Tanja Djelevic is standing barefoot on top of a rock on a beach in Santa Monica, getting ready to jump off for the sixth time. Without a single bead of sweat on her forehead, she turns to the camera and says, ‘Do you want me to jump even higher this time?’ She squats down, pushes off with her strong legs and throws her arms up high. For a brief second, she floats in the air before landing with a soft thump — and a loud laughter — in the thick sand below.
Pop star Pink, actress Rachel Weizs and a plethora of fit celebrities can credit Swedish-born Tanja — one of the most sought-after personal trainers in Hollywood and a former trainer on Sweden’s version of The Biggest Loser — for their physique. But it’s more than Tanja’s six-pack abs and famous clients that have generated an impressive list of followers. Her I’m he-eeere! attitude and fiery spirit work together as a magic potion, making anyone in her presence feel so alive.
Tanja, who was raised in small-town Sweden by Serbian parents before moving to Los Angeles, has never been one to be afraid of taking risks, or jumping off a rock until she gets the perfect shot. For this month’s Sweden With Love cover story (see interview below), Tanja opens up about life, love and what she believes is the key to finding happiness. Listening to her, you can’t help but be inspired to live out loud! • Ulrica Wihlborg.
Ulrica: You have a fascination with unicorns. Why?
Tanja: Unicorns are imaginative, magical animals. To me, they represent all the magical things we can be if we trust our instincts. I believe everyone has a magical quality inside of them that makes them unique. We just have to find that quality, trust it and create a life around it. Our personal road to happiness is as unique as we are.
Ulrica: Why is it so hard to find ‘our unique magic’ and trust in it?
Tanja: Everywhere we go, we are bombarded with messages about what success looks like. You should be skinny, you should be strong, you should have loads of money, you should have the most beautiful house, you should have the perfect family, you should drive an expensive car, you should be famous…and if you achieve that, you’re a success and you’ll feel great. Now, we all know that’s not true. But we still listen to those voices around us, and in the process we drown the voice — the unique magic — that’s inside of us.
Ulrica: The result is that we’re never satisfied with what is, and we’re always looking for something better.
Tanja: That’s so true. We second guess ourselves. A lot of us are obsessed with changing things. We don’t think we’re enough. We compare ourselves with other people and we feel we come up short. There is so much pressure to be something that we’re not that we often feel inadequate.
Ulrica: So how can we overcome that?
Tanja: First of all, you need to trust that your life is somehow going to be enough. Your own life, just the way it is, is going to be enough. You, just the way you are, are enough. It doesn’t matter what other people are doing, or what they own, or how they look. You need to find the best part of you and let that come forth. What makes you burn? What gets you jumping with joy? What makes you feel light and free? Those are the moments you need to notice and pursue.
Ulrica: And that could be very different from what we think will make us happy.
Tanja: This idea that we all need the same things to lead a successful and happy life is bullsh-t. We’re all unique, and what will make us happy is just as unique. Sure, for some people having a fancy car might make them feel great. But for others it means nothing.
Ulrica: So how do you find your own unique magic?
Tanja: I think you have to work at it from all different angles. If you cultivate different parts of yourself, you’ll notice what parts stand out. Cultivate your artistic side. Notice what you find beautiful and inspiring. Cultivate your desire to give. Cultivate your vulnerable side and your most powerful side. When do you feel fear? When you do feel strong? When do you feel connected?
Ulrica: Have you struggled with this in your own life?
Tanja: One of the things I’ve always had to battle with was a very negative outlook on things. Growing up, I was taught that things will usually turn out badly. That’s been hard for me to overcome. I definitely don’t have a perfect life! I would love to be a mom, but I’m not. I’d love to be in a relationship, but right now I’m not. I grew up in Sweden with Serbian parents. I had a very fear-based home life with an overprotective mom. She was extremely scared of everything. It was a victim-based way of living, and it was never for me.
Ulrica: How did you overcome that?
Tanja: I had to accept that I had those negative feelings, and by doing that I somehow neutralized them. I don’t want to live in fear. I want to be vulnerable and try new things and live boldly without always fearing the outcome. That’s what makes you feel truly alive!
Ulrica: Let’s talk about the physical, because you’re an incredible trainer and fitness expert.
Tanja: Your thoughts can affect your body, but your body can also affect your thoughts. That’s where physical fitness comes in. Staying fit for me is very much therapy. You can get as much endorphins from a five mile run as you get from one pill of an anti depressant. It’s an upper to move! And it’s also a healer for your body. You’re pushing your healing buttons for your body when you move. It helps with the aging process, and it helps with thinking clearly. I love to feel strong. I love to have energy. I’ve gone through a lot of things in my life, and training has always been my number one therapy. Honestly, it’s been my savior.
Ulrica: What’s your own workout routine like?
Tanja: I lift weights three to five days a week. I lift heavy weights to build muscle. I also love to be outside in nature, so when I do cardio I run a hill or I rock climb or I go on a two-hour hike in the mountains. Working out outside feels great, and it’s great for you. I work out basically every day. I combine intense workouts with restorative training, like stretching and yoga. I do at least five to six intense workouts a week, and one or two restorative workouts.
Ulrica: What’s your best advice about exercising?
Tanja: I have all my female clients lifting weights and we’re getting amazing results! The biggest misconception women have about weights is that it’ll make them bulky. Of course, if you start lifting weights and you’re not losing any fat at the same time, you’ll appear bulkier. But that’s because the fat is hiding your muscles. We’re also doing a lot of cardio outdoors. We hike, run and do different metabolic challenges. It’s such a great feeling to get stronger!
Ulrica: And that transfers into the rest of your life.
Tanja: Yes, you get that feeling of, ‘Yeah, I can do this!’ You feel empowered. It drives you to try new things and to go in new directions. It gives you the courage and guts to live your life to its fullest. You just want to go out there and do it!
Ulrica: What about food. How do you eat?
Tanja: If you want to lose weight and feel strong, food is incredibly important. It’s your fuel. You should eat in a holistic, organic way. You should eat as much clean, real food as possible. Avoid any genetically modified, processed, ready-made or pasteurized food. It’s important to eat food that is as whole as possible, and that means food that is organic and hasn’t been processed and comes straight from nature as it was intended. Flour, for example, is processed. I do believe in super foods and I try to get all my vitamins and minerals from the food I eat. I eat spinach, kale and broccoli every single day. I put chia seeds in my oat meal. I make a smoothie every morning of almond milk, chia seeds, cacao nibs, coconut flakes, maca powder, a handful of spinach and frozen berries. Sure, if my mom bakes me a cookie I’ll eat it! But I try to eat 80% clean, natural, real food.
Ulrica: Have you found your own unicorn? Are you happy in your life?
Tanja: I don’t have all the things that people say equal happiness. But I’ve created a life that I’m very happy in. It’s not about smiling all the time and being happy every day. No one lives like that. It’s about accepting that there is darkness, and with that comes the beautiful light. What I’ve learned is that there is sacrifice in everything, and that’s okay.
Photographed and written by Ulrica Wihlborg.
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