Belfast Telegraph

Mary Kenny: University of Life has taught me so much, but I'd trade it all for the chance to go to college

Learning curve: the start of a new university year awaits many young people
Learning curve: the start of a new university year awaits many young people

By Mary Kenny

Young people preparing to go to college right now are so lucky! I never had the privilege (mournful violins) of attending university when young, and was therefore obliged to learn from the University of Life. So here are some of the graduation lessons I've earned from that notional campus:

Preparation is everything.

Talent or ambition - which matters most? Maybe just as important is ENERGY. And persistence.

Exams aren't always a fair reflection of your abilities, but they can be a reflection of the way the cards fall. Some days the force is with you; some days, not.

Take responsibility for your choices: yet whatever choice you make, some part of you will regret it.

But those who say "je ne regrette rien" have never learned from their mistakes. (I've learned so much from my mistakes, I should have a PhD in the subject.)

Pay your taxes. It's easier in the long run, and makes you feel you have a stake in your society.

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If you don't always get what you want, sometimes you should just put up with it. Or as the old folks used to say: "Offer it up!"

No marriage is equal: marriage is a struggle for power. But there can be a distribution of equilibrium at different stages of a relationship.

But some people - of either sex - like being doormats. Being under the thumb makes them happy. I've seen it.

Sing. It exercises the pulmonary organs and can increase serotonin.

Stereotypes are sometimes true - that's why they became stereotypes. (When it comes to business, you'd be hard put to outwit the Chinese.) But don't tag individuals with generalised labels: otherwise you miss the element of surprise in the human personality.

Look after your teeth. Otherwise, they'll cost you a fortune later on, as well as being a right pain in the neck.

Sex is a powerful urge, and can be destructive as well as pleasurable. Every society has placed certain restraints on the sexual instinct, for good reasons. (#MeToo, anyone?)

To become proficient in another language, be ready to make a fool of yourself by trying to speak it.

I had two friends when young. One was a very good person. She got murdered doing a good deed. The other was a spoilt daughter of indulgent parents who has led an exceptionally lucky life. Sometimes, there's no accounting for fate.

To achieve honours or awards, you usually need "a friend at court", as the French poet Joachim du Bellay said in the 16th century. For all the talk about "transparency", connections never go out of fashion.

Some opportunities come too early in life, when you're not mature enough to make the best of them. Some come too late, when you're no longer able to grasp them.

Prepare to be repaid in your own coin. We told our mothers they weren't with it. Now we get the same message.

There's no easy way of breaking bad news, but it shouldn't be done by text or remote message. A death in the family was communicated to me by a telephone voicemail, which I thought dreadful.

Nature or Nurture the greater influence? Fifty-fifty?

Sixty-forty? The boffins are now saying 80-20 - 80% DNA, 20% social influences. Depressing: it reduces self-improvement and correctability.

"To him that hath, more shall be given." Jesus Christ was right about most statements I've been able to check out.

Friends are treasures to be held fast, but life can lead you in different directions. There's always an imbalance between the married and the single - as widows eventually find out.

A Jungian psychotherapist told me that Little Red Riding Hood (below) is a key parable for girls. There are men who are wolves, and there are men (the woodcutter in the story) who are helpers. True. Alas, wolves are sometimes attractive.

Procrastination is usually condemned as the thief of time, but it can be useful. Sometimes time itself solves the problem just by waiting and seeing what happens. Sometimes you change your mind through waiting.

Memo to self: "I don't have to have an opinion about everything. Stick to what you know about."

Memo to self when discouraged: "I can't go on. I'll go on." Or "Try again. Fail again. Fail better." Beckett was a great aphorist, even if his plays do try my patience.

You have to be very chic (and preferably sun-tanned) to wear beige.

Send thank-you notes. Sybil Connolly, the iconic Irish couturier, entertained me to lunch in her lovely Merrion Square apartment. I failed to write a thank-you note. Next I heard she was dead.

If I had my life over again, I'd become a precision engineer. This is totally delusional, but I do think this is the most underrated, and possibly the most vital, of all skills now. From Silicon Valley to safety in flying, precision engineering governs.

But for all I've learned at the University of Life, I'd trade it for the chance to be starting at the college of proper university this month. Students: you lucky people!

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