What I wish I knew when I was 16 years old
Updated: Jan 28
The sum of our experiences helps define who we are as a person. But if you had the chance to share some wisdom with a younger version of yourself, would you want to make any changes? Alisa Camplin explores what she’d share with her teenage self.
There have been several great articles written recently by people I admire reflecting on their lives. Some detailed their trials and tribulations, others talked about the lessons they’ve learnt. It’s really had me thinking about my life so far, and it’s helped me to contextualise many of my experiences. I’ve found the process to be rather intriguing, because there has been so much in life that has surprised me. Particularly that there’s so much that I didn’t know.
There are plenty of simple lessons I’d tell my 16-year old self. Things like: don’t waste money on transient fashion. Don’t be so hung up on what’s happening in the here and now, because it doesn’t always matter. Invest your emotional labour in two or three good friends, rather than trying to seek the approval of 30 different people in your greater friendship circle. There’s more than just these observations, though. There are also the hard-won truths that come with the benefit of time and experience.
Pace yourself and be kind along the way
I’d tell myself that it’s okay to pace yourself. When you’re young, you think you have to do everything so quickly – you’re racing for knowledge and experiences. You think you need to tick all the boxes – graduate, get a job, get married, have kids, etc. Now, I can appreciate that you’ve got a lifetime to learn, to find your tribe, to find a partner, to be successful and acquire wisdom.
On that note, I’d tell myself just how much your life will be impacted by finding a life partner and being married. When you’re younger, you hear people say, ‘Marriage is hard, and it takes commitment – it’s a journey.’ But I don’t think you have any real appreciation of what that means until two lives are really entwined, you have children and you are navigating your middle years together under daily pressures. I’d want to share just how all-consuming being married and having a family can be, and how much patience, trust, effort and care is required for both parties to thrive individually and feel content together.
Same goes with parenting – it really is a full-time job, and without first-hand experience I had inaccurate expectations. I now understand the time and energy commitment, the selflessness and the rapid acquisition of upskilling you need to stay ahead of your kids. Of course, you learn as you go, and it’s all a great and wonderful discovery, but I wish I’d been less naïve about what it takes to be a good parent. I’d certainly tell my 16-year old self to be more grateful in the moment for all the effort and ‘less glossy’ things my parents did for us, and perhaps to be less self-absorbed along the way. Oh, and to be kind – kindness is a beautiful attribute to embody.
Invest in your strengths
There are other things that would have been helpful to know, too. I’d tell my younger self that (y)our reputation and personal brand is sacred and it’s worth respecting. Your integrity and values – what you say and the way you behave – tell the world who you are. That should not be taken lightly – especially in a digital world. I have always been quite conservative, and I’ve felt a little embarrassed about this at times, but now I understand that this is one of my strengths.
Like everyone, I have many strengths. Interestingly, most of them have been developed by pushing out of my comfort zone, by practice and by doubling down on my investment in them. In saying that, sometimes my strengths play in overdrive. For example, I now know I’ve been inefficient and wasted a lot of time over the last 25 years by not adhering to the ‘80/20’ rule. It would have been extremely helpful to learn the 80/20 concept when I was 16 years old, so I could have used it in conjunction with another strength – my attention to detail.
I have always liked to do things well, to put my best foot forward and be my best self – I’m rarely content with just being ‘good enough’. Craft mastery and committing to excellence is how I won the Olympics. Later in life, it was this same commitment that allowed me to succeed in business. But, it would have been great to learn how to dial this strength up and down as required. Life is too big and too varied to be scoring A-pluses across the board. Knowing where you should apply 100 per cent of your time and energy is an important skill that comes with experience. I know now, for example, that A+ preparation and a great night of sleep prior to delivering a speech is vital, which means doing a C+ job on the housework – and that tradeoff is totally okay.
Accept yourself as you are…
I also understand now that I have to own who I am, and that knowledge would be great to share with my younger self. Yes, it takes time to develop and discover who you are, but I sure could have spent less time as a teenager second-guessing myself. I’d tell myself that wherever you are in life, however old you are, you need to love who you are and champion yourself honestly. Now, I like to say, ‘I’m a square and – although I spend time rounding off my corners – I know I’m never going to be a circle.’ The challenge and – in fact – the reward, is in learning to love my square-ness and sharing that with the world.
There’s an application of the 80/20 rule here, too. The work that I produce – whether here, or as a consultant or speaker – will probably be appreciated by 80 per cent of those who engage with it and the other 20 per cent won’t like it. Is it useful to spend my energy worrying about those who don’t resonate with me and most likely never will? Of course not. I’m much better off feeling energised by and proud of the positive impact I can have on 80 per cent of the people I work with.
…But continue to strive for growth
Enjoy the process of learning and growing and become great at changing and adapting – that would be the crux of what I’d like my 16-year-old self to know. The world moves quickly, so ongoing learning, investing in yourself, staying agile, and looking forward so you can develop emerging skills in order to stay relevant is key. But, you need to continue looking after your mental and physical health and cultivate your whole self (don’t be one-dimensional). Try lots of different things in order to find your passions, because no one can ever take that away from you. Also, work towards developing your emotional intelligence so you can understand and inspire people around you. This will also enable you to lead effectively when required and connect more deeply with others. Having strong and meaningful relationships will bring a richness to your life that very few material possessions ever will.
Appreciate and celebrate the journey
Looking back, I can see that the quicker you understand these things, the less time you’ll spend chasing them. But at that same time, the lessons learnt along the way rely on having those experiences to inform them in the first place – and that’s why I wouldn’t change a thing. Through living life, I’ve gained invaluable perspective.
There is no perfect journey, but this is my journey. It’s my story, and every bump, bruise, and scar I’ve got as a result of exploring different options and making some mistakes has made me who I am. It takes years of heavy pressure to form a diamond, and for human beings, our sense of self and personal resilience grows from the difficult situations we inevitably navigate as we age.
At no point in life is the road to your future a smooth, paved highway clearly marked on a map. It’s a bumpy road full of twists and turns, and from time to time you’re going to hit big potholes that knock you off course. That’s the remarkable thing about life, and if you can learn to embrace and love it with all its uncertainty and surprises, then you’re on the way to finding real contentment – no matter where life takes you!
Originally published on www.onelife.aiavitality.com.au on June 28, 2019.
Alisa Camplin is an Olympic Gold Medalist, in-demand Keynote Speaker, Corporate Ambassador, and Human Performance Consultant who delivers results-driven Resilience and Human Performance Training and Development Programs. Connect with Alisa.