What Would You Tell Your High School Self?

This post is sponsored by OLLY — here to help make nutrition easy, foolproof and delicious. Shop the full line.

As your kids get older, do you ever think about high school and make mental lists of advice you want to give them? What you loved? What you would have changed? What you didn’t understand yet as a teen, but wish you had? I’m working with OLLY on a 2-part series about advice we would give our former teenage self, and our current teenage daughters.

OLLY offers a unique collection of vitamins, supplements and protein powders that don’t require a PhD in Chemistry to understand. Are you familiar with their line? I was originally introduced to OLLY a couple of years ago when they first made their debut at Target. Every OLLY product is packed with super effective, complex nutrients in a simple, expertly blended dose of just what your body needs to thrive. Plus — and this is a big plus — they’re really yummy! They make taking your vitamins a delight. And the entire line is so easy to use that you can mix and match to your heart’s content.

Recently they launched OLLY Girl, a multivitamin that’s made for girls age 12-17. It’s the perfect go-to product during those crucial growing years. OLLY Girl is packed with 15 essential vitamins and minerals to support strong bodies and bones, and a healthy immune system — including brilliant B vitamins to boost energy. It’s formulated with biotin to help with hair and nail growth, and it works from inside to support clear, healthy skin. It’s like a little chewy bite of perfection made just for your daughter. If she’s an unstoppable force (and she is!), then this is nutrition that keeps up.

Speaking of unstoppable forces, that’s exactly how I think of our 3rd child, Olive. Olive is our current high-schooler. She’s a sophomore and she’s thriving. She eagerly follows current events and is passionate about supporting projects that advance women’s rights around the world.Her AP Human Geography teacher, Ms. D, gave her a book about social justice, called What We Do Now, with a hand-written note that said: “Your passion for social justice and world exploration is incredible. I want to be like you when I grow up. For real, stay woke and keep fighting for what’s right.”

She’s also incredibly creative. She’s writing a play with her theater department and will be workshopping it next month, and performing it this spring. She plays piano and guitar. She goes to every indie band concert she can get all-ages tickets to. She takes hard classes and gets good grades. She’s an in demand babysitter and she works 15 hours a week at a part-time job. She has a fantastic sense of style and fashion.

Her latest project? She’s working with a group of friends to launch a teen-focused magazine called Dysfunction. They put out a call for submissions, they’ve been learning how to do layouts digitally and on paper. They’ve been talking to printers both in town and online. It’s a super cool project and I’m excited to see it come to life.

My advice to my teen self? My advice to Olive? Do something or create something in your teen years that you can touch and see and that makes a mark on the world. Start a band and get a gig. Record the album. Take the photography class and do fashion photo shoots that you share online. Write and submit the article. Make a movie. Publish a magazine.

It doesn’t have to be a huge production, but no matter the scope, it’s super valuable. Because projects like that are a chance to get genuine, real-world feedback. As a teen, it’s easy to get caught up in the world of high school, and forget that the rules are different in school than they are in real life. When a teen takes on a project that challenges them to use their best effort, but isn’t measured by a grade or the approval of an adult, they experience huge opportunities for growth and development.

I mean, I like high school sports, but not as much as a group of high schoolers who start a band. Because in high school sports, the students are to some degree following the plans and ideas of an adult. With their own band, they decide when and how to rehearse. They arrange the gig. They post the fliers. 

As an extra bonus, projects like that also create something real and tangible to look back on. Something to show your kids some day. Solid proof that you took on a challenge, learned a skill, made something happen. They’re a reminder to yourself that you’re capable of doing it again.

Olive is right on track. And I’m glad we have access to things like OLLY Girl that help her stay strong and healthy so she can shine her brightest and tap in to her innermost strength when she needs to. Would you like to try OLLY Girl? Find it here.

What’s your take? Did you get the chance to make a mark as a teenager? Did you write a song or record an album? Did you make good art — not as an assignment, but because you wanted to? Did you write a book? Publish an article? Make a movie? Write a script? Build something that’s still around? If yes, are you still proud of yourself when you think of it? I’d love to hear.

I’m also curious: What the biggest piece of advice would you give your teenage self (or your own teenage daughter)?

43 thoughts on “What Would You Tell Your High School Self?”

  1. Not sure about advice, but I loved reading your description of your daughter—it shows so much respect and love. What a wonderful thing to be able to look up to your children. I wanted share a book rec for Olive. It’s a YA that I adored and it seems like something Olive would like—Everything Must Go by Jenny Fran Davis. It’s fashion/art/what it means to be a young woman all set at an unforgettable, super crunchy boarding school in NY state. And it’s written by a college student (and published by a major house). Talk about making something real while you’re young! Anyway, reading this post made me think of that book—Olive should check it out!

