When I was 19, I had the inescapable urge to step outside of my comfort zone. I left my hometown of Hong Kong on an adventure in the country that celebrates my birthday (The 4th of July) with fireworks. The adventure never stopped. 

I often wonder how I got the courage to change everything about my life and dive into the unknown. 

Have you thought about what you would say to your 20-year-old self, if you could go back in time and have a face-to-face chat?

I invited 20 intelligent and gutsy women in my New York City life to share their answers with us. 

1 Cindy Gallop  

Founder of IfWeRanTheWorld & MakeLoveNotPorn  

“Don’t give a damn what anybody thinks. The earlier you learn that in life the better. The only way to live your life is to not caring what other people think. Be true to yourself.”

2 Lisa Skye Hain

Co-founder of Primary “Coworking for Grownups”

“Love yourself more. Prioritize taking time for yourself. Doing things that make you feel calm, peaceful, whole, centered and grounded. It can be hot baths, long walks, journaling, prioritizing time with friends or scheduling inspirations. Be happy. Choose happiness.”

3 Mila Jam 

Pop Superstar. Artivist. NYC Nightlife Muse. themilajam.com

“Keep every contact that you made along your journey because you cannot fulfill your dreams alone.”

4 Dr. Jennifer Plotnick

Leader in General and Cosmetic Dentistry @ Grand Street Dental

“Say YES to those one way tickets.”

5 Lisa Hammer

Filmmaker. Actress. Lead singer of Radiana lisahammer.com

“Do not let anyone dictate your career. Do not let them pressure you into doing certain things you are uncomfortable with or not doing what you feel is right. Do not let anyone squelch your fire or turn down your light because it makes them uneasy. If someone is uncomfortable because you are shining too bright, move away. You do what you have to do for your career and don’t let the boys distract you.”

6 Caroline Thomas

Acting Coach. Founder of Total Theatre Lab

“Believe in yourself. That’s it. Believe in yourself. If you believe in something you will do it.”

7 Dorie Clark

Author. Keynote Speaker. Marketing Strategist dorieclark.com

“Focus on building a robust email list of subscribers which you own the relationship with.”

“We have known that brushing teeth is important but it turns out flossing is as important if not more.”

8 Katarina Hybenova

Novalist. Photographer. Founder of Bushwick Daily & Mad Cool Books

“Don’t wait for the permission to be awesome. There is really no one to allow you to do the things you want to do. You have to allow yourself.”

9 Lynne St Clare Foster

Visual Artist. Illustrator. altpick.com/lynnefoster 

“I would first of all tell her how smart, talented and beautiful she is. Take what you know about the world and use it. Spending insurmountable time on boys or men will distract you. Count on yourself and do not ever let what anyone says or does get in the way. You do not have to be alone in life. Have a partner, but being involved with a man will not define you or your existence, only you can do that. Keep open to the world and what you can learn from other people……TRAVEL…see it all, and not from the safety of the American point of view.”

10 Xin Ying

Principal dancer with Martha Graham Dance Company

“Don’t get married until you find your true love, so he can also marry to his true love.”

“Don’t be afraid to dream big because you will make it come true.”

11 Tracy Bonham

Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter & multi-instrumentalist. TracyBonhamMusic

“Tracy, you think that guy you are with is running your life but you will be the phoenix that rises from the ashes. You will actually write your first album about him and it will do well. You’ll tell your story to the world. Don’t worry.” 

12 Beth Knowles

Co-founder and Partner of Flower Power Coffee Co.

“Be more cautious with new people and trust my own instincts.” 

13 Courtney Bauer

Founder of Studio ANYA

“I am not entirely sure what I would tell her. I am not sure she was ready to listen. And the mistakes she made have been my deepest lessons.

I would simply sit with her. And look upon her with intense love, acceptance and faith. I would encourage her to breathe into her belly.

To trust in her hands. To allow for anger and also for forgiveness. And to celebrate her quirks rather than hide them. I would promise her, it’s all going to be okay, and that she has a profound calling ahead.

I would want her to know, I am so grateful for her courage and that I believe in her with all of my being.”

14 Joanne Leah

Artist  joanneleah.com

“Trust your gut. You are so strong, stronger than you give yourself credit for. Forgive yourself and don’t be afraid to take chances and fail. Be honest with yourself no matter how difficult it may be. There will be a time when you want to give up but you keep pushing on and then you will know how strong you are. You will realize that what people think doesn’t matter and then you will be truly free. Don’t worry about eliminating people from your life, they are holding you back!”

15 Tanisha Scott

Performance Director. Movement Coach. Choreographer. Tanisha Scott

“Don’t limit yourself. Don’t put yourself in a box. Eliminate doubts and push yourself more.”

16 Suzanne B. O’Brien

Founder and creator of #Doulagivers End of Life Doula Training. Health and Wellness Advocate. doulagivers.com

“When we are in our 20s, we kind of focus on ourselves. ‘That is about ME.’ As you get older, it’s really a ‘WE’. You are not going to believe the direction that your life’s journey takes. It will be bigger and more fulfilling than anything you can ever conceive right now. Keep doing what you are doing but stay open to what the universe is gonna put in front of you.”

17 Kweighbaye Kotee

Entrepreneur, TV Host, Filmmaker & Founder of Bushwick Film Festival 

“Love yourself always and without condition. Give yourself unconditional love. If anybody on this planet is going to do that, you should be the one.”

18 Sarah Neufeld

Musician of Arcade Fire & sarahneufeldmusic.com Owner of Modo Yoga NYC

“Take piano lesson and study arranging. Focus. Try harder.”

19 Anna Therese Day

Award-winning independent journalist  Authentically Us & Fovrth Studios

“Know your worth and your legal rights!”
“I began working professionally at a young age. It was thrilling, I was hungry, and I was willing to work harder, faster, and longer to earn a spot in my field. Like a sponge, I soaked up knowledge from admired veteran colleagues and developed life-long friendships and mentors. That said, when you’re as eager as I was to dive into a profession you love, you’re an easy target for sexual harassment and exploitation. Instead of confronting these issues, I worked around them, kept my head down — I didn’t want to ‘complain.’ It wasn’t until I’d advanced a bit and saw the next wave of young women journalists navigating these same violations that I woke up to just how heavy, unnecessary, traumatic, and counterproductive this behavior had been for me and continues to be for many journalists. Since then, I’ve worked on teams where the leadership respects hard work and talent at every level — and that culture shines through in the quality of our journalism. I’ve since worked with groups that fight workplace discrimination and exploitation, and I’ve seen how speaking out can protect the next generation and improve our industry as a whole. I’d want my 20-year-old self to know that dealing with abuse is not part of anyone’s job description and that it’s a service to everyone when anyone stands up for our right to a safe and professional work environment.”

20 Yaël Eisenstat

Former C.I.A. Officer 

“Find at least one solid female mentor. If you are not finding any within your work circle, go outside of it and make it a point to seek them out. And if along the way, you encounter women who knock you down, try even harder to find great women mentors. Don’t let the negative ones bring you down.”

Comment below what you would say to your 20-year-old self. I’d love to know.