Stephen's Letter To My Younger Self

9 February 2020

Stephen's Letter To My Younger Self

Photo by James Braund

"At 14, you are incredibly naïve. A couple of black-and-white photos crackle with family tension in your Yarraville home. As a family knot it’s wildly overheated. The sensitive, precious boy who never met his father is the result of this.

And then this thing called punk rock will come along in a few years – and overnight your hair will go green. You’ll think you know the answers to all of the questions in the known world. You don’t – you just become a royal pain in the arse to anyone who comes near you. But the music, it speaks to you.

There’s the usual guff: don’t smoke, don’t drink or do drugs, don’t hitchhike, don’t roll your car off the cliff on the Great Ocean Road on New Year’s Eve. Luckily, you’ll walk away with only a scratch on your leg.

You’re obsessed with pop culture: music, skating, surfing. You don’t really like school. You leave Footscray Tech in Form 5 to work full-time at the abattoirs, which is pretty brutalising. The attitude of the day is to leave school and get a job. But planning for the future isn’t something you particularly obsess over – you just let it come along. You’re leaving it to others to make the decisions for you, which in hindsight probably isn’t a good thing. Later, you become an apprentice carpenter, which you enjoy.

Take more responsibility for your own direction in life. You just take life as it comes, and wait for things to happen. Have more clear-cut goals. What you put out, you get back – whether it comes back or not, you just give as much as you can, and if it comes back, it comes back.

Have patience with people, learn to get around them. Mum used to have this thing: “You can keep your bad mood, because I don’t need it.” It was her catchphrase.

Everyone likes the feeling of being a nice person. When you die, what will be your legacy? Would you like to be remembered as a nice person, who’s done nice things? Or an arsehole who’s unfeeling?

Pick up a book as soon as you can: you’ll lose yourself in literature. It gives you different perspectives, insights; it allows you to see things through others’ eyes. As you’ve gotten older, reading has opened your mind to be a bit more flexible, more empathetic. Before it was all your point of view, and that was it.

I remember a great thing George Orwell once said: he was very fortunate to have found his star very early in life. You find your star a bit later in life, but you find it.

There’s a poem by Raymond Carver that sums up how you’ll feel about things.

And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.
And it’s true. You will love and be loved.



Stephen sells The Big Issue at North Melbourne station and Lygon Street, Carlton, Melbourne, Australia

Article first appeared in The Big Issue edition #604