Joanna McCatty

Career Coach, ProtoScience

Hi Jo,

you are in your second year of high school. For some reason people abbreviate your name to Joanne. You seem to be ok with it but you will spend the second half of your adult life correcting people – ‘It’s Jo or Joanna’ since you decide it sounds annoying and you question why Aussies seem to abbreviate everything.

You are attending a Greek Private school and you smashed it in your first year, achieving Dux for every subject. You seem to love school, and this theme will run for the course of the next few months, in year 8 especially, once you find your ‘tribe’. There are a few characters at your school, all with the same type of strict upbringing; Some more extreme than others. Take it in your stride, even though your parents seem the strictest.

You get your braces. You don’t care. You love sport. You enjoy your friends and in fact are still close with Mary in particular, who you also go to Uni and study Applied Chemistry with, but you don’t know this just yet. She is someone who is always around in some way or another in your life, especially when you move back to Melbourne. You are also going to be busy making new friends outside of your school, with people from different nationalities, as you take public transport. This introduces you to Italian, Polish, Sri Lankan, Egyptian and Lebanese cultures and cuisines.

Inevitably, this also exposes you to some amazing souls, but also to people who are not so accepting of your ethnicity at first. But you like to chat to everyone as equal. This is a good quality to have and you actually maintain this throughout your life.

You form friendships and have this inner confidence that lands you in a little hot water on the train when a girl twice the height and size of you catches your attention and you cheekily talk back with your quick wit and sarcasm. This is probably since you always had to defend yourself from two older sisters growing up. This is not great, as she precedes to follow you off the train with a bunch of other girls. This is your first fight. However, it’s not really a fight as you are just being swung around. You seem to remain quite calm through all this, knowing that this was a blunder you could have avoided. Funnily enough, you see this same individual and they approach you at the ‘shopping centre’. This time, she is super nice to you and seems to want to be befriend you. Weird, I know, but this just goes to show that you do have this welcoming energy where you want to make others feel comfortable in their own skin.

This is your first lesson by the way. Don’t be cheeky, push people’s buttons and stir up trouble. Use your wit wisely.

Love yourself

In school, there seem to be two cohorts, the nerdy girls and the popular girls, then it was the boys. You won’t want to conform so you can guess who you side with. This theme runs throughout your life. What you will discover is that you just need to be yourself, accept your ethnicity and your culture. At this age, you seem a little confused in thinking that doing so means you are just like everyone else, and this is something that bothers you.

Being amongst others from the same cultural background whilst living in a multicultural place was a questionable antithesis for you. Although you love the food, music and dancing, you just cannot seem to get your head around the ‘Greekness’, if there was such a word, that is around you at school.

It’s ok though. Being 13, you are discovering your identify, understanding your interests, values and beliefs. What I would like to tell you is this, you don’t need to define who you are, if at all, in your life or prove your validity to anyone else. Just be curious and patient. There will come a time where you will appreciate your heritage and you most importantly will learn the greatest lesson of all – to love yourself.

You also end up wanting to visit and eventually residing at your parent’s birthplace of Greece.

Understand that relationships evolve

On the home front, you are very close to your oldest sis Debbie at this age. This dynamic shifts considerably though as you get older and you embark on your travels and ‘start adulting’. Your relationship with your bro remains the same and still does to date, solid; your sister Sofie and you bond more closely when you finish University, so much so you and your friends, hang out with her and her friends doing anything from nights out, playing sports and travels. These are fun times – you allow each other to be the best version of yourselves, which is exactly what you will need in the most challenging times that you have ahead of you when you decide to live in London on your own so you can claim the independence you crave for , from being in a large family, where you are the youngest daughter. You will face some unwelcome challenges, learnings and adversities that will shape who you become as an adult and the decisions that you make later on in your life that end up being the most defining for you.

Although you lived in the same household, just know that each of you are individuals and even though your parents seem the strictest, they actually mould and harness the different types of humans you end up becoming, something that translates into when you yourself, become a parent and even more exemplified when you are graced with being a single parent.

You definitely get your independence then, that’s for sure even though you second guess yourself, just trust that you are always making the right decisions at the time. As Oprah Winfrey says, ‘When you know better, you do better’ and ‘Life happens for you, not to you.’ Looking at the problems as blessings is the lens, I would advise that you view your life experiences through.

Know your place so you can stand your ground

You love to sing in Greek and perform Greek dance so much so that your dad teaches you his awesome ‘Pontian’ dance moves (this is a war dance that uses ‘flexing and shimmying’ – really interesting , I advise you look it up), that he knows which become fond memories you cherish, when he was permitted to actually dance with you and your sisters (for religious reasons he doesn’t now but probably could in the privacy of home if I asked him). You join the school Greek dance group, participate in competitions, have the most fun connecting with different personalities. There were always the louder ones, but you remain a quiet observer and listen more than speak. Something that is so important a trait to have later on in your career when you deal with people. Being in this dance group helps you find your self confidence with a fun, competitive bunch of people.

The choir is also so much fun too, you enjoy it and end up being on the SBS channel one day for a broadcast of Greek ethnicity; your dad is so proud of you. He can see that one of the other choir members are trying to push ahead in front of you, to be seen on the screen. You see him urge you to come forward and he later explains to you, to never let others push their way ahead of you. Know your place, stand your ground. This is something so critical a lesson to learn especially as you embark on your journey of going solo – in parenting and in work.

Hold on to your dreams

Jo, you love to make people happy. In fact, you love making others feel at ease with themselves and like to help with whatever they may need, ahead of yourself. You love to hear how people are feeling and what their story is. This forms the basis of why you decide to switch your career from being a scientist and then make the switch again to be more focused on harnessing this and doing it as a thing that you love – Recruiting and Career Coaching.

The most important lesson I want to gift you and part with here starts with accepting who you are, your background, your culture but importantly understanding and knowing your values shape the connection you have with people and the relationships that you have in your life whether friends, family, colleagues or significant other. The relationships you have, form the basis of either enabling you to move forward towards your ‘dreams’, ‘aspirations’ and ‘desires’ or alternatively can end up costing you them.

When you become a wife and a parent, your family values are high on your list of priorities, but this is not the only thing you should be thinking about or living by. You will get to understand later on that the way you see the world actually comes through the lens of what your beliefs and values are. My advice is to understand this consciously so that it can help shape the decisions you make and help you focus on the beliefs that benefit you.

The two most important human needs are to be loved and to feel like we are enough.

Although you will reflect back on your life and be grateful and appreciate the lessons, having clarity that it starts with you and goes from there, is the single most important lesson of all. The ring you have on your finger at the age I am writing this to you, is a reminder of this as it tells you to ‘Hold on to your dreams’.

Thank you Joanna McCatty for writing A Letter To My 13 Year Old Self

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