Letter To Your Younger Self

Zoe Hebden

Zoe Hebden - RAF Force Development Instructor

Currently working as an RAF Force Development Instructor

Dear Young Zoe,

If only you knew what I know now. It’s crazy how the older you get the more you realise that it’s YOUR life, YOUR choices and it’s only YOU that you really need to worry about. Luckily you did alright, you decided to go against the norm and do what you loved and now it’s all paid off. Yes, you weren’t the most popular girl in school but honestly school means nothing once you step out into the big wide world: you have thrived.

You are now in the Royal Air Force as a Physical Training Instructor specialising in Force Development Instructing. So basically you get to live your day-to-day doing fun activities, meeting amazing people, spending a lot of days in the newest coffee shop and do a job which doesn’t even feel like work.

Rule 1 – Never settle for anything less than you know you deserve.

This rule applies to so many aspects of life. The first being getting good grades, I found that I would always want to be the best whether the competition was against an opponent or just myself. With that mindset I found that I would push myself into getting what I deserved by pure hard work and determination. The second is with relationships, these can be such a huge part of your life and really affect the decisions you make. My rule with this is when you’re in a relationship make sure you can do everything you’d want to do if you weren’t in that relationship. These things shouldn’t be a tie they should be a support. Finally in your job. There will be people who just don’t like you, they’ll have no reason for it, it is just what it is. That being said if you’re stuck in a job and you hate it, do something about it, if you&’re being mistreated, make a change, if your job feels like an anchor, take a leap of faith the hell away from that feeling, you deserve better.

Rule 2 – Remove yourself from your comfort zone.

If I still lived in my comfort zone, I would still be living at home trying to figure out the best options for my life. Change doesn’t happen in this zone so force yourself out. My first big change was moving away from my family to complete basic training at the opposite end of the country and the feeling I had in my stomach was more than just butterflies. So why was this change so important? For one it started me off in a career that I love, it inspired my brother to follow in my footsteps, it allowed me to do sports I never thought I could and it’s the reason I’ve travelled around some the world (so far).

Rule 3 – Do not let anyone tell you that you can’t.

This will always stick with me. In Year 12 I was told that if I leave school to join the military then I will never amount to anything. I’m not going to slate schools but ill be honest, university is NOT the be all and end all of life. I had really good grades in school but I literally had no idea what I wanted to be, I couldn’t think of a single university course that inspired me: so I didn’t apply to go. Instead I originally pursued an apprenticeship and became qualified as a pharmacy technician then I fulfilled my dream and was selected for the Physical Training Instructor role within the military with just my GCSE’s needed to apply (as well as a hideous physical vetting process). Never amount to anything? Look at me now. My point here is that if you’d listened to every comment made by teachers, parents or even friends then you probably wouldn’t have even tried to do what you dreamed of and it’s sad that some people can be affected by words like that.

Rule 4 – It’s not all plain sailing but don’t let that stop you.

You’re not going to have an easy ride I can tell you now. Some days you will be crying so hard that it hurts but tears today creates determination for tomorrow and success for the future. Its crazy how some people can fail once only to never try ever again: don’t be that person. For example (spoiler alert) but you’re going to break your collarbone and that’s going to be you off Judo for a while, not able to succeed at another little dream of becoming the Royal Air Force number one female Judo champion, at least if you let that stop you. Simply, you didn’t let that stop you, you picked yourself back up and you did what you wanted a year later.

“The lesson here is that maybe not now, maybe not in 5 years from now but if you never try then you never will.”

Setbacks happen, it is up to you if you run and hide or stand and fight.

Finally, and I’m going to say it because I’m completely open. Family is everything, they aren’t here forever and sometimes for a shorter time than you had planned. Promise me you’ll make every second count and when things go south, you’ll get the support you need. My job is a lot of being away from home and being able to find a work and life balance is hard but luckily in the Air Force as a whole they will look after you and try and give you the things you need to make life a little easier. If you’re planning a career within the industry I wish you the very best because I literally have no regrets. I’ve tried new sports such as bobsleigh, I’ve travelled to Canada, France and Austria to name a few and now I’m having the time of my life in the next chapter delivering adventure training to so many brilliant people. You can do this too.

Smile, you love your life!


Dear Zoe Hebden