If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would you say?
You are 11 years old, and you have just been cast as a “hunter” in your ballet studio’s production of Peter and the Wolf. As if that isn’t humiliating enough, there are three hunters on the casting list—the small, the medium and the large. You have been cast as the latter. Julia Tedesco, “Large Hunter.”
On one hand, you are elated that your name made the list. You were scared to even try. Scared of failure and scared of wasting your parents’ time and money. On the other hand, you are mortified. You must wear a heavy fur cloak; a tall, cylindrical fur hat with an uncomfortable chin strap; and carry a fake rifle. Your role consists of (at best) marching, and (at worst) stumbling around on stage for comedic relief.
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I know you are about to walk down to the changing rooms and cry. I know you feel embarrassed, even foolish. But that’s not new. There’s never been a day that you walked into this place and didn’t feel self-conscious. If we’re being honest with each other, there are three reasons you feel this way.
First: You feel too big. OK, so you hit your growth spurt early. You feel like an ogre, and you’re convinced you’ll never stop growing. In class, the other girls seem delicate, petite, weightless. The beautiful, silky, sheer fabric they wrap around their leotards matches their physique.
On you, it seems dreadfully out of place. Your feet seem to land heavy on the raised wooden floors, while the others’ fall like flower petals.
Well, here’s some advice: Get over it. You’ll only end up growing another inch and a half the rest of your life. And you’re actually quite thin; you’re certainly not going to get any thinner (sorry). Most importantly, you were not raised to be preoccupied with your physical appearance. Don’t waste too much time on this. You’ve got more important work to do.
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Second: You feel clumsy. Your leaps are not graceful enough, your flexibility is poor. You adore ballet because it is structured and refined. When you listen to and obey the instructor’s cues, you are a formidably powerful and poised dancer.
But here’s the thing: Ballet is difficult. Like everything, it requires individual practice, discipline and what your future husband likes to call “grit”—something you haven’t quite got yet. Have you ever once locked yourself in your room and practiced your technique? No.
You will quit ballet within a year (don’t!), and piano within five years (don’t!), thinking “you’re just not good enough.” But the truth is, most of your inadequacies result from a lack of commitment. For the rest of your life you will find yourself envying not the talents of others, but the discipline. Stop envying. Start practicing.
Third: You feel like an outsider. The majority of girls who dance beside you are wealthy, and that makes you feel lesser. They live in different towns than you and have nicer things than you, and they can afford to take ballet four to five times a week. Your parents make a 16-mile, 25-minute drive twice a week, and you are acutely aware that they already pay more than they can afford for you to study ballet.
Younger Julia, don’t allow yourself to feel inadequate, but don’t suppress this discomfort you feel, either. Your mother has told you that this, too, is part of your education, part of giving you a broader worldview—and as always, she’s right.
So sit with that feeling of not fitting in. Dwell on it. Let it inspire and motivate you. Remember that your parents gave you both privilege and struggle—two equal gifts that will elicit in you a sense of responsibility, resilience and empathy.
These gifts will guide you through your formal education and open the door to your career. They will transform your career into a vocation.
So cry it out (there’s nothing wrong with a good cry). Then dry your tears, close your locker, climb in that station wagon waiting for you in the parking lot, and share the news with your mom. Fair warning: Your family will laugh mercilessly at you when you don that “Large Hunter” costume. But as they say, all of this builds character. And there’s life after Peter and the Wolf. I promise.
Julia Tedesco is executive director of Foodlink, the Rochester/Finger Lakes regional food hub focused on ending hunger, building community health and fostering economic development. Tedesco has been with the organization since 2009, following in the footsteps of her mentor, Foodlink founder Tom Ferraro, focusing on operational efficiency, anti-hunger programming and community collaboration. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Fairfield University and her master’s degree in public administration from Syracuse University, and is a graduate of Our Lady of Mercy High School. She lives in Rochester with her husband, Colin Orr, and children Stevie and Katharine.