I currently work daytime as a fitness instructor for the sports department of my local council, and I’m self-employed as a fitness coach / online personal trainer.
Dear younger Clara,
You’re 15 now, and you have a feeling that there’s a whole world out there for you to explore. It’s an exciting but nerve-racking feeling, and I’ll be honest with you: that won’t ever change. You’ll somehow always find a way to make sure you’re never the biggest fish in the pond. It can feel like a curse at times, but I promise it’s a blessing in disguise.
I know you love biology and chemistry. You’re pretty good at it too! But don’t be sucked into the idea that just because you’re classed as “smart” you should go and study medicine. In fact, in two years’ time, you’ll sit and pass UK Med School entry exams, and you’ll get in the car and tell Dad you’ve just realised you don’t want to be a doctor. Nobody will be disappointed. When you get home, you’ll look at the course list at the University of Dundee, stumble across psychology and you’ll realise instantly that that is what you’re made for.
Don’t be disappointed when you don’t get offered a place. Two weeks before finals, you’ll get a conditional offer. Four years later, you’ll graduate and will have won four consecutive awards for being the top student in your year. You’ll then take a break and later move on to graduate from the best sports university in the UK with a masters in sport and exercise psychology. Yes, sport and exercise – you read that right!!
And in the funny way that life turns out, you’ll be offered the opportunity to work as an online physique coach, and help other people transform the way they look and feel about themselves. You’ll also be doing psychology on the side, but rather than being a psychologist first, you’ll be a coach first. Oh, did I forget to mention you have a personal training qualification?! I know, what does that even mean. I’ll get to that later!
I admire your discipline already, and your dedication to making sure you’re always working hard, always striving to be your best. Those skills will get you way further than your high school knowledge of science ever will. However, I’ll warn you now: more isn’t always better, and those very qualities you praise yourself for and get praised for will lead you down a slippery slope of stress and anxiety when you’re a bit older.
It saddens me now to write this, but the pressure you put on yourself to always be the best will leave you with a deep sense of never being good enough. First year at uni will be fun, but from second through to fourth, you will really struggle with anxiety, stress, and disordered eating. It gets better, I promise! But I wish I could tell you now that good enough is good enough, and that aiming for perfection will leave you permanently dissatisfied.
After graduating, you’ll make the best decision of your life and take a year out before starting your master’s degree. That will give you time and space to work on prioritising your mental health. On that journey, you’ll randomly decide to become a Zumba instructor; you’ll then hire a coach to help you get in shape for a photoshoot; and you’ll suddenly find yourself competing in a bodybuilding show, wearing a sparkling bikini and A LOT of fake tan on a stage to be judged. Can you believe that? You’ll no longer feel like hiding and bullying your body. The craziest thing is that you’re now seen as a sporty person – you actually go to the gym 5 times a week!! Remember how you used to skive PE every week?! Crazy.
What you’ll realise is that bodybuilding and exercise will be the tools that help you manage your need to always be perfect and will force you to adjust to being happy with good enough. Because you’ll realise that without pressure, good enough is pretty close to perfect. You’ll also realise that just because you spent 5years in higher education and could have (and might still!) do a PhD, that coaching and applied sport & exercise psychology are your passion. You’re not disappointing anyone for choosing that path, but you’d be disappointing yourself if you persevered with academia.
Gosh, if I could give you one more piece of advice it would be to
“make sure you always make decisions with yourself in mind”
People come and go, people’s opinions come and go – but the only constant that remains will be YOU. Don’t modify or adjust your goals for other people (“friends”, or boyfriends) – staying true to your values and gut feeling will make you much happier. Also, I urge you to practice self-kindness and compassion. It’s not indulgent – you’re deserving of more than you give yourself permission for.
Anyway. I won’t spoil any more surprises for you, but I will say that the next 10 years are going to be amazing, hard, joyous, difficult, and scary at times; but I know you’ll just do you, and continue to put one foot in front of the other. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.
Your older 25 year old self, Clara