The Big Issue Australia put together a whole edition of the magazine to celebrate its vendors this #VendorWeek. They asked vendors from all over the country to offer words of advice, hard-won wisdom and love to their teenaged selves.
When worst comes to worst, ask for help
I know you will appreciate me calling you that – it’s how Mum thought of you. You’re 15 right now; I am 41 years old.
I know you’re going to take notice of what I am writing, even though you don’t like receiving guidance or help from adults. This letter you must keep safe, because I’m afraid of what lies ahead of you, Champ.
At school, you’re athletic and excel at sports, winning lots of trophies and medals. You’re watching Top Gun over and over again with the dream of becoming an air force pilot. I need you to be successful at school. I want you to get the grades, to have that dream job, that dream house. I need you to ask for as much help as you can. Dial down the drinking and partying. Believe in yourself. I know that at the moment you’re full of doubts – you don’t know which way to go or which path to take – but do your best to choose what you love to do at any moment, and try to do that to the very best of your ability.
Stand up for yourself when you get picked on, ignored, when people laugh or make fun of you. You are strong – don’t let people walk over you. Just say no, which at times might be hard. Don’t be afraid about what people think of you – be yourself and show them what’s right. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do: respect others, knowing we all make mistakes.
Don’t give up when things become challenging. Champ, you are a fighter. You’re not going to be afraid of any hard work that comes your way. When worst comes to worst, ask for help. You will be amazed how the world will help you out.
You’ll regret falling out with Dad. It means you’ll sleep on the streets in the UK for almost a year. You’ll have nothing and still not ask for any help. You’ll have a plastic bottle that you’ll keep filling up with water from a tap in someone’s garden. The nights will be cold – bloody freezing – and uncomfortable. It will just be the concrete floor and the clothes you are wearing, day after day. Thankfully you’ll meet someone who will take you in, give you a room and help you back on your feet.
Finally, you’ll achieve a lot over the years. Selling The Big Issue will be a rewarding job. It won’t be about making money – you’ll love sharing stories and articles and interacting with the customers. You will be comfortable with where you are, and that’s all that will matter.
David sells The Big Issue in Perth
Listen to your heart, you will grow
Dear 15-year-old Lenny,
Don’t worry that your dad just passed away. You have still got your older brothers to take care of Mum. She did bring up all of you, anyway. So instead of worrying too much, find out what you really want; what makes you happy.
You’ve been a good kid. You just tend to follow well-meant but useless advice, mainly from people who have their own interests at heart – not yours. It took following the wrong path to learn to listen to your heart more.
Don’t be concerned about your nerdiness and awkwardness – it is just a combination of being a teenager and being you. Being smart doesn’t prevent you from making stupid choices, like hanging out with people who take advantage of you, taunt you or encourage you to do dangerously stupid things.
Forgive your dad for not being around when you needed a male to help you become a man. And forgive your brothers for drowning their loss in alcohol. Nothing is forever and all of us will lose someone we love, need and look up to.
It is okay to ask for advice or help; just don’t blindly follow other people’s ideas. It is great to be able to do things on your own, but it is much more fun to do them with others. This will create bonds that will carry you through the dark times. Know that no-one can avoid the blues. Embrace them and transform them into smiles so that you don’t sink into dark holes for weeks, months or even years.
Okay, the most important thought will finish this, if you are still paying attention: listen to your heart. Your overactive, babbling mind needs to quieten for a moment to allow this to happen. Whenever you listen to your heart, you will grow, and your life will take unexpected turns.
Don’t be afraid – it will be fine. You will see many parts of this beautiful planet, meet some amazing and some horrible people, and one day learn to make every place you encounter home.
Listen to your heart. It is the only guide you can really trust.
Lenny sells The Big Issue in Brisbane
You will get to 42 and decide to live
Hopefully this letter gets to you in time and you decide to get on that bus before you change your mind. I understand how you feel – I’m the older you.
I have to say this: you must stay alive until you reach 42. Yes, I can see you reading this and laughing your head off. What is this crazy lady talking about?! Forty is too old to even think about, you will say. Then you will get sad, am I right? Because you’re confused right now. You live in a small community, an air force base in the middle of nowhere. The only place that makes sense right now is the small radio station where you volunteer, and the walks along the red sand. You were taught to work for a world that lives in peace with no poverty, but your community is living in preparation for war. The adults are strange, living a life afraid of so many things, friendly to each other but nasty about each other behind closed doors. Your world is boxed in. You are just trying to live your life, but something is not right. So, please get on that bus, as it will change your life. Oh and trust me, at 16 you might think you know everything but you know nothing, my little one.
Golly gosh, this is the hard bit. I don’t want to scare you but I need you to listen. You think you are lonely now but you haven’t felt loneliness yet, I’m afraid. So, enjoy the bus ride and find a job, work hard and learn life. Right now, you don’t believe kindness can be used to abuse you, but it will in so many ways.
You’re going to fall in love and have children – imagine that! You will see life through their eyes and learn to be creative in bad times so they can enjoy their childhood. Mostly you will understand children are born unique, wise and happy. You’re going to see why it is so important that love should never own anything.
You’re going to face years of homelessness and abuse. You are going to get so sick you will be on death’s door. No-one is going to have time to understand that the choices you will need to make are from a slate of bad choices – there will be no good ones to choose from. You will even believe you destroyed the life you’ve been given, and that will nearly break you. But you need to stay hopeful and know that the kindness of others is not all about money. Just listen to the music and you will never be alone. You’ll get used to walking alone with the moon and that’s okay.
You’ll sometimes still make bad choices, but we live in a community – please don’t forget that. You see, my little one, in all that trouble you will find strangers along the way who will help you keep your family housed, and help you understand that a fair go is still possible. Then you will get to 42 and decide to live. Slowly, all those life lessons will start to matter and people will take the time to listen.
I guess the only advice I can offer is don’t push away the ones you love: let them into your life. Your time spent away from them will be your one regret.
So, little one, get on that bus and learn that life is not the black-and-white world you have been taught. You will need to go through so much to understand that life is a gift.
Lots of love,
Rachel sells The Big Issue in Pyrmont, Sydney
You will love and be loved
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?
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
Read more coverage of #VendorWeek 2020 here