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Resist pressure to be perfect

Atoosa Rubenstein, ex-Seventeen editor, tells teens how to be themselves.
/ Source: TODAY

Math, English, student council, prom committee, varsity soccer, after school jobs — the pressure is on for teenagers today. Juggling it all and trying to strive for perfection at the same time can be tough for girls. Atoosa Rubenstein, former editor of Seventeen and a teen expert, offers her advice on how teens can resist pressure to be perfect, but still find their own greatness. Read her from MySpace blog:Last night I was at dinner with Ari’s family for Passover and everyone was asking me the same question: “So, what are you doing now that you’ve left Seventeen?” I don’t fault them for asking. After all, that’s the question EVERYONE who doesn’t work with me on a day-to-day basis asks. They’re used to seeing me as their over-achieving, did-you-see-her-on-television relative and friend. And I liked being that person until…I didn’t. I realized I was structuring my life to please THEM rather than to please myself. You may relate: How many people have asked you “So … Where are you going to college?” Or “So … What do you want to do when you graduate?”  While sometimes people are just naturally curious, I’ve learned that often they also want to put you in a box to make it easier to understand you. And honestly, WE feel uncomfortable if we can’t provide them with an easy box to put us in. At least, I do … or did.

But what I want you to know is that your greatness — your unique brand of magic — lies not in being an easy-to-label metaphorical box. Your greatness is not defined by the kind of guy who wants to date you or the style of clothes you wear. Your greatness is not defined by the college who accepts you or the job you get once you graduate. Your greatness sits inside you waiting for you to notice it even when the world sends you signals that isn’t there (i.e. the guy who ignores you or the college that sends you the thin envelope with the rejection letter inside).

Your greatness depends on YOU to feed it and nurture it. It depends on YOU to believe in it when no one else does. Your greatness is about the kind of person you are and the contribution you make to humanity — to fulfilling the role in our world that only YOU, with your unique mosaic of experiences and interests can.

Question: Are you embarrassed by your own greatness? When people give you a compliment, are you self-deprecating? Do you change the subject or call attention to something that you DON’T excel at? Do you say “I’m sorry” anytime a conversation or interaction doesn’t go perfectly — even if someone ELSE bumps into YOU? (That’s basically saying, “I’m sorry to be ALIVE — I’m not worthy.”)

I used to be like that, and am trying to recover from it now. Because I was embarrassed of my greatness, I focused instead on trying to be PERFECT in order to deserve the praise. That came with its own cauldron of pressures, sister, because as you know, NO ONE is perfect … Yet everyone has their own brand of greatness. That is the beautiful thing. Still, I felt pressure from my mother to be all the things SHE wanted me to be because she didn’t have the opportunities I had been given. I felt pressure from the magazine industry to be the kind of editor THEY thought I should be. I felt pressure from my husband to be the kind of wife HE thought I should be. And somewhere along the path of perfection, I lost the sense of being the woman I WANTED to be and actually WAS — it all became blurred with everyone else’s expectations for me.

I don’t want that to happen to you. One of my last editor’s letters at Seventeen contained the following quote from the brilliant Marianne Williamson (it’s often incorrectly credited to Nelson Mandela, who has said many other brilliant things himself):

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

In leaving my job, I walked away from the pressures that everyone in my life was putting on me and have started on a path (baby step by baby step) fueled by my own intentions and by my own personal brand of greatness. This is a lot more satisfying than trying to attain some ideal of perfection for everyone else in my life.

But I had to realize the various pressures that were ON me before I could let them go. What pressures are YOU under? Let it out here, darlin’. As they say, the truth shall set you free. I have never felt happier than I do right now. As I learn how to be happy, I want you to learn with me — and as you learn, I want to learn from you, so please do share. I’m so glad we have this space to grow together. I continue to love and be grateful for our relationship. You know where I am 24/7 if you need me. Until we meet in person …

To read more of Atoosa’s postings on her blog, check out at