When I was eighteen and taking my A'Levels I was living with my unemployed boyfriend and working in the Holiday Inn at Heathrow Airport until 3 am to pay the bills. Somehow I managed to get the grades I needed to take up my place at university to study Sociology and Psycholgy. I had my future right there in my hands, but at the eleventh hour, gave up my place to stay with my utterly unambitious boyfriend. I got myself a job in the quality control department at Horlicks, as a laboratory assistant. Within a year I had split up with my boyfriend and started to think about the possibility of giving up my job and taking up a place at university and starting a new life for myself after all. Then I discovered I was pregnant and my dreams of being a student were shelved forever.
Visiting Ella at the weekend and sitting at the big table in the communal living room of her student accommodation, surrounded by her housemates, I was overwhelmed with just how young they were and how much of their future lay ahead of them. So much potential! With their fabulous accommodation, exciting social life and endless opportunities for personal development, I couldn't help but wonder what I had missed out on as an 18 year old. This made me reflect on just how old I was getting and how many opportunities I had passed up.
I could just imagine myself as a student back in the day. Maybe the experience would have allowed me to reach my potential. At school, it was assumed I would be a high flier one day. I was bright with the sort of memory that made revision easy. I loved essay writing and relished the challenge of exams. Unfortunately, I juggled the blessing of my intelligence with the curse of depression, borderline anorexia and crippling self doubt. I made some pretty bad decisions and really didn't live up to my promise at all.
I have written a million times that I don't have a single regret, because I wouldn't swap my husband and children for the whole world, but there is a part of me that wonders whether in an alternate universe there is a whole other version of myself. The 'me' that didn't get involved with the low life that I thought I loved enough to throw away my chance of going to university, growing up and finding myself. The 'me' that didn't get pregnant by said low-life in some subconscious hope that it'd make our failing relationship work. The 'me' that met new people and became an interesting, well rounded person in my own right. The 'me' that graduated, got a good job, travelled and made a success of myself. The 'me' that finally met a man and settled down in a lovely home and got married before bringing children into the world. The 'me' who managed to juggle a successful career with family life and who had a wide circle of like-minded friends. The 'me' with expensive designer clothes, manicured nails and perfectly dyed and styled hair. The 'me' who would think that someone myself was beneath her.
I may not have reached my full potential and I may not have had my chance to be a student in a funky house with cool flatmates, but I have my grown-up children who been given the opportunities I wasted. They have the world at their feet and if I can enjoy their successes and adventures vicariously through them, knowing I have helped to make it happen, then I can be proud and happy with the 'me' that I have become. I honestly wouldn't swap this underachieving 'me' for anything!