In an interview with Vogue, Victoria Beckham wrote a fabulous letter to her younger self and variations on this theme are not only something many have done, something we psychologists invite clients to do, and a question that has come up frequently in the interviews I've been doing to promote my latest book "The Leader's Guide to Mindfulness".
So, I thought it would make an interesting subject for this, more personal, article.
A lot has happened in my life this year. Career-wise, I'm still navigating my leap into self-employment, and have been delivering my experiential style of training in a number of universities and abroad. My current book is my second book, and I look forward to developing a third; and I'm continuing my work with the wonderful Chrissy B Show promoting good mental health and wellbeing for all. However, this year my mother also passed away suddenly and unexpectedly with pneumonia, I've been in and out of hospital for my own eyesight issues, but I've also taken myself in hand and for the first time in my adult life I'm at a healthy weight having lost over 20lbs and am now able to run 5k regularly. As Lady Gaga sings in "Shallow" from A Star is Born it feels a little like "I'm off the deep end, watch as I dive in...". I'm excited for what's around the corner.
Yet while there have been numerous changes, one thing has remained constant, me...and as I know so many of my friends have gone through a lot this year, I hope this will resonate for them too.
I used to think I would say to you, "It'll be OK" - when you first moved from London to Hastings leaving the multi-cultural inner city for a very different seaside environment. After all, you met some wonderful people who to this day you remain close to, and Hastings has always embraced unqiue and gave you the chance to be Carnival Queen, as well as welcomed your theatrical and charity work. You had an excellent grounding there, and your dance (and roller dance) training landed you in the Sylvia Young Theatre School at 16.
Of course you didn't stay there - because somehow you didn't like the lifestyle, and your mum and dad then worked very hard to fight your corner so that Greycoat Hospital Grammar gave you a chance, even after a term, to return to your A-levels. You were determined not to disappoint - a work ethic that follows you to this day, and despite relatively mediocre GCSEs (C's and D's...with your lonely A's in English and Drama) you worked hard and achieved 2 As and 2 Bs at A-level. You also had the chance to perform there - being cast, after 3 tough auditions, as Portia in your first ever Shakespeare, and notwithstanding somewhat ropey singing (but a helluva lot of character...and I know you're taking singing lessons from scratch now - never too late eh(!)), Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls. Plus you met another awesome girlfriend who would later inspire much of your theatre, and be your Maid of Honour.
You won your place in QMW to study English and Drama, but changed last minute to Psychology at UCL. After all the fuss you made about theatre this was the second time your parents rolled their eyes at you, but stood behind your choice. Although you were too late to join UCL that year, you secured your place for the following, and didn't waste the remainder of the year. With some good friends by your side, you produced your first full scale "amateur" show for local charity "A Slice of Saturday Night". It wasn't easy, you had to learn about licensing, marketing, budgeting, costumes, lights, set and the place you hired had nothing - so your dad built the stage out of bricks and toilet doors...but wasn't it fun "lemonading" it with the cast so you wouldn't slip over? What a great introduction to teamwork, and something that has helped you go on to produce over 20 (community theatre) musicals - including taking two to the Edinburgh Fringe, donating over 6000 to local charities, and truly understanding what it is to lead a team - warts and all!
UCL brought you more than your degree - it taught you to dance ballroom and latin, springboarded you into your Masters, and into your first marriage. I don't think you were ready, I don't think you were compatible, I think there were faults on both sides, and you were not mature enough to deal with them. That wasn't easy either - the fights, tantrums, frustrations - trying (ineffectively) to make things work. You even upped and moved to Oxford, every day wanting to return to London. You weren't settled. You went through job after job, seeking some sort of fulfilment - event management, advertising, PR...you quite liked teaching though. A local dance school gave you the chance to teach drama, and you started working as a psychology tutor before you got your wish to return to London. I know you became a teacher - but you tried law first.
You were never destined to be a lawyer - but you picked up some valuable skills on the way. It's thanks to law you express yourself in writing so well. It's thanks to law you are ordered and clear in your communications, and thanks to law you made more good friends - again with a theatrical passion. It's also thanks to this diversion that you continually promote transferrable skills, and keeping a broad mind when it comes to learning.
You turned to teaching after that...well, after a brief stint in aerobics instruction - and that would be the foundation of one of your most popular workshops - leadership through aerobics. What better way to teach the importance of "match/pace/lead", "clear instructions", and "do it 110% yourself" than through getting people to lead an aerobics class. Be proud that one of your loyal students said "I came to your classes because I thought anyone who would be crazy enough to get a whole auditorium doing aerobics to teach leadership must be able to teach me something."
Teaching isn't easy, and it's a skill all by itself - not everyone can do it! Not only did you have to teach your drama, and psychology classes - to exam standard - but you learned a lot about behaviour management (and did a lot of crying in the cupboard in your first year). It's not getting any easier in that field - more targets, more pressure, more paperwork...and not always the support so desperately needed for staff nor for students...but again, you made some good friends there too (teachers have to!)
