Our Table Topics theme at Toastmasters last week was based around the advice that we’d give to our 10-year-old selves, given the opportunity to go back and have a word.
Table Topics are normally given quickly, moments before having to stand up and speak with no preparation. They’re about as ‘life on the edge’ as Toastmasters gets, and are great preparation for conversations that happen all the time in life and in business where we’re suddenly expected to speak without advance warning.
This one was different; we all had the same topic and we were all able to listen to each others’ take on it before having to come up with our own.
There was a lot about kissing. There was a fair bit about reality checks, and a couple of recollections of how the things that seemed so very important then still stay with us. The unfinished business of never having quite managed to do the splits. The regret of a very first love having been more than a little unrequited. The possibility that things might have been a little different if we could only have managed to concentrate a little better in maths lessons.
And the abiding view that we ought to have listened and heeded the advice of grown ups a little more willingly.
But the whole point of being ten – and this is drawn from some very hazy memories of my own childhood; I don’t have the privilege of having any 10-year-olds in my life. The whole point of being ten is about hardly listening at all to voices outside.
The point of being 10 is really about listening to our own priorities for the first time and knowing what it is that we want to be.
For myself and my friends, a lot of that knowing was a touch on the ambitious side, of course. Wanting to combine a love of rocket travel with a caring job with animals, for example, would somehow finish up with us inventing a new career of being an outer-space vet. A lot of us wanted to do things like drive a train or be a cowgirl, with a bit of an acting career and a few hit records to be made in our spare time.
Perhaps we were the original ‘having it all’ thinkers.
Our advice at Toastmasters was very adult and very sensible; most of us said that given the chance we’d go back and tell ourselves that our ambitions weren’t very realistic, that boys weren’t really all that worth it, that school could have offered us so much more if we’d just met them halfway with a bit of focus.
But, actually, reflecting a few days later, I’m not sure that those words would have been the most sensible advice that we could have offered.
I suspect that the best advice that anyone could give to a 10 year old would be to enjoy it while it lasts, to keep dreaming the dreams that we’ll one day realise are impossible. To keep our career options as wide as possible.
With a caveat, perhaps, that it’s the people who really get to grips with maths lessons who have the best shot at a future in space travel.