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Image / Self / Advice / Real-life Stories

Words to live by: Life advice from every age, eight to 80

by Sophie White
17th May 2021

Advice is something that’s easy to give but hard to live by says Sophie White, who spoke to eight women at different points in their lives about their best piece of life advice.

I often think of wisdom as something that waxes and wanes throughout our lives. Young children are often the source of the best counsel, they are infinitely more connected to their intuition than those of us mired in the middle of our lives, being squeezed by obligation and pressure to tick the boxes of career, family and social lives. Then with growing older comes the opportunity to reflect and learn from our experiences.

I decided to ask eight extraordinary Irish women for their words of wisdom.

First decade:

Robin, student and writer, aged 10

“Always believe in yourself and trust yourself. Be grateful for what you have and don’t focus on what you haven’t. Live your life to the best you can and try to change the world one step at a time, and turn towards a better tomorrow.”


Emily Callan, student and model, aged 18

“What I’ve learned in my 18 years is this: Social media puts huge pressure on people my age to act and look a certain way, but stay focused on who you are, your beliefs and aspirations. Use social media for good and follow those who inspire you and give you the motivation to pursue your dreams.

Something I always stand by is to treat people how you wish to be treated, you never know what somebody is going through outside of speaking to you. If you have nothing nice to say don’t say it at all.

Wear what makes you feel comfortable, there’s always a new trend people may feel pressured into but try to be unique and dress to your body type!

Look after your skin, I’ve gotten a lot of advice from so many people about skin care and the biggest thing is wearing SPF!

My family is huge part of my life, I’m extremely close to all of them! But especially my mam. She’s amazing and as I get older I’ve realised mams want the best for you! So listen to her when she tells you to put your coat on.

Take every opportunity that comes your way even if it’s small because the small things could lead to something bigger. You never know what the future holds for you

Even if you don’t feel confident going into a new environment, walk in like your Ireland’s next top model with a smile on your face! First impressions count.”


Laylah Beattie, writer, model and mental health and trans rights advocate

“My advice is to tell your truth to everyone who’ll listen. The only thing we can be confident of in this world is our own experience of it and I believe it should be shared. When someone asks you about yourself, tell them. Tell them about all the struggles and beautiful moments. The heartbreaks and the achievements. There are so many things that people feel reluctant to talk about. But I’m a big believer that talking about an experience makes it easier for others. Also, on a personal level, real connection begins when you learn to tell your truth without embarrassment or shame.”


Katie Healy, beauty blogger, mother and survivor of the Bataclan terrorist attacks

“I was 28 before I really knew who I was or what values I held. Face down on a wooden floor, seconds from what I thought was certain death, the only words I spoke or thought of were those of love.

Surviving a terror like that taught me that fear and hatred must never, ever win. Not to entertain the thought of harbouring grudges or holding on to anger. Gratitude, love and understanding must always be shown.
When faced with trouble stay calm, be assertive and trust your gut. Life can throw you the most incredibly cruel of curveballs. It’s up to you and you alone to process it. No matter how overwhelming, how lost or how utterly enveloped in grief you feel, you can’t lose hope.

Get in the sea. If nothing else, swimming in the sea will temporarily clear your thoughts. On Christmas Eve our world was turned upside down and I felt hope slipping away from me. I ran into the Atlantic while my husband and daughter watched me safely from the shore, during those freezing moments all I could do was breathe, focus on not letting the cold overwhelm me, I felt my heart pounding and the ice-cold sea wash over my skin. I felt alive again. As I walked onto the beach and saw their happy faces smiling back at me, I felt the warmth of happiness, thought I had lost forever, wrap itself around me.

Stay calm, love fiercely, show gratitude, let go of anger and when you can, take to the sea.”


Miriam Devitt actress, founder of Super Hands and screen-writer

“As I get into the swing of my forties, I realise how little I know. And this, surprisingly, comes as sweet relief. I have found that in letting go of certain expectations, life seems to flow better. So, with that in mind, here are two pieces of advice I like:

Be kind to yourself. Find your inner voice and start to work on it. Begin to get into the habit of talking to yourself as if you are someone you really love; someone you really care about; someone whose well-being means the world to you. And when you find that inner voice being a real bitch to you, gently let those thoughts go, without judgement, and say something nice to yourself. It feels clunky and horribly awkward to begin with, but the cheek-warming embarrassment begins to subside with practice, I promise. And remember, the person next to you on the bus cannot read your thoughts. I hope.

