This week I turned 25, and all things considered it was a pretty good day. I was slightly hungover, but it was caused by an amazing evening of eating and drinking with my housemates the night before. I spent the day at work, but my colleagues surprised me with a cake and a card, and insisted on singing to me. I was late to bed, but only because I spent so long at my parents’ house catching up on everyone’s news, opening presents and eating homemade birthday cake.
Like many Generation X and Y-ers I grew up with John Hughes and his gang of angst-ridden misfit teens, watching as they faced first loves, social pressures and impending adulthood. John Hughes will forever be one of my favourite filmmakers; for me nobody has ever captured the teenage experience as accurately as he did, and it’s unlikely that anyone ever will again.
His list of producer and director credits is longer than my arm, but John Hughes was first and foremost a writer, producing some of the most powerful and memorable scripts of all time. Here are just ten of the lessons I’ve learned from watching his films.
“Screws fall out all the time, the world’s an imperfect place.” – Bender, The Breakfast Club
This quote is brilliant in its simplicity. Basically, shit happens. Life’s messy and complicated and doesn’t always go the way you want it to, and you just have to accept it. When things go wrong, all you can do is fix it as best you can and move on.
“I don’t have to run away and live in the street. I can run away and I can go to the ocean, I can go the country, I can go to the mountains. I could go to Israel, Africa, Afghanistan.” – Allison, The Breakfast Club
Allison may have been talking specifically about escaping her poor home life, but to me this quote has a much wider message. The world is full of possibilities, and even when you think you’re trapped in a situation, most of the barriers are created by your own mind. Your life is your own, and you can change it whenever you want.
“Well, you think what you want about me; I’m not changing. I like me.” – Del, Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Del Griffith had his priorities right. Uptight Neal Page may have hated the fact that Del was loud and clumsy and untactful, but Del accepted his own flaws and knew that he had plenty of good qualities to balance it out. He knew the people he cared about liked him, and he liked himself, so the opinions of anyone else didn’t really matter to him.
“This is my house. I have to defend it.” – Kevin, Home Alone
Sometimes in life people are going to push you around, and eventually you reach a point where you have to stop running and take a stand. Even if victory seems unlikely, even if you’re an eight-year-old going up against two scary burglars, its important that you don’t let anyone else dictate your lives or your choices.
“You’re not dying, you just can’t think of anything good to do.” – Ferris, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
What a motivator! When you’re in a funk or feeling down it’s easy to get locked in a downward spiral; you feel rubbish, so you hide yourself away and consequently feel more rubbish, and so it continues. Nothing feeds the soul more than the simple fact of having something to get out of bed for.
“A person should not believe in an -ism; he should believe in himself” – Ferris, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
It’s dangerous to let ourselves be dictated by predefined ideologies. It’s cool if you want to be a Buddhist, or a Feminist, or a Marxist, but don’t mindlessly accept everything attached to that identity. Ideologies are flawed, so don’t be afraid to question, criticise or flat out disagree.
“When you’re given things kind of easily, you don’t always appreciate them.” – Mr Baker, Sixteen Candles
We all know people who have been born with a silver spoon in their mouth or have a god-given talent for being brilliant at everything, and I’m not going to pretend we wouldn’t all like to be one of them. But there’s a quiet satisfaction in knowing you earned your success, and the fact that you had to struggle will make you appreciate it all the more.
“If somebody doesn’t believe in me, I can’t believe in them” – Andie, Pretty In Pink
This one’s important – sometimes we sell ourselves short, but we definitely shouldn’t let anybody else. If you have someone in your life who thinks you’re anything less than absolutely breathtakingly brilliant, that’s someone you don’t need around.
“I’ll walk in, walk out, and come home. I just want to let them know that they didn’t break me.” – Andie, Pretty In Pink
Andie was my ultimate John Hughes heroine – she knew who she was, she didn’t care what the popular girls thought, and even though Blane was one of the rich cool kids she refused to let him mistreat her. She taught me that some people just want to drag others down, and you have to fight those people with everything you’ve got.