    1. It’s true! I sure do like my kids. They’re really fun to parent and I’m super lucky. And thanks for the recommendation. Sounds like it might be perfect as a Christmas gift for Olive.

  2. AAAAH YES OLIVE IS THE BEST! She’s so rad, such an inspiration. Doing such awesome things. Creative, smart, talented, hard working, happy, funny, rad.

  3. Be kind to yourself. You do not need to know what is next. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You are beautiful because you are unique.

  4. I wish I had expended my energy thinking about my personal growth, projects and interests, instead of wasting it on thinking about boys. This is terrific advice, Gabby.

    1. You and me both. I really need to practice self-love, because when I look back on my teen self I think, “What a dope.” It was all about boys and trying to get in with the “popular” kids. I wasted so much time.

  5. What a time to be a girl – this is such an empowered time to grow up when more and more people (I wouldn’t say society as a whole, but maybe I’m being too cynical) are overthrowing the traditional notions of femininity and power. I don’t have a teen yet, but I LOVE your advice to a teen about creating something and owning it. My 8 year old girl writes a little newspaper for our neighborhood and only loves it because she does it herself – with as little interference from me as she can manage.

    PS: just LOVE Olive’s sense of style!

  6. I have a freshman taking AP Human Geog. It seems like such a cool class (hard though). I would have loved it in high school. Her teacher sounds wonderful.

  7. I wish I’d explored career paths and thought about future trajectories beyond motherhood–that I’d had a solid sense of me and my interests and my future contributions independent of who I married. You go girl!

    1. I don’t know if you’re Mormon, but that is something I worry about for Mormon teen girls. There’s still such a focus on marriage-as-the-goal that I fear they don’t think beyond that. If they don’t marry, if kids don’t come, if their spouse leaves — then what?

    2. Totally agree with you, I was the same. It was a long process to ‘find myself’ and I felt in my 30s how I wished I’d felt in my 20s – i.e. self confident and capable. The advice to make something tangible is awesome. I will definitely be encouraging my children to do that!

  8. I would tell my high school self to be more assertive about my own needs– put bluntly, to be a little selfish. There were too many times when I let family members shortchange me of opportunities (for education, travel, unusual work experiences or other new experiences) or even voluntarily passed up opportunities because I didn’t want to inconvenience others. I did myself harm by being too community-oriented and too conscientious–and the thing is, many of the opportunities that you get between the ages of about 14 and 24 belong to that stage of life and don’t come back later on. These are the years in which to explore as much as you possibly can.

  9. People are not nearly as concerned about you and what you are doing as you think. I don’t mean that in an unkind way. I think that at 16 I really thought people judged what I was wearing, or doing, or saying. I was a pretty cute 16 year old, but extremely self-conscious. I felt like someone was always looking at me and I wondered what they thought of me. Maybe I’m admitting too much and no one else thought this way. It was pretty life changing when I realized that I could do and say and think whatever I wanted, and do whatever I wanted to about that, and no one really cared what I thought at all. There’s freedom in that.

    Also, I started dating at 13, was married at 23, and had four year (or more) relationships, plus lots of short ones in between. I did get a degree (and a masters), but really wanted marriage and kids, and that was the goal I was constantly seeking. I love, love, love my girls and my husband, but I wish someone had told me to just take time to be me for some period in life. There is no way that you can explain the all encompasing self-sacrifice of motherhood adequately.

    1. I full agree with this! Your fellow high school classmates aren’t thinking of you, because they’re just as self-conscious as you are. They’re thinking of themselves.

      And it seems like one of the ways to enjoy high school is to do the opposite; to get out of your own brain and consider how other people are feeling — not in order to judge them, but to feel empathy and compassion. The ability to understand how the people around you are feeling is a game changer.

  10. You are smarter than they think. You are not as smart as you think you are. The Hidden syllabus in high school is that the adults are more flawed than you can ever believe and are perfect examples of ‘do as i say, not as i do” (religious school/ very unaccepting of male-female friendships, the married principal was err overly friendly with the married math teacher, punished anyone who suspected, founding families were awarded majority of class medals)

  11. Gabby, love the ideas in this post but respectfully disagree that sports aren’t as meaningful. My son is 15 and has run 5 half marathons. When he was 12 he figured out that the Boston Marathon in 2020 is 4 days after his 18th birthday and he wants to run it. He has goals that he works toward and he and my daughter have special friendships on their cross country teams. You can make your mark in all different ways. (The day before he was born we watched the Boston marathon in Natick MA and he was born in Boston the very next day).

