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A letter to my teenage self on finishing school, university and what comes next

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From the LC forward - looking back on the last ten years
From the LC forward - looking back on the last ten years

Last Wednesday the Leaving Cert results came out. It was 10 years ago since I got my own, and it got me thinking about a lot of things. I wanted to write about them but it became a bit of a hotch potch I couldn't really make cogent. So I decided to look inwards. And backwards. I decided to write 2003-spec Paddy a letter, outlining ten years worth of thoughts about the Leaving, University and what happens next. 

Dear 2003 Paddy,

Actually, that's a good place to start. A dwindling minority of people still call you Patrick. In ten years time, there will be, like, five people in the world who call you that. Paddy might be more jovial and free-wheeling and generally in-character to you, but a few will persevere with Patrick. You cherish them all.

If the time machine has worked properly, you will be reading this letter on the morning of the 13th August, the day you receive your Leaving Cert. This letter comes to you from ten years hence. I know what you're thinking: "They mastered time travel in 2013?". Well, no. I've actually had to wait several years more to deliver it. I know what you're thinking again: "Why didn't you just write me a letter from then rather than delivering what is functionally an out-of-date letter?". Because screw you, that's why.

Anyway, I have some things to tell you. Today, you will go up to Deele College for the last time as a student. Mr McFadden, who has now sadly passed, will take your results in one hand, the booklet outlining protocol for appeals in the other, and slip your results in the middle page of the booklet to further build the tension. Tension, I fully admit, I am now ruining. He'll make a joke about hoping you're able to count up your results, given your Maths result. You'll smile and breathe a sigh of relief, because you know when Mr McFadden makes a joke at your expense, all is well.

You count up your points, but Mr McGowan plays Vorderman with a calculator, in case Mr McFadden was right. He wasn't, you get an A2. You were right to drop to Ordinary. Higher Maths would have broken you like the Drill Sergeant in Full Metal Jacket. Also, Countdown replaced Vorderman, by the way. Her replacement is way better. You'll see. Also, you will one day see the actual Countdown clock quite regularly in work. Again, you'll see.

You get 435 points, quite a nice cushion for Arts in Galway, the course for which you've long held out for. Yes, Magee in Derry would be much handier, and your guidance counsellor admitted to being depressed when you spurned Law at Trinity. You politely rebuffed proximity to Maw's home cookin' and Mr McGivern's promise of a flourishing practice where you can buy a new Mercedes annually, and decided your heart and mind lay out west. I'm glad you did that, trusting your instinct like that. Make sure you keep doing that.

Some people will express surprise you're not one of those Omni-A grade students. You know different, and aren't fussed. For starters, it doesn't matter a damn once you get to your chosen college anyway, and you know your true talent lies in being able to recount vast tranches of trivia and identify basically any pop record within a second. Besides, you'll get an A1 in English to dine out on for a while.

Anyway, more on today. You'll spend the rest of it feeling like you're two feet above your body, fielding questions from people you haven't heard of since your communion asking how you fared, listening to the local radio and hearing Tanya from Glenties being congratulated by every single bloody member of her family on every show throughout the day. You'll be followed round by the atonal hit of the summer, Lumidee's Never Leave You. You'll be glad and unsurprised to know she never has another. You'll go out tonight at the behest of two girls you know fairly well from theatre school. You're the only boy there in a large group of girls, and the two people who know you knows everyone else. It feels a bit rare. You see a handful of your schoolmates, they're much too hammered to say much. You head up to another bar, but there's a mate of Dad's on the door. You don't dare put him in an awkward position, though you're later told he'd have let you in if you'd said who you are. You're home in time to see the tail end of some Donald Sutherland thriller. A feeling of being vaguely out of the loop, palpable awkwardness around girls, missed chances and a photographic memory for TV: it's basically a very neat microcosm of your whole teenage experience. Don't worry though, Galway is coming.

But while we're on the subject: girls. I won't lie, it's touch and go I'm afraid. Sometimes, it'll feel more like horrified look and go. You're basically King Midas in reverse. Easy to say, but I wouldn't worry much about it. Just don't feel the need to change tack or harden yourself in any way because of past rejection or whatever, you'd be amazed what will happen if you hold the line. That advice applies in general, actually.

Next week, you'll have an unholy kick-bollock-scramble of a week trying with offers, accommodation, fees and god knows. You'll pick your residential area for first year within fifteen minutes of an internet search, preoccupied by expediency and a desire to watch Football Focus. It will be one of the most crucial and brilliant choices you ever make.

Going back to the theatre thing, the whole acting hope doesn't quite work as you planned. A quirk of fate in the first week of college means you'll return to one of your first loves: radio. Your absolute first love, TV, will soon follow. It's much easier to play yourself anyway. And, you might be a bit surprised by this given how it never really featured in your plans, but writing becomes a pretty massive part of your life. So will youth work. Your two year hitch with the Donegal Youth Council ends up lasting a tad longer, let's put it like that.

Basically, you're going spend the next decade doing and seeing some great things, 2003 Paddy. But as you you can see a great many of them you won't expect. Enjoy that uncertainty. Don't worry too much about planning things to the letter, you can't live like that. Life won't let you live like that. It's not always going to a picnic either. There's going to be a lot of rejection, a lot of things falling through, a lot of wondering what the hell you do next, or why you even bother. But through a mix of hard work, luck, pathological enthusiasm and a level of stubbornness that would break whatever instrument you use to measure that, you're also going to have some extraordinary experiences born of insane Deus Ex Machina, half chances, spur-of-the-moment decisions, mad impulses and resolute rainbow chasing. 

You're going to work with some of the biggest names in TV. Most of them will be called Jeremy. In a few years time, there will be a beautiful famine replica ship moored at the docks in Dublin. You will be profoundly seasick off the top of its crow's nest near the Mull of Kintyre. You'll get to travel loads, and for work no less. You'll read a story about a website that got crazy publicity for an article on threesomes, despite being one of the best things to happen in empowering young people ever. You'll be proud to say you helped set it up. You'll get turned down for stuff, but offered something else instead. You'll be bloody glad it worked out as it did. You'll look someone in the eyes and feel utterly, utterly flummoxed. You'll work with young people to the point where you care about Leaving Cert result day every year since your own, because extraordinary people you've worked with closely are going through it. You try and impart whatever knowledge you can, and it's about as rewarding as it gets. 

But for now, get up, get dressed, don't keep mum waiting and get your results. Try and act surprised when you get up there. The Leaving Cert was the means, you won't believe where it ends. 

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