“They’re all good kids, until dried-out, brain-dead skags like you drag them down and convince them they’re no good.” – Buck, Uncle Buck
It can be easy to let other people’s opinions of you break your self-confidence, especially when you’re a kid. I truly believe that everyone starts out decent and talented, and it’s our surroundings and influences that warp and ruin us. If you think you’re no good, know that the person who made you believe that is wrong and you are better than they will ever be.
Does anyone have their own John Hughes lessons? What films do you think have influenced your life?
A while ago I was on the phone with one of my best friends, who I met and lived with while we were both studying English at university. I now live in Leeds and she lives in London, and we were trying to find a free weekend to meet up.
“I can’t do the bank holiday weekend; my company are sending me to Spain to attend a blogger conference,” I told her. “That’s fine,” she replied, “I’ve got to go to a festival that weekend to report on it for my magazine.” We both paused. “How did we get such awesome jobs?”
It was a good question. Our English degree course was punctuated with regular quips about how we were all doomed to unemployment; a couple of years of crying over rejection letters while hugging volumes of Chaucer before finally taking a low-paid job that wasn’t even related to our degree. We were all joking, but underneath the laughter was a hint of fear, a little voice in our heads whispering that the jokes might not turn out to be so funny in a few years.
I’ll always remember a particularly unpleasant talk that I had to sit through in my third year; the title was something vague about ‘Personal Development and Your Degree’, and the focus turned out to be our employment prospects post-graduation. I remember nothing about the presentation itself; what I do remember is the speaker asking us to raise our hands if we knew what we wanted to do after we finished the course, and seeing about 25 hands go up in a room of at least 200 students. My own not included.
Most Maths, Science, Law, Engineering and Medicine students know exactly what their end game is, but for the vast majority of Arts & Humanities students the future is not as certain. The subjects are more open-ended and therefore so are the career paths; our ‘transferable skills’ make many jobs a possibility, but it can be hard to figure out which one you want and even harder to convince an employer to hire you when your only proven skills are memorising Renaissance drama quotes and writing 5000-word essays on Post-structuralism. Incredibly, these talents are not so useful in the real world.
Between 16 and 21 a range of career possibilities floated through my head including teaching, journalism and publishing, but all I knew when I graduated was that I needed a break and a chance to clear my head. I worked full time in a supermarket for 6 months to fund a round-the-world trip, and although I had an amazing time I returned as unsure as ever about what I wanted to do. I started applying for jobs with nothing to my name except a degree, a few part-time service industry jobs and a small travel blog, and by some miracle managed to get a job as an Online Marketing Assistant at a holiday website.
Flash forward a year and a half to that phone conversation with my friend. It certainly didn’t happen overnight, but gradually I progressed from Marketing Assistant to Social Media Exec to my current job as an SEO Content Exec, taking responsibility for all the content on my company’s website as well as learning about technical SEO and helping to coordinate the company’s first blogger outreach campaign. It took me a while to get here, but my job now is pretty damn good.
But here’s the funny thing. I originally went to interview for a Content Writer position – the interviewers liked me but felt I lacked experience, which was why I ended up being offered the assistant job instead. I took it because I needed a job and liked the idea of working for a travel firm, but if I’d seen an advert for a marketing assistant job I’d probably have skimmed right past it and my life would have taken an entirely different path, probably not including the amazing colleagues and all-expenses-paid trips abroad.
I suppose the point of this is that there is no solid gold formula to get to where you want to be. I spent so many years stressing out about my future, about what would happen if I didn’t decide what I wanted to do early enough, or I didn’t get the grades, or I didn’t do work experience placements or make the right connections. Turns out all I needed to do was work hard, follow my interests, and trust that great opportunities can come from the most unlikely places. I’m not saying that you should drop the reins and leave everything to the ‘powers that be’ – I’ve always believed that you make your own destiny – but don’t ruin your life stressing about how to make it good. If you’re an English grad, chances are you chose your course not for the high-powered career it would lead to or the wage you were likely to get, but for the simple fact that you loved it. If you keep making decisions on that basis, you’ll never go far wrong.