3 Things I Would Have Told My 16-Year-Old Self
When we are teenagers, it can seem like our worries and problems will follow us in perpetuity. Whether our concerns revolve around navigating social groups, choosing the right style of clothing, improving our athleticism, or choosing a college major that will allow us to follow our dreams, it can be tough to imagine that these concerns will ever be alleviated.
When I think back to myself at age 16, my world was full of pressure to look the right way and say the right things. As a kid, feeling accepted by others can seem like the most important thing in the world. But the truth is that nothing is more important than accepting yourself! Knowing what I know now about the importance and reward of self-care and self-improvement, there are 3 things I would tell my 16-year-old self.
#1 Nobody is Really Perfect.
Perfectionism does not bring you closer to the ideal; it keeps you at an arm’s length from ever experiencing success.
I remember creating a list when I was in ninth grade of all the things that were wrong with me, from my complexion to my body shape, to my personality and social skills. I wrote it all down, so I could start planning how to fix every single imperfection. I remember very clearly the words used to describe my disposition by my doctor around that time: “driven, perfectionist, high-achievement orientation.”
These may seem like positive attributes at first glance, and to an extent they are. But the difference between being motivated and being a perfectionist is that as a perfectionist, your brain creates an unattainably ideal vision, and anything that falls short of the mark is considered a failure.
I had a long list of things that didn’t meet my ideal, and I was determined at that time to change them. I would use the best skin products available to make sure I looked flawless. I would eat as little as possible and exercise as often as possible to lose every trace of fat on my body.
I would tell the right jokes and hang out with the right people to ensure I was well-liked and admired. I would do whatever it takes. But the truth I know now is that the stubborn pursuit of perfection is not a positive quality if the goal or vision is unrealistic and misguided.
Now that I know the satisfaction that comes from progress and continuous improvement, I’m far happier than when I was chasing my unattainable ideals and trying to be who I thought everyone wanted me to be.
#2 Looking Fit is Different Than You Think It Is
Doing a lot of cardio and avoiding weight lifting will NOT make you look toned and fit. And lifting heavy weights will NOT turn girls into Arnold Schwarzenegger.
One of the driving forces behind my restrictive eating and compulsive exercise in high school was my fear of becoming fat. I thought at the time that the best thing I could do for my body was to do cardio every day and do only light body weight exercises to be fit.
What I didn’t immediately realize was that as my body fat crept lower and lower, I was also losing muscle and my bones were becoming weaker.
Even once I started bodybuilding, I was initially still fearful of gaining weight and monitored the scale frequently to ensure I stayed below a number I had deemed acceptable. Now, almost two years later, I am amazed to realize that lifting heavy weights and decreasing the amount of cardio I was doing was the best thing I could have done for my body and my self-image.
I have never been stronger or faster than I am right now, and I have never felt better about the way I look. And the fact that I now weigh over 25 pounds more than I did in high school? It doesn’t bother me for a second. The number on the scale doesn’t matter anymore.
I regularly lift over 80% of my body weight doing dumbbell and barbell exercises, and I can do over 10 pull-ups in a row. I had it all wrong when I was 16. I wish that girl could see me now!
#3 Things Won’t Go to Plan
You can make as many plans as you want for the future, but don’t expect that everything will go exactly according to your expectations in high school.
I have been a chronic planner for as long as I can remember. As early as age 5, I wanted to create a savings plan for my birthday money. By age 16, I knew, without a doubt, that I would go to college to study nutrition, and my first job would be working for a college or professional sports team. Maybe I would even start my own business after a while, when I was in my thirties.
Well, the first part of that plan came true (going to college to study nutrition), but the rest took some twists and turns. My first job as a dietitian was not with a sports team, but with an addiction rehabilitation facility.
Even though it wasn’t what I had envisioned for myself, it ended up being a tremendously rewarding experience and it felt good to be doing such important work.
However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that sports nutrition was my true professional calling. I started NOVA Sports Nutrition in 2017—far earlier than I anticipated launching my own business—and I was terrified at first. I oscillated between feeling incredibly motivated and completely unprepared to be a business owner.
But I allowed myself to be flexible and make adjustments as I went along rather than sticking to any predetermined expectations. As it turned out, being flexible and rolling with the punches worked out better than I could have imagined.
I love living in an area that feels alive with opportunity and I enjoy having the unlimited potential to grow my brand, make new connections, and help people of all ages and abilities achieve healthier, happier lives through diet and exercise.
I’m amazed at how far I have come and how much my priorities have changed. I’m sure I’ll have a whole new set of life lessons to tell myself in another 10 years, but for now, I’m happy knowing I’ve learned how to give myself a break, live a truly healthy lifestyle, and embrace change and spontaneity.
If you could go back in time and tell yourself what you know now, what age would you go back to and what would you say?