Much of who I am and what I've accomplished in my life (debatable as it may be) I owe to Girls Inc., which was still called the Girls Club when I joined back in grade school.
My girlfriend Kathy and I would ride our bikes up to the Unitarian Church the Girls Club rented, an airy space set back under a cool canopy of trees. Later, it moved across the street into some classrooms at West Park Place Elementary School, where I had attended kindergarten. Still later, it raised enough money to build a brand new facility not far away.
As I grew from a girl to a teenager to a college student, I went from being a member to a counselor to a part-time employee. I won writing contests there that helped finance my college tuition, took me to New York (where I kissed a mime, but that's another story) and gave me an opportunity to run with the Olympic torch.
I'm still on their mailing list, which is how I came to know about a book called If I’d Known Then: Women in Their 20s and 30s Write Letters To Their Younger Selves. Generally, I don't truck with these type of Chicken Soup for the Soul genres, but after checking out some of the women interviewed, I was impressed with some of the wisdom it had to impart. And it put me to thinking about what I would have to say to my younger self.
Knowing the stubborn girl I was, I feel a bit better knowing I wouldn't have listened to myself anyway and would have made the same mistakes. But maybe the exercise will channel my 60-year-old self (if I am fortunate to live that long), or at least remind my 40-year-old self of what I think I have learned that makes my life so fulfilling. So here goes, in no particular order.
Life isn't fair. That's not a good thing or a bad thing; it just is. The sooner you come to terms with that fact, the sooner you will appreciate your life for what it is, and stop judging it by its inadequacies.
Pray every day, even if sometimes you're not sure who's up there. And when you do, start off by saying "Thank you" before asking for anything.
You are beautiful. Trust me.
You are smarter than the average bear.
You are entitled to nothing, but you have the privilege of becoming anything you want to be.
You are younger than you think you are, and you are never too old to learn something new.
More people love you than you think.
Forgive yourself. No one is perfect, but believe it or not, your frailties make you loveable.
Delete the word "should" from your inner dialogues. Replace it with "can."
Wherever you go, there you are. It's just different scenery. And speaking of scenery: Pay attention to your surroundings. At best, it will help keep you safe; at the least, you might see something interesting.
Don't ever do something just for the money.
If you're unhappy with your situation, change it. Don't stay with a partner, a job or a living setup that is bad for you. Before you know it, you will have spent more years unhappy than you were happy with it. And you're not doing anyone else any favors -- they have a right to pursue their happiness, too.
Enjoy the ride, not just the destination. And take pictures.
If you are ever absolutely convinced of something, consider that the opposite might be true.
You are all you have. Learn to love yourself, and the rest will follow. The universe doesn't care whether you are happy or sad. So why bother feeling sad?
Laugh a lot, especially when you want to cry.
Walk on the beach, dip your hands in the water and taste the salt.
You will fail. People will leave you by dying or walking away. You will have moments of great sadness when you feel you can't go on. You can, and you will. And don't let the specter of loss keep you from trying or loving.
Life is short. Appreciate the small things. Breathe, and be.