Dear 23-Year-Old Self,
I know you’re ready to take on the world. You’ve done all the right things for so many years. You’ve given this life your all – the lost sleep studying for exams, the leadership roles you took on for clubs you believed in, the friendships you made in college with kids from around the globe. You always made sure to raise your hand in class at all the right times. Dang Girl, you sure have worked hard!
Now’s that moment when all of it comes to play. You’re stepping out into the great unknown, into the so-called real world, and man would you do anything to become that woman you wished you’d always be. The woman who has it all. She’s independent and she’s a go-getter. She doesn’t let anyone get in the way of her dreams.
You’re living in a new city, “the big city” as folks from home like to call it, and you’re going to feel out of place. It’s one thing to travel to new places. You can handle that – you love that. But, starting somewhere new is going to shake your world a bit, but don’t you worry. One day you’ll look back and call it the most brilliant idea.
Those growing pains are going to hurt. You’re going to worry that you’ll lose where you came from by starting somewhere new, but just know that home will always be a part of you. You don’t have to try. You’ll always know your roots are on the farm you grew up on (the Ponderosa as we like to call it) in Hartsville, Indiana. What a lovely place.
You’re going to get knocked down at work. And not the “slow your roll” kind of getting knocked down that they think us Millennials all have to learn. But, people won’t always treat you right and this will make you feel alone, wondering what you did to deserve disrespect. But trust me it’s not you. You have a heart of gold. Don’t let the way some people treat you define you.
But, rest assured, that there will always be good people who have your back. You might not have faith in the entire system, but keep faith in something greater. Understand that no matter where you're at, good people will be there to help you when you need it. And trust me, they’ve been through it themselves.
Don’t worry about what others say about you. Most of it’s in your head and the rest of it doesn’t matter, because as long as you’re being a good person, their little comments don’t amount to much. Keep moving past small minds and understand that just because someone’s older doesn’t make them wiser.
Take others’ advice with a grain of salt. Most of it comes from a good place, but those people have a totally different life than you and can’t really understand what you’re going through. And that’s okay.
It’ll take a minute, but you’ll make new friends with some of the most fantastic ladies in the city. You’ll have way too much fun livin it up and making all the boys cry. Keep making them cry too, because you’ll run into a few that aren’t worth your time. You might fall in love, but never settle for less than you deserve. Your gut will tell you what that is.
Stay as close to your dreams as you can. Never ever EVER let them die, because they are what keep you alive. Don’t apologize for being ambitious. The world needs more people like you. You might feel like a secretary now, but keep moving. Do the small jobs with a smile and never think you’re too good. This will build you.
Demand respect from EVERYONE. And I mean everyone. Just because someone may know more than you at work doesn't mean that they can walk all over you. You've got to know when to tell them no even when it's hard. As good as you are to other people, be that good to yourself.
Stop waiting on someone to tell you what to do next. If it’s in your heart, go do it. Go build it. It’ll never be as good as you want it, but you’ve got to try. You'll never know exactly what you're doing, but no one really does. When we thought the adults had all the answers, we were wrong. If you’re worried that you might get fired or look stupid for going for your dream, ask yourself, “How does it feel to always play it safe?” Die trying rather than submit to giving up.
All of those pieces are going to start to come together to make you feel alive again. Getting down on your knees to pray will pay off. Your pain is going to build the way for your dreams. And all you’ll do is look back saying thank you for all that I went through, because it made me into exactly who I was meant to be…and that’s one heck of a woman.
Your Older, Wiser Self
It is in times like these when innocent lives are stolen from this earth in a matter of seconds, that we must sober up to reality or go on to stand for nothing of consequence. The Paris attacks have taken the lives of over 150 individuals - people who were one minute enjoying music at a concert or sharing good company in a cafe have suddenly been ripped away from their loved ones due to the pure evil that exists in this world.
This is the moment when the ice water hits your face and you wake up to what matters in life. Our lives are finite and that is never more apparent than now. Let us pray for the innocent souls in Paris and wake up to these everlasting truths:
1. There is pure evil in this world and we must either face it or allow it.
It is an unfortunate truth that the world contains unfathomable evil and that evil is currently far from contained. We either stand up against it or it repeats somewhere else.
Terrorists are no longer simply targeting airports or areas more commonly expected of these attacks. They are interfering with the daily lives of innocent individuals.
2. Regardless of where you are from, The Good from all areas of the globe will stand in unison now more than ever.
This is an evil that does not discriminate. It does not care about your race or where you are from; if you are lower-class or middle-class; It does not care if you are from Libya, Egypt, France, or the U.S.
But, against this evil, we WILL stand together. We are never more in unison than right now.
3. The future does not exist.
There is no guarantee of tomorrow. The past has already departed. All that we have is this moment. That is all that we truly know.
Do not waste your life away living in the future which does not truly exist. Live now. That is all that we have.
4. Your Friday night plans mean nothing.
Whatever you were worried about doing before truly does not matter. It means absolutely nothing in the scheme of things. Seriously - nothing.
5. What matters to you most in this moment should matter to you most every day of the week.
Spend less time caring what other people think. Spend more time caring what YOU think. You are the only one who can decide how to live your life.
