The adage “Youth is wasted on the young,” certainly applies as I reflect on my younger years, realizing how far I have come with age, maturity, general understanding, and acceptance of life. With everything I have learned would undoubtedly have shared gems for a special little lady, the younger version of myself, as she celebrates another birthday. Here are six pearls of wisdom she would have found helpful and eventually did in due time.

#1) Give yourself the love you are looking for, then the love you are looking for will eventually come to you. Self-love is the most crucial part of life because it is unconditional. No strings are attached as it flows naturally from the heart. Anyone who tells you otherwise is offering you conditional love, more than likely on terms that benefit them more than you. You will eventually accept that life is not a punishment, but a pleasant and short trip to this world of enjoyment of experiences. Examples of this are the beautiful sunrises and sunsets you now appreciate. Inadvertently, your transition from religion to spiritualism, meditation, and yoga will lead you to your true essence. Not all rules of man suit you as you begin to follow the laws of your heart. You are and have always been the love you seek. It’s beautiful on the other side. Trust me.

#2) It’s ok to be different and not “fit in.” Although you feel as if no one understands you, please remember the positive aspects of yourself. We are not all meant to think and be the same. Your time of frustration over having different interests, appearances, and lifestyles will mold you into the best version of yourself. Fitting in diminishes the authenticity of your soul and is overrated.

Your gradual comfort in your individuality will light the torch for others to know they are perfect just as they are. Your loving acceptance of others has given them meaning beyond more than you will ever know, for your kind words may very well be the only ones they hear. Although it feels like a lifetime, you will become comfortable and own your place in this world. Give yourself permission to shine as bright as you are. Don’t dim your light for people who don’t recognize your value. The “streets are watching.” Give everyone a great show.

#3) Everyone is doing the best that they can in their behavior towards you. Generally, people are treating you with the same level of love and patience which they give to themselves. Understand this and don’t take the behavior of others towards you personally. People can only give what they have inside. It’s like asking someone for a thousand dollars who only has one hundred. Even if they give you everything they have, it still won’t be enough because they simply don’t have it to give. The people who mistreat you more than likely treat themselves even worse. Take it with a grain of salt and send them love. Don’t expect anyone who doesn’t love themselves to love you. We all come from different experiences and life backgrounds, some of which, unfortunately, are damaging. Love and accept everyone as they are. Love yourself more and walk away when necessary. Life is too short to be in harmful environments.

#4) Get out of your comfort zone early and often. Do things that challenge and scare you. You will be amazed to see what you can achieve when you give yourself permission. You don’t know this yet, but you have done many things “scared,” as in you are going to take several risks in your life and receive rewards because of it. Embrace coming out of your “shell.” You will be surprised to know that others will read this letter written by you, as you slowly begin to share your talents with the world.

You will navigate unfamiliar territories with ease as you learn to allow life to lead you. Know how you like to “collect” items for never-ending future usage? One morning you will wake up and completely declutter your life, first physically and then mentally. It is all apart of the process of change as you begin to free yourself from your self inflicted boundaries of control. Losing or misplacing things, which now drives you crazy, will patiently remind you to take care of placing things. You will also consider items, situations, and even people who become “lost” to either return or be replaced with something better. You learn to let go.

Adventures become your friend as you engage in more physical activities such as completing marathons, hiking, and even deep-sea diving. Being scared doesn’t ever fully go away; it shouldn’t as it is your body’s natural reaction to unfamiliar and potentially dangerous situations. You learn to manage your fears and move towards your goals in spite of them.

#5) Manage your wellness by investing in your self-care. There is power in your mental and physical well being, which is your responsibility. Although you can’t control the outside environment, you can learn the signs of what is beneficial for you. Surround yourself with people who love and support you. Those who love you want to see you flourish. Learn the difference between constructive criticism and insults. The former includes a form of positivity in the delivery, whereas the latter does not make you feel well. Too much criticism is also a subtle form of abuse. Only allow positive thoughts and “good vibes” from yourself and others. The words you speak to yourself are the most important things you hear.

Take care of your body by exercising good health. Its only job is to support your existence. Appreciate the beauty in all of it’s changing shapes and forms. Drink more water. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Try to decrease your sugar intake. It will affect you later in life. When you forget how special you are, please take a moment to put your hand over your heart and feel your pulse. One day, it will stop beating.

#6) Spend as much time with the elders in your family as you can. Cherish the holidays you spend with Granddaddy Wesley, Aunty Honey, and the brief encounters you have with your namesake Aunty Ceola. Make Grandaddy laugh. It will help him when he struggles with his health while alone. He will remember your presence at his hospital bedside the night before he passes away. Remember the cakes Aunty Honey bakes during the holidays. When you become older, you will wish you had the recipes. Ask her about the belongings inside her trunk in the attic. After she passes away, all of her things will get ruined by a flood in the basement. The elders of the family will leave you without notice or warning, and it will only occur to you decades later that you have lost a part of your past legacy. You are much too young to ask questions about things you want to know in the future, but try to ask, no matter how simple they seem. You will cherish every old photograph of the family you come across.

As I write this from your future, know that you did the best you could do considering the circumstances. You screwed up so many times, fought good fights, and throughout everything remained authentic along the way. You never accepted defeat and viewed every obstacle as an opportunity for growth, even when kicking and screaming to the finish line. You accomplished new heights, embraced challenges all while losing and loving along the way.

Hey, birthday girl, you truly made yourself proud. Love you, darling.

Your Future Self