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Posted on Jan 23, 2011 in zeitgeist | 4 comments

Note to 16 year old self

Note to 16 year old self

As I approach the end of my 20th year of professional life, I’d like to leave this short note to myself just in case, by some miracle of future technology, I end up reading this in the past.

First thing to say is that choosing to work in IT wasn’t a bad choice, far from it. I’ve had a lot of fun, met some great people and I got to spend a lot of time in Ipswich.

Obviously, for the purposes of this post, I have to eschew IT to determine what I would tell my 16 year old self to do for a living based on what I have learned since. Truth is, on leaving school, the only things I couldn’t have done were either athletic or artistic, being equally rubbish at drawing and running. I could have gone to University to do anything. That in itself seems an issue, that is a whole world of choice and, with no family precedent or legacy to follow, the decision is trickier.

Also, I was somewhat fooled/influenced by a more natural ability at maths and science. That much came so easily that it seemed like an obvious choice. Take history for example. I was always pretty good at history but a inclination to equations drew me away. It was only much later that I realised how interested I was ( or became, these things can evolve over time ).

Same goes for many other things. I didn’t realise how much I liked writing until I was almost finished my engineering degree. And as for photography, well, I had an SLR as a teenager but with no one to learn from and no internet to teach me, the results were patchy and the film and developing too expensive. There were some decent enough attempts but quite often blurred as I didn’t quite get how I needed fast shutter speed when using a telephoto. It wasn’t until 2005 that I refound the love of photography and, with my DSLR, started having a lot of fun.

So, with all this barely organised waffle in mind, what do I tell my 16 year old self? Well, if you just want to make a lot of money, become a banker or a lawyer. But don’t. You wouldn’t like doing either of those things, I’m afraid.

If you want to make virtually no money, become a writer. You’ll really enjoy it but you’ll quickly get bored of cut-priced corned beef and I know you’re looking around thinking that earning money would be a good thing. I could cheat and tell you to write books about a boy wizard, but if you’re dotting about in time, you already know that (and I guess there is an army of time travelling lawyers preventing this kind of pre-cog copyright theft, with a ht to Jasper Fforde). There is no doubt that you’d really enjoy writing for a living but you’d maybe get a little lonely, you like hanging out with people too much. But you can work around that.

It was only very recently that I discovered a love of travel. In the last few years I’ve been to quite a few countries and very much enjoy seeing new places. So, young lad, you need to get out and about more and not wait until your feet can’t take the walking.

Should give a quick mention to becoming an archaeologist. You like that kind of thing and you’ll get to see the world. It might be a little slow paced for you so don’t put it top of the list, but beards are good, you’ll like them.


So, what’s my recommendation? Easy. Become a photographer. I know that’ll seem odd to you now but go with it, you’ll love it. Specifically, become a wildlife photographer. You’ll travel the world and see many amazing things. I suspect you’ll take other photos too but the animals will decide where you go. I can’t say how much money you’ll make, maybe not much, but that doesn’t really matter. Look at the cute meerkat? How can you not enjoy chasing them about Africa rather than snapping them on a dull day in Perthshire?

If you don’t believe me, have a look at the fun these talented guys have.

Yes, I know, I don’t know where you’re getting the money to get started either. But don’t worry about that for now. Do what I never did, get a book so you can understand the basics. Then try and get into Glasgow Art School to do photography. Visit zoos a lot too. Keep snapping and saving then decide where to head for your first shoot. Research like mad. Don’t worry, you’re capable of all of this.

Learn some IT too and in your spare time, build a website for people to keep in touch with their friends. It’s technically quite easy and will make you very rich. What’s a website? Don’t worry, you’ll find out soon enough.

A Sunday morning post if ever there was one!


  1. Dear 16 year old self,

    Do – be pleasant and friendly to girls, not camp and desperate.

    Do – learn a development language earlier, and buy all those domain names I thought of but couldn’t figure out how to register them..

    Do – Travel Europe, preferably with someone cool.

    Don’t – let your wife at any point buy any electrical equipment from a guy who comes into her work and needs the money in advance. See also pyramid schemes and tipping cowboy tradesmen for doing bad work.

    Don’t – let certain people do stupid things which they now regret, even if that means standing up in church and claiming to have slept with the bride earlier that morning.

    Don’t – ever drink Newcastle Brown, whisky by the bottle or that specific bottle of Cinzano Bianco.

    That last point is most vital of all, young Stu.

  2. Interesting thought, I wonder how many people in IT and indeed other fields think about this more than occasionally 😉 I have my own take on this and as ever is purely my speculation.

    There are a number of creative artistic individuals in careers that don’t give any outlet for their talents. I suspect the reason they ended up in their predicament (if it can be called that) is because they also have an aptitude for the more mundane areas of life (eg IT, banking etc). Since the world needs more programmers than it does photographers it is all too easy for those talented in both to take the “easy route.” A career that guarantees a bit of comfort in later life is hard to ignore. Your conscience and friends will encourage your choice with things like “well you can always keep it as a hobby…”

    A medicore IT programmer will probably be in far more demand than even a great photographer and more demand generally leads to more money.

    However if the “easy path” wasn’t available to you, in other words if you thought Javabeans were something to do with coffee then the chances are as I type this you would be globe trotting the world doing nothing more than taking snaps and talking to editors, perhaps even making a comfortable living.

    It is said, necessity is the mother of invention. If taking photos was the only thing you could do well, then the choice would have been made for you 😉 In my very brief and humble moment in the creative world I quickly realised that those who succeeded did so partly because they had no alternatives.

    Great Sunday morning post Scott 😉


    PS but even for those with only one talent the road isn’t always rosy…what’s that saying, winners never quit, quitters never win, but those who never win and never quit are plain dumb…..the world clearly has quite a few dumb people too LOL

  3. Does drumming count as creativity? 🙂

  4. stuart shut yer face…. (and his face was shut)

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