Then Dr Stephen Smith at Brunel University gave you a chance - to study for a PhD in the support and training of customer-facing professionals - teachers, nurses and the like. You'd finally separated with your ex husband then too - so this was quite a fresh start. Back at college at age 30.
Wow, wasn't doing a PhD a challenge? Even your legal style of writing didn't help - you had to learn the academic style...and you failed, twice - but you'd made an impression at Brunel. Because of your background in teaching, you'd run seminars, even won a STAR award as a personal tutor - and you were given the oportunity to re-submit within 3 months. You have never worked so hard in your life. You followed the programme, you took out the bits you hoped made you "you" and stuck to the rigid academic format...and you finally became Dr Audrey Tang on December 13th 2012 - almost 5 years later from when you started.
You'd started dating your now husband too. Yes you both fought against the question marks over your age gap of 14 years (in your favour!), the raised eyebrows, the "I'm not sure if you're doing the right thing". ...And lets not forget, in 2011 he fought Hodgkins Lymphoma. You were teaching, re-writing, and not being the best nursemaid in the world as an emetophobe - but he won...and well over 5 years in remission now, he's still winning. Your little dog Brandy was a great addition to the family that year too wasn't she - and once again - those friendships you made earlier - all of them - they were all there for you.
That brings you to a short journey through working in corporate training, developing yourself as a coach and moving into self-employment, working with The Chrissy B Show and writing your first, and now second book - thanks largely to the inspirational Chrissy B herself, and your editor at Pearson, Eloise Cook who both saw you had something different. The number of times you may not have been fulfilling your
Plan A - but your Plan B got you there needs to be acknowledged. You don't give up too easily, and sometimes it just takes someone to see something and give you a chance...you do that too now for others. Well done for that....and that second stream of income to help you on the way to self-employment, that was "extra" work...and yes that's you in the background of the 9-eyes meeting in Spectre!
It wasn't easy leaving your comfort zone either. Teaching was a natural job to fall back on, and you took on drama teaching engagement after drama teaching engagement...until you found the courage to say "No - I'm a psychologist and personal development trainer." You did it - Brunel included you as part of their Student Enrichment Programme, and you then even gained CPD accreditation for your courses. Through your programmes which extend from Personal Development, to Practical Management, Mindfulness, Teamwork with Escape Rooms, and Public Speaking - some now introduced in other universities, you are putting to good use all the many experiences you've been through. You're interactive, experiential - applied! ...and you get results. No learning - whether happy or unhappy at the time - is ever wasted.
So as you reach today with those very same friends, with your "new" husband, with a family who are your biggest cheerleaders, and a life with the excitement of travelling to speaking and workshop engagements, media work with the key goal of promoting positive health and wellbeing, and a publishing house - you're doing OK.
But I don't want to say "It'll be OK, just keep going and it'll work out."
I want to say THANK YOU. Thank you for continuously learning from your experience. Thank you for listening to others who have all taught you something, for admitting when you've been wrong, for recognising and apologising when you've hurt people (no matter how ashamed you've felt). Thank you for giving yourself options, for working hard, for making tough decisions to leave things - and sometimes people - who had been somewhat toxic; but also for being brave to develop new networks, connections and friends who help you shine. Thank you for acknowledging you've made poor decisions in the past - but reflecting on them to avoid the same in the future (lest you bring anyone down as collateral). Thank you for pushing open doors - or at least finding a different way in. Thank you for being strong enough to commit to being a little different and believing you have a unique selling point in your field. Thank you for never giving up."
...and that's something we all need to say to ourselves. Whatever you've faced, you've got this far - and it's YOU that ultimately got you there - and keep you going through your next challenges and achievements. Of course the support and help of the wonderful people around is essential - and when you've chosen wisely do nurture those friendships - because you reflect their strength right back. But acknowledge yourself - and say thank you. You're the one who is going to keep you moving forward with the life you choose.
Here's to the future - your future.
Audrey is a Chartered Psychologist (CPsychol), and the author of "The Leader's Guide to Mindfulness", Pearson & FT series) and "Be A Great Manager - Now" (Pub Pearson, 2016 and Book of the Month in WH Smith Travel Stores). She is a CPD Accredited speaker, trainer, and qualified FIRO-B, DBT and NLP Practitioner. She is the founding Development Coach and Trainer with her consultancy CLICK Training, and the resident psychologist on The Chrissy B Show (Sky191), the UK's only TV programme dedicated to mental health and wellbeing. She presents at National and International conferences in the fields of leadership and team cohesion, and is part of the Amity University conference panel. She currently lectures in Personal Development and Mindfulness at Brunel University.