If there’s one thing taking too much coke on too many nights in the same bars in Shoreditch taught me, it’s that you never know who you’ll be close to until you’re close to them. If there’s one thing dropping out of my dream school taught me, it’s that you never know what someone will teach you until you’ve learned it. If there’s one thing wasting a year and a half full of incredible opportunities taught me, it’s that you may be certain of something now, but you can always be certain that at some point, you’ll be proven wrong.
I’ve learned that you can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can notice what cover the book thinks will attract the eyes it wants to read it. You can notice who picked it up, who read it to the end, who read it again and again. Who quotes it. Who treats it as a Bible, who threw it away. When you read it, you can notice how well the cover matches the contents.
That the way you act in bars is so contrived. So is all your conversation, the way you dress, the things you do. It’s all a performance. Even if you never speak. Even if you hide for the rest of your life. Choosing not to engage is just another way of engaging.
That authenticity is not an absolute. That finding yourself is not so much like where you put your keys, but where you want to go for dinner this evening.
That the right people don’t always look like the right people, but there’s also a reason certain people look right. That books have the covers they do for a reason. That how you spend your time and who you spend it with can say a lot about you. That how you treat people can say a lot about you. That what you talk about and how you talk about it, how you engage with the world, and even how you wear your hair can all say a lot about you.
And that everything I think those things say, says everything about me and nothing about you.
I thought, I thought, I thought so many things.
I mistook so many things for love.
I made so many mistakes, took so many wrong turns. It took me so much longer than it could have, and I went so many places before I got here.
But still I took the turns that got me here. And maybe taking the right turns would have led me somewhere else. Maybe that place would have been right too, because I would have been someone else by the time I got there.
I learned the things I needed to learn from the people who needed to teach them to me.
I know now that the path to God can be written in a book on gardening, but that it’s okay to go to the cookbook section when you want to learn how to cook.
What I mean is: the white guy with dreadlocks in a knitted poncho may not be any more enlightened than the pressed suits drinking £14 cocktails by Liverpool Street, but he also probably doesn’t work at Goldman Sachs.
What I mean is: I’ve learned to judge people differently. To accept that I may love the ones I don’t like the look of. That the ones who do look good to me may be vapid, misguided, hollow, cruel, hypocritical, insufferable. That looks can be deceiving. But they do tell you something, if nothing more than what that person thinks they ought to look like.
Everyone has stories worth listening to. That doesn’t mean you must listen to everyone.
Everyone can teach you something. Choose who you learn from.
You can find anything in anyone. What you find is a reflection on you and not on them.
I’ve learned that a city is a library, and London has eight million books. I read a lot of books and I learned a lot of things. I wandered sections I’d never set foot in before, read in new languages, found truth in the most unexpected places. I am grateful every day for it, for every word, the books I picked up and carried with me for so long.
But I am leaving most of those books on the shelf.