Advice to My Teenage Self

Shelby Garay

Coach Training Specialist at Ginger. National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach. Passionate about coffee, laughter, and helping people love themselves.

Advice to My Teenage Self

To the adults reading this, when was the last time you thought about your teenage years? Whether your teenage experience was more like the theatrical “High School Musical,” the angsty “The Breakfast Club,” or somewhere in-between, was there advice you wish you were given then?

To the teens reading this, is there anything you’ve learned from your experience so far that you can offer yourself or others? Is there advice you wish you had now?

Each generation has a different collective teenage experience, but in this 21st century swirl of a global pandemic and unremitting social, economic, and political unrest, now is an especially difficult time to be a teenager.

Adolescence is a period of intense physical and psychological change when the personality is thought to crystallize. Seventy-five percent of mental health issues have an onset between adolescence and young adulthood (13–24) and 20% of youth ages 13–18 have a mental health disorder. Despite this well-established need, more than one-third of youth in the U.S. are not receiving the mental health services they need. Helping to fill the consequential supply-demand challenge of this underserved population is integral to Ginger’s mission of building a world where mental health is never an obstacle.

Last month, Ginger announced on-demand mental healthcare access for adolescents. Ginger for Teens will provide individuals ages 13–17 with access to Ginger’s self-guided content, behavioral health coaching, and video therapy and psychiatry sessions.

In honor of Mental Health Awareness month this past May, Ginger kicked off Ginger Chats, an ongoing campaign to celebrate the healing power of storytelling. Telling our stories, even very small ones from “back-in-the day,” can help us and others to feel validated, have greater compassion, and learn from our circumstances. Our past experiences, whether successes or failures, are ripe and welcome opportunities for learning.

To tap into this vast source of experiential knowledge, we asked members of Ginger’s care and executive teams to share advice that they would give to their teenage selves.

Here are a few of the answers:

“Don, I know things are tough right now but things will not always be this tough. The best thing you can do right now is ignore that inner voice that’s telling you to do what you need to do to fit in. Go ahead, introduce yourself to everyone. Be Don. You have no idea how amazing it will be.” — Don Altemus, Ginger Behavioral Health Coach, MS, CPS, CRS, CAADC, CRSS

“There’s no set blueprint that you have to follow to live a life that matters. Do what you love, love what you do and make sure that you’re doing it with good people. Trust, care, serve, and stand grounded in your values. Inevitably, success will follow.” — Désirée Pascual, Chief People Officer

“The advice I’d give my younger self is, ‘Don’t be afraid to say NO more often. Set boundaries and stick to them, people won’t get mad at you for them, and if they do they don’t care about you!’” — Jill Arendt, Ginger Behavioral Health Coach, M.Ed., NBC-HWC

“I used to confuse having a strong work ethic — something I value — with being hard on myself. I thought that being self-critical would help me improve. But over time, I learned that doing so only made me feel depleted and down. Now I strive to embody a growth mindset, which enables me to more accurately assess things, learn from my experience, and enjoy the ride.” — Dana Udall, PhD, Chief Clinical Officer

“Focus your energy on what matters in the moment, and embrace these periods as formative growth experiences.” — Alex Boisvert, Chief Technology Officer

“‘You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.’ C.S. Lewis. This meant so much to me because in life people are so concerned about their looks and their weight and they let it define them, but it is our soul that makes us who we are. Our body is just the holder that keeps all the good stuff inside such as our love, our passion, our joy, our fears.” — Shannon Dorschner, Ginger Behavioral Health Coach, M.A.

“Surround yourself with people you respect and can learn from. Don’t be afraid to take career risks. Focus on what you love. Get sleep. Have fun!” — Russ Glass, CEO

“Growth happens at the edges of your comfort zone. They call them growing pains because it can hurt to outgrow people and spaces that may have defined you. Your time is invaluable; once lost it cannot be reclaimed, so spend it wisely.” — Mili Metz, Ginger Behavioral Health Coach, M.A., and assistant professor of psychology at The University of Saint Katherine

For me, I would tell myself not to compare myself so much to the people I used to see in magazines. As a teenager, I spent a lot of time trying to look a certain way, which I now understand was a tactic that marketers and corporations used merely to increase their sales. I wish I had accepted myself as I was and gotten to know my unique strengths and qualities.

I would also tell myself that it was OK, and perfectly normal, to think differently than others. I used to have an unsettling feeling when I didn’t think about things the same way as others. It turned out though, that my different perspective actually helped me to lead a happy and successful life. We all have a unique thumbprint that makes us more vibrant and contributive. Yet my teen self felt out of place and wondered if I’d ever fit into society’s norms. Now I realize I didn’t have to, nor do I necessarily want to.

How can each of us, no matter how old we are, learn from and support each other as we navigate our paths in this rapidly changing and often complicated world? Can we show one another, whether friend, foe, family, colleague or stranger, patience, compassion, tolerance, a helping hand, or simply a smile?

When we remember our pasts, our struggles, and consider the challenges of the present, perhaps we can extend a little kindness and empathy that will go a long way in another person’s life and enhance our own in the process — and we can accept that it’s OK to feel a bit out of place and different from others just as it’s normal to experience a wide range of emotions and feelings. These are all part of the human experience and our shared humanity.

Whether you’re a teenager or an adult, if you’re struggling with your mental health, there are resources and people to support you. Reach out to a Ginger coach or trusted adult who can embrace you in a safe space where you can be seen, heard, and understood.