Rediscover­ing her teenage diaries made author Lindsey Kelk realise there was a lot she could learn from the gutsy girl she once was


Writer Lindsey Kelk on the lessons from her past

When I moved from London to New York, I was only meant to stay for a year, so most of my belongings ended up in my mum’s loft. A decade later, it seemed reasonable to admit to myself I was staying for at least a little while longer, so I shipped everything over to my new house in LA, including an Adidas shoe box that contained my most precious possession­s – my teenage diaries.

As with anything from our teen years, my first reaction upon reading them was to be completely mortified, but soon I realised there were lessons I could stand to learn from my teenage self.

For starters, I can’t remember a time in my adult life when I felt quite so sure of anything as I did before puberty took hold. Teenage-me was ambitious and filled with self-belief, quite sure I could do anything I put my mind to, fuelled by the fundamenta­ls of feminism I found in Just Seventeen and Paula Danziger books. At 15, I wrote how sad I was because I knew my friends wouldn’t be my friends for ever. They wanted to stay in the village we’d grown up in and I knew I would end up in a Hollywood mansion or Hawaii beach hut (I told them they were welcome to visit). But slowly, that self-confidence and certainty slipped away as the real world began to grind away at the edges of my dreams. Between teachers telling me to lower my expectatio­ns and incredibly risk-averse parents, I turned my attention to what felt like achievable goals. Getting a ‘real’ job, sticking with my long-term relationsh­ip, even though it made me unhappy, and sacrificin­g writerly dreams because things like that didn’t happen to people like me.

One of the things that surprised me was that my 14-year-old self was well ahead of the affirmatio­n game. When my Instagram feed filled up with pastel-shaded statements of positivity a couple of years back, I couldn’t get my head around it. What kind of person was standing in front of the mirror each morning telling themselves how great they were? Well, apparently, me. There were endless entries in my diaries, reminders I’d written for my future self of things I was good at. I wasn’t ashamed of things I wanted or my ambitions, something I’d lost in the intervenin­g 25 years. Even now, a decade into my career as a writer, I tend to be self-deprecatin­g about my success (just writing that made me cringe!), but according to my diaries, I’ve been a writer for ever and would tell anyone who asked. I didn’t second-guess myself and I didn’t care what anyone else thought. So what if no one else in my year liked the band Placebo? I did. What does it matter if my friends think I’m stupid for wanting to be a writer? I loved to write. These were definitely the first lessons that needed to be relearned. Not just for me, but for all of us.

Reading my diaries started out as a nostalgia kick, but there’s so much we can learn from our teenage selves. Even if you don’t have a diary to delve into, I recommend taking time to remember who you used to be. What did you want out of life? Do you have dreams you discarded because life got in the way? The good news is it’s not too late to go after them. I mean, I’m probably not going to marry Jared Leto, but the Hollywood mansion? The movie I wanted to write? The 15 cats I dreamed of owning? Achievable ambitions that are still on the table. I was shocked at how closely my old dreams have lined up with my actual future, and reading about how passionate I used to be has helped pull my plans back on track.

Although it was sometimes hard, reading my diaries brought broad stroke memories into clearer focus. To paraphrase Cher Horowitz from Clueless (a totally bitchin’ movie, according to my review on 21st October 1995), memory is like a Monet. We might remember a time in our lives as beautiful or ugly from far away, but if you take a closer look and inspect every single brushstrok­e, you’ll see that each time the paint touches the canvas it alters the entire image. There are so many tiny moments of joy captured in the pages of my diaries that I’d forgotten and was so happy to revisit, and if I was that sure of myself once, maybe I can be that sure of myself again. Maybe we all can.

Tucked away in one diary was a list of life goals and I wish I could let 13-year-old me know we’ve accomplish­ed most of them. I passed my exams, had a story published and I even learned to kiss properly, although that one took a while. Also, I’ve started keeping a diary again in the hope that 25 years from now, I’ll be able to look back at the woman I am today and be overwhelme­d with love and pride, just like I am for the ballsy, tenacious, optimistic teenage girl in my diaries.

‘Teenage-me was filled with self-belief’

In Case You Missed It (Harpercoll­ins) by Lindsey Kelk is available now in paperback, e-book and audio

Like most people I know, I adore houseplant­s. Not only do they look beautiful, but they also purify the air and boost my mental health. These are my favourite eco-friendly suppliers:

1 Leaf Envy and its plant delivery subscripti­ons have pledged to make plant parenthood simple. The monthly surprises and gorgeous hand-picked pots are worth the hype;

2 The Stem is an online garden centre for Londoners, hand-delivering plants using electric vans;

3 Lazy Flora is the perfect destinatio­n for buying indoor and outdoor plants, as well as edible ones. And yes, it offers subscripti­ons, too;

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