Learn to say no to things. By simplifying life, you can direct your energies to what really matters. Your value is not measured (in any meaningful way) by the success of your career or the size of your house. True success and happiness is found in our relationships and our experiences. So find what brings you joy, and make time for that. Your time is finite, and you always have a choice in what to do with it, so choose judiciously.”


Fiona Bolger CEO of Spinal Injuries Ireland, cancer survivor and charity fundraiser

“What I’ve learned is use everything. Don’t wait. Wear the dress in the wardrobe. Use the good china set. Live life to the full, they’re only things once you die. You don’t sweat the small stuff when you’ve been through illness. My cancer wasn’t life-threatening but it made me think about my mortality. It made me think about where am I here on the metre of life? How much more do I have to go?

I cycled 700 km last year in Paris to Nice. It was to prove to myself that I was still alive and kicking and that I could do it. I think when you go through an illness, you actually go into an out of body experience, when your outcome to a certain extent is in the hands of others – your surgeon, your therapists – but then you realise that your the one that can heal yourself. Your head is going to heal you. You have to have the resilience to keep going and keep moving.

After my surgery, I started spinning because I couldn’t do my yoga or pilates and that lead me to doing Paris to Nice. The things that used to worry me before, don’t now. You appreciate your family more and your close friends. You realise who your network is.

I think as a mother the most important thing is to teach children resilience. I’m not sure this world teaches kids this because largely everyone is there to mop up whatever their problems are. You need that inner resilience to fight the negative things that come your way through life. No matter how bad your problem is a) there’s always someone worse than you and b) it will pass. It’s not going to stay with you forever, it will pass.

I’m a great one for a bit of meditation myself and I’ll try and do a bit of exercise every day but there’s an awful lot of emphasis on having this clear mind and not having negative thoughts in your head. You can’t sustain that. There are going to be days when you will have the negative thoughts and you will have so much stuff going through your head. But you’ve got to learn to manage it, to balance it with going for a walk or doing whatever.”


Mary Monaghan, journalist

“I have four life lessons.

Number 1 – Choose to be happy. Probably originally said by some eastern guru but I think I first heard it quoted by that well-known philosopher, Ivana Trump and I took it on board. When things are going wrong, and I’m feeling sorry for myself, I always tell myself that I have a choice to be happy or sad and it’s best to choose to be happy and honestly it works.

Number 2 –  Remember to smile even when you’re not feeling it.  I do believe that smiling makes the endorphins accumulate in your brain and you genuinely feel better.

Number 3 – Forgive your friends for their transgressions – nobody’s perfect, we all do stupid things that we regret but try not to hold grudges.

Number 4 – Always try to look nice, it makes you feel better.”


Siobhan Cleary, psychologist and former broadcaster

“Black is my best colour and black goes with everything, especially white hair.

The main thing I’ve learnt over the decades is that I have an endless capacity for, and get great pleasure from doing very little. It’s not good to keep rushing around trying to change the planet.

I used to think that I would have been perfectly suited to living in Jane Austen’s time, whiling away the days embroidering antimacassars, dreaming up my own Mr.Darcy and writing little pieces of bad poetry to stick into a scrapbook of my own making.

I love modern technology and have been an early adopter from the get-go. These days, I can sit quietly anywhere, whiling away the hours… so long as I have my iPhone, iPad, laptop, kindle, EarPods and wifi.

If you are open to new things, you can make all sorts of discoveries. Just think, if Jane Austen had had smartphone, she could have tweeted Pride and Prejudice in just 140 characters! What a time saver that would be!”


Pauline Bewick, Artist and icon

“My thing is live in the present. Last night I was with my daughter Poppy and all her friends from college. And it was so much fun because we all just seemed to be there in the present together. Even though there was a huge age gap, it didn’t feel like it, we were just laughing women. Enjoying joking about men and sex and this that and the other! We all seemed to be of one age. It was nice.

I realise I have always lived in the present and I don’t mourn the past. When you said you were after life advice I thought, ‘gosh I can’t think of anything except ‘live in the present”. I just stumbled on realising that I always live in the present, I didn’t plan it or try to. I think if you don’t do it naturally, it could be pretty hard to do. It’s your composition, it’s the way you’re made.

There are some people that live on memories a lot. I do remember my mother saying ‘oh, memories. I hate memories.’ So she might have influenced me in saying that. Now she lived in the present, my goodness! Living in the present is my recipe but you can’t force it, you can’t make it happen but you can let it happen.”

Photography by Unsplash.

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