    1. I hear you, Amy, and I should have been more careful with that example. I’m a big fan of high school sports. I participated seriously, and my kids have too. And I learned a ton from my participation — like the special friendships you mention. But not always the same kinds of things that I learned from self-directed projects.

      The half-marathons you describe your son running sound very self-directed — versus being told to run a marathon by a coach. It sounds like your son likes to accomplish goals that he’s thought up in his own head. Which aligns closely with the advice I was trying to give in this post. (So maybe we’re actually on the same page. Hah!)

  12. I love Olive’s style. Looks like she’s having fun with it too.
    I would tell myself not to pine over that boy – the one with surfer blond hair who blew hot and cold with me – and rather give time to the other – the one I danced with, who shyly made me laugh and had the most beautiful eyes. But I’d probably not have listened :)
    I’d tell myself to commit to a sport (I think playing a team sport would actually have been good for me), to enter that writing competition and learn how to speak French. I had so much time I just didn’t realize it then.

  13. Funnily enough, I look back on my high school self and I see someone who is fearless. The older I become, the more that has gone away. College was fun and a huge learning curve in love and life but ultimately stressful. My dad passed away my senior year and life became so much less bright without him. I think I’m envious of who I was, and think often of the choices that I never thought I’d make but were right in the end. At 27 sometimes it feels like my experience is completely out-of-line with what’s “expected” but at the end of the day I’m grateful for everything I’ve been given. At 15, I had NO idea just how blessed/lucky/fortunate/providential I was. So maybe I’d tell her to give thanks a bit more, and enjoy being completely fearless.

    1. I love that you felt fearless in high school. That’s exactly as it should be! And if it makes you feel any better, like you, I felt fearless in high school, less fearless in my twenties, and much more fearless in my 30’s.

  14. I remember being so self-conscious in high school. Even when I was president of so many different organizations I was uber insecure. You are doing such a great job Gabrielle! I love the projects that your daughter is working on.

    If I could rewind time, I would remind myself not to worry about the opinions of others. Strangely enough, sometimes the most popular people in high school end up not being the most successful people. It’s good training for us not to value the opinion of others early on.

    xo and hugs!

  15. I’m so impressed with Olive and all she is doing! You and your husband seem to do a wonderful job encouraging your children’s many pursuits and passions. When I was a teenager I was just in “survival mode” trying to get through it until I could be a grown up. So much better to live richly at all stages of life. You’re right to so be proud of her!

  16. I wish I wouldn’t have put so much pressure on myself to get into an elite college. I was too obsessed with scores and grades and tailoring my life to have content for good applications. I think there are even more American kids like that now than when I was in high school in the 90s. I did go to an elite college, but by the time I was in law school, I was so beyond burnt out on schoolwork. And then the reward for all of that is a never-ending pressure-cooker job! (But the bright side is that I do meaningful work and support my family.)

  17. My high school experience was far from perfect, but still a really enjoyable one, primarily thanks to running track and really great friends! Some things I would tell my teenage self: Go see a therapist. I was battling depression throughout high school but didn’t really realize it until I got to college. Be a bit kinder. I wasn’t the nicest person, even to my friends. Don’t assume anything about other people. I spent a lot of weekend nights bored and crying at home because I thought everyone else must be busy and my closest friends were out partying but I wasn’t into that. Later I learned that one of my other (less-close) friends spent their weekends the same way as me- I really wish I had listened to my parents and called her. Take lots of pictures (and back them up/print them!!). I have way too few pictures with my friends, especially in 9th and 10th grade.

  18. Gabrielle, when I read your post, I’m filled with admiration for your amazingly creative daughter. But it made me a little sad too, and you of all people will see why:
    I’m French you see, and in France, I feel kids have no time to grow. My 15 1/2 year-old son is remarkable, smart, artistic and passionate about special effects. He has no time at all to work on personal projects (yesterday, Friday, he had an 8-hour day at school. Can you imagine? 8 hours of classes, back to back with less than an hour for lunch…)
    I’m a middle-school teacher, and my school makes me sad, it’s all about academics there. No drama club, no book club, no art club, no nothing. ONly 3 different sports are available on Wednesday afternoons.
    I organize an exchange with a great state school in England, 20 minutes north of London. The French kids I take there are just in disbelief when they see all the cool stuff kids get to do.

    Anyway, I think Olive is unbelievably lucky to grow up where she does, and I so wish my kids couldbe in a different country where there’s room to grow and create!!
    Sending love from France

  19. I wish high school girls would be really proud of their young strong bodies. Looking back I feel like I was most self-conscious about my body at that age–and it was pretty perfect! Time changes bodies, and that’s fine, but that youthful strength is pretty awesome and I wish I had valued it more.

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