Growing up in the spotlight meant that I was forced to talk about myself to adults at a time when most kids aren't forced to be that self-aware. I was doing all these interviews and had to think about myself and analyze myself to an unnatural degree. That degree of feedback — constant feedback, both criticism and high praise — is such an unnaturally intense thing.
But you see some of that now in all of the negative aspects of social media; I think that would be really tough to deal with as a teenager today. For the most part, young people want to blend in, and social media does not allow you to blend in, because you're out there for all the world to see, all the time.
So I'm thrilled, in a certain way, that I was living in such a bubble at that age, because I do think that exposure forces kids to grow up really fast, and, when you're subject to broad exposure, you have to have such a thick skin. Most people, though, don't have that thick of a skin or they only pretend too; in reality, people are pretty fragile.
Granted, I could've done with cell phones being in existence when I was on a tour bus; it would've been nice to keep in touch with Tiffany. But I'm glad that I'm not 18 years old again in this day and age, let alone coming out with a record right now.
Still, I embrace everything that happened in my teens, and I always will.
I do look back on my teen years like anybody looks back on their high school yearbook, and you're like, Is that really me? Oh, that was me, yes, I remember that. I was there. But there's a surreal aspect to looking back at my past, too, which there is for everyone else.
Part of that otherworldliness of looking back at your teen years comes from the fact that being a kid is hard, and being a teenager's hard. It's awkward for everybody, whether you're in the spotlight or not. So I feel like everybody needs to go easy on themselves about their past and about their present, and just try embrace every step of their journey.
When I think about my own life, I try to focus on the fact that it's been really interesting and I've never been bored. I started in musical theater when I was six years old, I had my musical career, I did some independent films in my 20s and 30s, I was on Broadway, I've composed music and now, after years of being obsessed with Hallmark Channel movies, I'm starring in them.
Part of that is because I remained open to all of my possibilities and tried to be versatile. I try to tell other entertainers, when they ask, to do the same: Learn an instrument, study acting, look at Broadway, expand your horizons, stay active and always stay creative. You can do so much more than you think when you're not relying on any one group of fans and can develop a really broad audience.
Doing so has allowed me to have a fun life and an interesting career. I've pretty much played every role that a woman could ever want to play in theater; I've just checked them all off my list. And there's lots more to do: I want to do exploring other movies, and I have co-written two musicals destined for Broadway. There's always something that keeps me creatively sparked.
But anyone can apply that advice, even if they're not in my industry. It's a really great time in the world right now for people to empower themselves. You can invent yourself and re-invent yourself, be whomever you want to be and be independent. Everyone has a chance to create their destiny, and to diversify their skills and experiences, whatever they are.
Always have something in your back pocket and tricks up your sleeve, because then you'll never have to rely on one boss or one job.
As told to THINK editor Megan Carpentier, edited and condensed for clarity.
Debbie Gibson is a singer, songwriter, musician, actress and dancer. Her most recent project is executive producing and starring in the Hallmark Channel's "Wedding of Dreams."