and taking photos stays with you, embrace it. I would recommend joining the photographic club at school, you'll learn so much there that you haven't yet had the chance to learn (like how to develop your own photos from film). Take prettier pictures at varsity, there are only so many clubbing photos that one can have on facebook before it gets boring.

Speaking of clubs, join the SaWomEng society at UCT and get involved while you're a student. You'll get to meet other female engineers and get to partake in some pretty fun activities. Later on, for work, you'll talk to school girls about choosing a career in STEM, excited to explain to them that there is a place for women in technical, male dominated fields! You'll get to be one of the women breaking the mould and stereotype in engineering, don't be afraid to reach out to others to lend an ear, hear their story and give your support and encouragement.

You've got a really exciting 10 years coming up. Sure there will be some challenges, heart break, sadness and frustrations, that's par for the course. There will also be a lot of fun, happy, amazing, exciting times. I'm kinda jealous that you still have all of that stuff to experience and hope that my next 10 years are just as exciting as yours are going to be!

Your almost-26-year-old-self

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