But, times like these wake us up to what truly matters most.
Prayers for Paris.
When I was a little girl, I wanted to grow up to be a princess. I was convinced that I was of royal descent and my parents had just not told me yet.
Honestly, that is what I thought.
After all, the movies and TV shows that I watched glamorized the girl who had the perfect looks and sweet demeanor. These qualities led the princess to being saved by a handsome knight in shining armor. Who would complain about that?!
And as us girls grow up, we are bombarded by celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and those Real Housewives of Whatever County. It seems that looks and money get you far, Honey! And, if you are anything like those women are portrayed, you do not seek to empower other women, but you wish to be the lone survivor on top.
The fact of the matter is that too many women believe that in order to be on top, they must knock others down. While a healthy sense of competition is a great motivator, a paradigm shift is necessary in many of our mindsets. A great number of women must realize that in order to be successful, we must rely on and support other men and women alike along the way.
We do not need to feel inadequate every time we turn on the TV. That is no way to live. As well, we should not merely judge other successful women based on what they are wearing (Sorry Fashion Police). I challenge all of you to be of greater substance than that.
Stop caring about how your looks stack up next to Kim Kardashian’s and start doing things that MATTER. Looking back, would you rather your life be about your ultimately declining level of beauty or do you wish to stand for something far greater than yourself? I choose the latter.
In standing for something greater, we must focus on issues of real significance and deter those that seek to cut others down. After all, we have so many opportunities that others do not! We MUST take advantage of them and be thankful, instead of focusing on inconsequential matters.
If you are a young woman with a high school degree, you are already so much further ahead than millions of other girls in developing countries. Yet, another reason you should stop caring about what the media tells you to be and start making differences that can empower other women, not only in your circle, but around the globe.
For instance, according to Cynthia B. Lloyd and Juliet Young of the Population Council, Secondary school completion rates for adolescent girls is below five percent in 19 sub-Saharan African countries (Lloyd & Young "New Lessons"). This means while you may be concerned about what job fits your personality type, millions of other girls across the world will never even dream of that consideration, because their lives have already been predetermined for them. They likely will not even be able to decide who they will marry, forget the education.
Furthermore, one in seven girls in developing countries will be married before the age of 15 (‘Supporting Married Girls: Calling Attention to a Neglected Group’). This not only deters the girls from receiving an education, but the risk of death during pregnancy between the ages of 10 to 14 is five times greater than between 20 to 24 (GFD_Brief-3_MarriedGirls). There is so much more going on outside of the bubble that many of us live in...
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Fortunately, there are so many ways to give back and stay focused on important issues. Specifically, the Girl Effect was created by the Nike Foundation to enable young girls in developing countries to have better opportunities (www.girleffect.org). Watch the eye-opening video here:
If any of this strikes a chord with you, I challenge you to shift your mindset away from the latest celebrity gossip and who said what about who. While it is totally okay to enjoy some reality TV here and there, too much of these distractions can consume you and take you away from what is truly real in life. Do not let that be how you define yourself. Those things will not matter in a day, yet alone a year. You were given so many opportunities in this world that others were not, so choose to be a woman of high character that empowers other females around her instead of cutting them down.
So how can you begin to shift your mindset?
1. Obtain awesome female role models
Who your role models are says a lot about you. Whether your definition of success is becoming the next CEO of Google or becoming a stay at home mom, look to other women of high character. Hopefully, these women can keep you on track to becoming a true leader.
2. Do something that makes you feel good about yourself and helps others
I have never felt so grounded as when I am helping other people out. All too many of us are extremely consumed with our own lives, but we have to remind ourselves otherwise. What a waste of a life it is if we continue to only live in our own little worlds. It pays to see the greater picture and see something from someone else’s point of view.
3. Become a role model for other girls
With so many negative distractions from the media, it is important to serve as a role model for other young girls. If I ever have a daughter, I hope to instill in her that her self-worth should come from what she does for others and not simply how she looks. While I absolutely love getting all dolled up, that is not how I define myself. Otherwise, I would never really feel good enough anyway. There is always someone better looking or smarter. But, a true role model aims to be in their own race against themselves, not others.
So, the next time you are bombarded by inconsequential matters, realize what is actually important to you and not the media. Do not be what the world tells you to be. Decide that for yourself and take action NOW.
The time will pass no matter what, so what are you going to do with it?
Adolescent girls are the most powerful force for change on the planet. Find inspiration and tools to unleash the girl effect at girleffect.org. (n.d.). Retrieved November 15, 2014, from http://www.girleffect.org/
‘Supporting Married Girls: Calling Attention to a Neglected Group’, Population Council 2007,
GFD_Brief-3_MarriedGirls. ‘Fact Sheets: Young People’, UNFPA. Retrieved 28 March 2011 from http://www. unfpa.org/public/factsheets
Lloyd, Cynthia and Juliet Young. ‘New Lessons: The Power of Educating Adolescent Girls’. Population Council 2009 pp. 23. Retrieved 25 March 2011 from http://www.popcouncil.org/pdfs/2009PGY_NewLessons.pdf