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7 lessons from inspirational women: Wisdom from the new Letter To My Younger Self book

The collection of Letter To My Younger Self interviews features inspirational women giving themselves a good talking to and will make an inspirational Christmas present!

From Billie Piper to Nancy Sinatra, dozens of women have revealed the secrets to their success as part of The Big Issue’s weekly Letter To My Younger Self.

Originally the idea of journalist Jane Graham, since 2007 we have heard from well-known pop culture personalities who give advice to themselves at 16. The words of wisdom that emerge are lessons we could all live by.

These interviews have become an institution. It is the place in the magazine where new truths about interesting people are found: experiences, frustrations, aspirations, regrets.

Letter to My Younger Self: Inspirational Women

A collection of some of the best was published in a book in 2019. Due to overwhelming demand a second volume is set to be released this week.

Letter to My Younger Self: Inspirational Women is edited by Jane Graham and collects a series of interviews with interesting, clever, funny women of substance which have appeared in The Big Issue over the last 15 years.

The names are brilliant and eclectic, from Queen of Country Dolly Parton to reluctant national treasure Alison Steadman, from legendary Nancy Sinatra to primetime TV star Alesha Dixon, from movie rule-breaker Gurinder Chadha to acting royalty Glenda Jackson.

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Here are seven of the best Letter To My Younger Self lessons from brilliant women. You can read the full collection in the new book, published by Blink on October 27. All royalties will go to support the work of The Big Issue.

Lessons from inspirational women from The Big Issue’s Letter to My Younger Self

Rose McGowan, Italian-born American activist, former actress, author, model, and singer. Photo: Paul Grover
Rose McGowan, Italian-born American activist, former actress, author, model, and singer. Photo: Paul Grover

1. Hold on to your principles, even if it means risking success: Rose McGowan

Last year actor Rose McGowan, often credited with sparking the #MeToo movement when she accused Harvey Weinstein of rape in 2017, told us about a huge decision she made to change the direction of her life.

“If I could give the younger me advice I’d say don’t go into Hollywood. I didn’t relate to the people around me. Their concerns were not my concerns, I had much bigger concerns. I wish I had known I was an artist earlier in my life, but Hollywood is kind of cult which makes you think their way is the only way to do things. And since I didn’t know anything about any other industry I got stuck in this dog eat dog world. But now I don’t care what they say and I don’t care what they think. I have shut the door on working on Hollywood. And they have shut the door on me.”

“I think it’s clear that things have moved forwards since 2027. And it’s across all industries, not just Hollywood. My goal was a lot bigger than Hollywood. I called my book Brave to show people how to be brave in their own lives and how to fight the machine. Because when you do fight the machine it fights back and you have to be prepared for that. But it was a sick, toxic system that needed to be blown apart.” 

Photo: Dan Wooller/Shutterstock

2. Appreciation is nice but it’s the work that matters: Glenda Jackson

Speaking to The Big Issue for her Letter To My Younger Self, acting royalty Glenda Jackson admitted that she’s always worried that her current job would be her last.

“I never got to a point when I didn’t worry that I wouldn’t work as an actor again. I always felt that the last performance of whatever I was doing would be the last time I’d ever work. It’s a very overcrowded profession, and particularly overcrowded if you’re a woman. Authors don’t find women that interesting. It was nice to win an Oscar [for 1969’s Women in Love, after which she won again for 1973’s A Touch of Class]. It’s nice for a role to be appreciated. But it’s the work that matters. Making Women in Love was amazing. It was the first time I worked with Ken Russell and he was absolutely remarkable. I’ve been very lucky with the directors I’ve worked with.”

Gurinder Chadha Photo: Startraks Photo/Shutterstock

3. You can fulfil your dreams with tenacity and determination: Gurinder Chadha

In her Letter to My Younger Self, East-meets-West Bend it Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha talked about retaining her “sense of self”.

“It hasn’t been easy being the sole woman Indian director in the film industry for many years. Getting my stories out there, having my voice heard. But I do it with tenacity and determination. And I think that came from that 16-year-old who, when she told her school careers adviser that she wanted to go to university, was asked: “Darling, really? I think you should apply for secretarial college.” At that moment I knew she had me for someone else. I think I’m still showing people who think I’m one thing that I’m really something else.”

Dolly Parton sings to a huge crowd gathered at the Pyramid stage on Sunday afternoon. Photo: Emma Stoner / Alamy Stock Photo

4. Stick to your guns… even if it’s Elvis: Dolly Parton

Country legend Dolly Parton showed her iron will in her Letter to My Younger Self.

“It’s true I would not compromise with Colonel Tom [Parker, Elvis Presley’s manager]. Elvis wanted to record I Will Always Love You. They planned the session, and told me they were recording the song. That was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me. Who doesn’t love Elvis?

“But then Colonel called me the afternoon before the session and said, you do know we have to have at least half the publishing on any song that Elvis records? And I said no, I did not know that. He said, well, it’s just a rule. So I said, well, it’s not my rule. I said, I hate this more than you could even imagine but I cannot give you half the publishing. I just can’t do it and I won’t do it.

“Tom was a strict manager, he was a good manager and I don’t blame him for asking, but I don’t blame me for saying no.”

Photo: Camilla Morandi/Shutterstock

5. Get support for your mental health: Billie Piper’s letter to her younger self

Actor, director and former pop sensation Billie Piper has been famous since she was 16, so she wanted to reassure her younger self that things would turn out alright, and that the therapy will help.

“I would love to go back to my former self and say, none of this matters. You’re amazing, you’re going to do just fine. Therapy has been crucial to my getting better, so I’d tell my young self to get a therapist. I just don’t know how young kids cope anymore, I really don’t. I think everyone’s super-anxious, or at least that’s how it feels to me. If you can get your kids any sort of mental health support or family therapy, just get it. There’s no shame in it whatsoever.”

Photo: Ibl/Shutterstock

6. Don’t go out with a troubled boy and think you can save him: Caitlin Moran

Writer, feminist and mother of cool girls Caitlin Moran had some advice for all teenage girls on their burgeoning love lives.

“I’d tell my younger self what every girl needs to hear; don’t go out with a troubled boy and think you can save him. Don’t think that you are the mender of a broken person and the more you love someone, the better they will get. They won’t. I think the thing women find hardest to believe is that someone who’s supposed to love them doesn’t love them. Whether it’s your parents or an abusive partner. I think if someone says they’re your boyfriend, you presume that they must love you. So everything that is happening to you is love. And it’s not. Those people don’t love you, they’re just abusing you. And the harder you try, the smaller and more broken and the more upset you’re going to get.”

Letter to my younger self: Alesha Dixon
Alesha Dixon arrives for the Britain’s Got Talent London Auditions at the Hammersmith Apollo, London. Photo: London Entertainment / Alamy Stock Photo

7. Have faith: Alesha Dixon’s letter to her younger self

Back in 2020, singer, Strictly winner and TV judge Alesha Dixon told us about a moment when she doubted herself.

“My biggest, riskiest decision was to leave Mis-Teeq [the successful all-female R&B/rap band she was in until 2005]. I was like, oh my god, what have I done?

“And then the universe just said: That’s what you thought, but here we go. You’re about to enter into this new phase of your life. And then I had a hugely successful solo record and had this incredible journey when in 2007 I became a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing and I won. And that took me on to becoming a judge on the show. The biggest risk brought the biggest pay-off.”

You can buy Letter to My Younger Self: Inspirational Women from Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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