Guest blog post by Emily Holgate, who led the Back to School Campaign in Spain.
Barcelona is becoming one of the main social hubs of Europe, if not the world. When I moved here last summer, there was a resounding agreement from friends and family that Barcelona is the coolest, trendiest, most sociable city that they have ever visited. And it hasn’t failed me yet!
For Future First España, we wanted to take advantage of Barcelona’s innovative, social aspect. We knew it would be difficult as guiris (“foreigners”) to reach out to local schools and ask to talk about careers and aspirations. For one, our social and professional lives revolve around other ‘guris’, so we only know a handful of locals that could actually go back to their old schools.
So, in our initial Future First brainstorm, we were all in agreement that social media would be our strong suit. We are well integrated in the startup/tech community in Barcelona, so wanted to play on the egos of the entrepreneurs and the freelancers, by singling out what impacts them the most: their social media presence!
We managed to create a lot of excitement around the campaign; at networking events, in the co-working spaces, and after-work socials. Guiris and our handful of local amigos were discussing what support they would have wanted at their old schools in France, the US, New Zealand, Mexico and the UK (to name a few). We then moved onto the focus of the campaign: “If you met your 16 year old self, what advice would you give them?”. After the slightly inappropriate suggestions, such as “date more girls” and “party harder”, we were amazed by the number of responses we received, and ended up with over 50 pieces of advice to your 16 year old self.
What struck me from the advice was the consistent similarities between them. We had some specific advice such as “learn to code” and “keep writing”, but the overwhelming majority seemed to follow two avenues.
The first was to do what you love, follow your passion and excel at it. None of these mentioned anything specific or encouraged their 16 year old self to follow a particular path. The general message was that, at 16 years old, enjoy your life now as things get more important and complicated as you get older. 16 is an age to make the most of life experiences. Explore lots of different things and find out what you love to do. What is your passion? What are you good at? And stick to it! Don’t choose to do economics at University because you think it would be good for the future. Choose to study music or philosophy because you are passionate about it or find it interesting! This will get you further than any “it’s right for my future career” move that you may be encourage to do.
The second avenue wasn’t necessarily advice, but more words of encouragement and reassurance. “Stay strong”, “acknowledge your talents”, “nothing is impossible”, “never surrender” and “it gets better, trust me”, were just a few motivational words of wisdom people would give their 16 year old self. This made me reminisce about what it was actually like to be 16. It’s tough. You’re going through the biggest changes of your life so far, whilst simultaneously you’re body is going through a whole array of rollercoaster emotions and hormones. Will you go to sixth form or join the terrifying first step of the career ladder? Should you spend more time with your current boyfriend/girlfriend (the person you think you are going to marry), or with your friends who are becoming more self obsessed in their own lives and decisions? Do you carry on playing the flute or playing football, or do you knuckle down and study for your future? What if you don’t make it as an Olympic athlete or a rockstar like you have always planned to?
Looking back, you realise that your life was never going to be easy or planned out, but at the time you were never to know that. No one ever told you that, and if they did you assume they were just trying to make you feel better during a mini breakdown. Even if I had a magic ball at 16 years old and I could see my future self living in Barcelona with an amazing boyfriend and a crazy pet parrot, I would still struggle to believe that I was on the right path to achieve this.
This is why Future First is such an important enterprise. Kids need the support and encouragement from people that have been there, done that and got the t-shirt. #backtoschool Week has created a tremor in the status quo of leaving school and forgetting about it. If we can keep the momentum going, it will help so many 16 year olds who are going through that horrible stage of indecisiveness and instability.
Why not help us continue the journey in España? Through a combination of relentless phone calls and emails, and the spanish “mañana” culture we have become so accustomed to, we were unable to secure a date and time for our local amigos to go back to their schools in #backtoschool Week. However, we are still in discussions with a few schools about getting involved in careers fairs later in the year…. so watch this space – #DeVueltaAlCole España may be back in traditional spanish style (better late than never) and we could really do with your help!
Let’s reassure this generation’s 16 year olds that life does get better and they should never stop pursuing what they love!