What I wish I could tell my 16-year-old self

Eight successful women share words of wisdom

“Make the most of your youth!”

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When I was younger, the pressure to excel and achieve, particularly in school, has been constant. Thankfully, I’ve always been an achiever, and I really strive to excel in all that I do—high school was no exception. But this also was a consistent source of worry and the tendency to inflate problems became a norm, especially in academic matters. At that time, I would let grades consume me.

And so I would tell my 16-year old self that while academic excellence is important, so are health, rest, and precious time with our family and friends. We really shouldn’t allow one thing to consume us, especially not grades! We can’t measure our self-worth with grades or rank in school. We are more than that. There is the excitement and exhilaration of youth that are passing us by, and we should be making the most out it.—Sec. Amenah Pangandaman, DBM

“Don’t worry too much.”


I would tell my high school self not too worry too much about the future and try to have fun along the way. Trust in God. I was on a good path anyway. I was very disciplined and had a serious work ethic as a teen. My family moved to Toronto before I started high school during what was supposed to be a temporary stay of three or four years. We ended up staying longer, beyond our control due to the political situation in the Philippines in 1986. It was a period of great insecurity and instability for my family. Somehow, I ended up excelling academically, winning student council, and becoming yearbook editor. I eventually got into Canada’s number one post-secondary school, University of Toronto, where I did my undergrad degree in Urban Studies and Art History.

I worried about things I couldn’t really control, and later realized that God had a beautiful design for my life. I just needed to trust and be ready. You do your best, with motivation, hard work, good relations, a loving family, constant learning of new skills and disciplines. Life just happens. Mine had a preparation, but my plans were tweaked. I didn’t have a straight path. After university, I just let it unfold—being sent to the Philippines by my first job, working as a manager of an international urban planning program at a young age, doing development work in one of the poorest provinces for one whole year pre-internet, getting “discovered” for television and having a 20 year career out of it, meeting my future husband in our TV network, deciding to live in the Philippines forever, having three amazing daughters, being a goodwill ambassador for a UN agency, writing a book, getting into farming, being asked by the President to work with him. I don’t know how anyone could have planned or predicted any of that. And as wonderful as those career moments were, it’s the simple things in between that make my life extraordinary. Falling in love. Being a mom. Family. Friendships. Even getting sick and healing. They just happened, and I seemed to be ready and prepared when they did.

So to the 16-year-old me, (and to my daughters Sophia, Lily, and Stella), don’t worry too much. You’re going to be more than ok. Just have faith.—Daphne Oseña Paez, PCO press briefer

“Brace for a tough life.”

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At 16, I was class valedictorian, more than a year later I lost my mother to breast cancer. I would tell my young self to brace for a tough life but to know that everything will be all right. I will tell her to be strong, have faith in God, believe in her dreams, and always strive to do the right thing.—Dr. Mae Dolendo, head pediatric oncologist for Southern Philippines Medical Center

“Learn the importance of self-love.”

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I would tell my high school senior self that life is what you make it—with God’s grace, of course. I was, and still am, an obsessive-compulsive perfectionist. I would not leave work unfinished until I thought it was flawless not for others to judge, but for my own satisfaction.

I would tell my high school self that a flawed project, behavior, or even existence is nothing to be uptight about, for as long as we keep trying to correct our ways.

That there is nothing wrong with being vulnerable. That “broken” people are looked upon the Lord with favor. That it is OK to not be OK.

Why? Because I would’ve wanted her to be more grounded, more rooted to the earth, so she would enjoy her young life more.

Through my 78 years, I have learned not to demand too much from myself. To loosen up a bit. I have learned the importance of self-love. And why not? We are God’s highest creatures, made unto His image and likeness.—Boots Anson Roa Rodrigo, actor, director, teacher

“Choose your battles wisely!”

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“Don’t sweat the small stuff!” a tall order for a lifelong Type A person or as is more trendy nowadays someone with an MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) of ESTJ (The Director). Now in my fifth golden decade of life, I have learned to accept some things are simply out of our hands and we should never be immobilized by this. Choose your battles wisely. Be assertive when the occasion calls for it and flexible when necessary to reach a consensus. You need a lot of partners and teamwork to make things happen.

Love your country. Treasure and embrace it and learn more about its many fascinating aspects. You will be devoting the next four decades and more of your life in its service. Lastly, find your own voice and use it and do remember to get enough sleep. Padayon.—Ambassador Theresa Dizon-de Vega, Philippine Ambassador to Korea

“It’s okay to fail.”

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I had a rough life during my teenage years. I went to three different high schools because we were moving a lot. As I was going through the transitional period of my teenage years, our family was also going through a different transition. I had to deal with my classmates, grades, expectations, bullies, as well as balancing on dealing with what my family is going through. If I had the chance to give an advice to my 16-year-old self, I would tell them that it’s ok to cry. It’s okay not to know what to do next. It’s okay to fail.

Seek what lesson can be learned in every trial that you’re going through. You cannot please everyone. Learn to appreciate your flaws and imperfections. Being different is an asset. Keep in mind that what other people think of you is not important, it is how you perceive yourself. Stop listening to the people around you who doubt your talent and passion.

Never stop dreaming and working on how to achieve it, because one day those dreams will come true in unexpected ways.—Sigrid Andrea Bernardo, director

“What matters is you’re alive and given the opportunity to learn."

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High school is just the beginning of an exciting journey. I remember then, my parents were very strict and my daily routine was simply “bahay, school, bahay.” I didn’t understand it much then, but I appreciate those times now as an adult. In hindsight, my parents’ guidance saved me from mistakes I could’ve regretted committing. But whether your high school years were uneventful or painful, remember, your mistakes don’t define you. Turn them into learning experiences. Life goes on with the promise of better times. Just keep your mind, heart, and eyes on the ball.

Know that it isn’t the end of the world if you don’t end up on top of your class. It doesn’t matter if you’re not the most beautiful in the room, or if you don’t win the student council elections. What matters is you’re alive and given the opportunity to learn about many things you can use later on. Don’t be shy to make friends with people whose interests you share. They are the ones whom you might spend your best years in the future. —Usec. Goddes Libiran, DBM

“Learn from your mistakes.”

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Kung babalikan ko yung high school self ko, sasabihin ko sa kanya na maghinay hinay sya. (I will tell my younger self to take it easy.) Take your time and enjoy whatever you’re experiencing at the moment. Yung kabataan mo at yung mga taong nakakasama mo, pahalagahan mo. At kung may mga mali kang desisyon na ginawa, kelangang may mga matutunan ka sa mga pagkakamaling yun. (Treasure your youth and the people around you. And if you make mistakes, learn from them.) ’Nung 16 years old ako, nagsisimula na ko sa isang industriya na wala akong ka malay-malay. Maraming mga pagsubok, marami akong mga nailuha, pero madami din akong napagtagumpayan. (When I was 16, I was starting in an industry that I had no idea about. I had a lot of challenges, a lot of tears, but I had a lot of triumphs too.) At sa edad kong eto ngayon (61 years old), natutunan ko na maikli lang ang buhay. Kelangang matuto ka talagang mag mahal sa kapwa mo. (I have learned that life is short. Learn to love your fellow men.) At kahit nasaang antas ka pa ng lipunan ngayon, wala kang karapatang magyabang at itaas ang sarili mo dahil sa katotohanan, wala tayong pwedeng ipagmalaki, kung hindi tayo unang minahal ng Diyos. (And wherever you are in your life now, you have no right to be proud because the truth is, we are nothing without God.)—Rio Locsin, actress