What do you wish you could have known, aged 15?

I’m going back to my old school on the 17th of December to give a short talk at their presentation evening.

They’ve asked me as someone who works in the field of technology (they’re (now) a specialist technology college) to award some prizes – some brief handshake, a smile and a word or two of congratulation – and then make a ten minute speech. It should include my recollections of my time at the school, what I gained from it, what I did at university and what I’ve worked on since, at IBM and the BBC.  And then “finally and most importantly – some words of encouragement and advice to the students”.

The factual stuff is easy, but the encouragement and advice?

I started thinking about what the 15 year old me would think of the 30 year old me. He was born in 1993, while I was born in 1978. That’s the seventies. Oh wow, he thinks I’m really old. He thinks I’m set in my ways and comfortable. He probably thinks I’m incredibly boring. He either thinks I’m totally disconnected from his life or (worse) trying too hard to be cool by talking about instant messaging and the web.

I’ve changed quite a bit in the last 15 years, but have I learned anything? And if I have, what can I tell the 15 year old me about it? And would he even listen anyway?

I think I want the 15 year old me to know that it’s OK to seek out whatever you find fun and interesting. It’s OK not to have a plan. And most of all, not to ever, ever listen to anyone who says you have too much time on your hands if you’re doing something you love.

What would you want the 15 year-old you to know?


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  1. Don’t ever pick a subject because you think it’s the “right” thing or because someone tells you that that’s the right career choice. Do what interests you, remain optimistic and try to build cool things.

    Working on interesting stuff, with interesting people is the best way to learn and be happy. Working on boring stuff rots your brain. Don’t do it.

    Comment by Tom Scott — November 28, 2008 #

  2. Sorry to resurrect a very old thread, but I saw this (http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html) recently and thought of you and your talk. (You’ve probably seen it already, but…)

    Anyway, good luck!

    Comment by Andrew — December 10, 2008 #

  3. […] It’s OK not to have a plan. In fact, there is no plan. [1] Your parents and teachers may look like they know what they’re doing, and they may expect you to have your life mapped out, but here’s the shocker: they’re all making it up as they go along! It’s perfectly OK to do what you think is fun and interesting. Of course, choosing the things you want to focus on means you’ll need to know enough about the world to know what you find fun and interesting, which means you’ll have to be open minded rather than passive. Most importantly you’ll need to be flexible and prepared to change. […]

    Pingback by Roo Reynolds - There is no plan — December 19, 2008 #

  4. First off, I am 15 years old and I found this by accident. But it really did encourage me. So, Don’t think your words are going to waste. The other thing is a question. What is the purpose for life? Most of you talked about enjoy life, and you also said “don’t just go all out for money.” Which I totally agree with. But this “world” tells me/ us differently. It tells you to have sex, money, get drunk, have boyfriends/ girlfriends, and ect. If none of those are right then where does that leave me or even you?
    Only one place, to God to find your happiness! You can only be happy with Him because he does not violate you, slip right out of your hands, hurt you emotional or physical. Like all the other “pleasures.” They leave us empty handed and in hopelessness.
    I recommend you share the most important answer to 15 year olds or even early, Because He will save you and them a lot of hurt and hard times.

    Comment by Kirsten "Hearing His Call" — February 7, 2009 #

  5. 1. Stop believing God.
    2. Understand that the world doesn’t circle around you
    3. Parents aren’t always right
    4. Don’t take all the offenses personally
    5. Stop wasting your free time

    Comment by harlequin — April 28, 2009 #

  6. Its very hard to be in track in teenage and we can’t even determine about right and wrong. In my case i do believe in god and i am self confident. I am 18 now.

    And ye, everyone wants to become 15 years old i guess.

    Comment by Medost Nepali — August 20, 2009 #

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