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Today I’m celebrating my 34th birthday by taking a staycation in Vietnam: I booked a suite at a beautiful hotel on the river, got a massage and spent a ridiculous amount of time in the jacuzzi reading my little heart out. It’s been the epitome of joy (and today’s only the first day!). Before leaving for Remote Year I saw the Jennifer Lawrence movie “Passengers” and there’s a scene at her going away party where her friend said, “You don’t always have to do something big to be happy.” Not only has that deeply resonated with me but it’s advice that I wish I’d given myself years ago.

A few weeks ago I got one of those “on this day” alerts from Facebook from 2006 when I was about to graduate from college. I saw the picture of my 23 year old self and just wanted to hug her. Standing there in that old lady coat with the fur around the collar, roller set, and suit on – my heart breaks for her. I was trying to look older, wanted to be taken seriously and wanted to fit in. Quite frankly, I was trying to be somebody I wasn’t.

Now at 34 I’m more comfortable in my skin than ever before. To celebrate the woman I’ve become here are some words of wisdom I’d share with my younger self:

  • Stop trying to fit into places that no longer fit you: clothes, relationships, friendships, jobs. Be willing to let go of things (and people) that no longer serve you.
  • Stop saving your good panties for later:  Wear the new dress on a random Tuesday. You don’t need a special occasion (or a partner) as an excuse to love on yourself.
  • Have the confidence of a mediocre white man: This will come in handy later and someday might lead you to the White House.
  • You don’t have to do something big to be happy: Your definition of joy will evolve and one day you’ll learn that the simplest things will make you so happy.
  • 2009 (and 2014) will be fucking awful:  Not only will you survive, you’ll discover just how strong and brave you really are. What seemed like your biggest failures at the time were really just disguised as blessings. 
  • The universe ALWAYS has your back: Trust this with everything you have.
  • Don’t stay with the guy whose girlfriend shows up at his house at 3am: That shit ain’t gonna end well.
  • If he’s too good to be true he usually is: Run from the guy that “looks good on paper” but makes you feel empty.
  • Be open to who you love: The love of your life may not show up in the race, gender, or background you’ve dreamed up in your head and that’s okay.
  • Stop trying to convince men to love you: You are amazing just the way you are and if they aren’t interested fuck them.
  • You don’t need a reason to leave: Whether it be a relationship, job, friendship or city. Wanting to leave is reason enough.
  • Date the person who brings you soup when you’re sick: Let their actions speak louder than words. In the words of the dude that dumped you that one time: “wait these dudes out”.
  • Stop equating sex with love.
  • Pay more attention to your reproductive health: You’ll spend so much time trying NOT to get pregnant and one day you’ll actually want to have that baby.
  • Being a woman isn’t defined by your ability to get pregnant: There are lots of ways to become a mom.
  • Your definition of “home” will change: Pieces of you will live in Detroit, Marquette, DC and around the world. You’ll also discover that you don’t have to choose.
  • Your definition of “love” will change: You’ll look back later and will laugh at the thought of some of the fools you almost married.
  • Comparison is the thief of all joy: Even with an identical twin sister there will never be anybody on the planet that you can compare yourself to – so just stop it.
  • Heal your daddy issues: They will make every relationship exponentially harder until you do.
  • Forgive your parents (especially your mom): They were human and did the best they could with what they had. At 34 your mother was a single mother of 4 and was months away from her own mother dying. Give her a break.
  • Speaking of your mom, tell her you love her more: Your parents won’t be here forever and when your dad dies a piece of you will leave with him.
  • Stop being in such a fucking hurry to get married: God has a plan for your life that’s so much bigger than what you can see. It’s not your time to be a mom or wife right now. But it will happen.
  • Spend more time with your nieces and nephews now: They are going to become busy teenagers and adults soon and you’ll miss being able to hold them (and them waking you up to sing happy birthday). The world can wait. You’re missing all the good stuff.
  • Be kinder to your little brother (and the other black men and boys in your life): They are waging a war you can’t even begin to understand.
  • Ask your grandfather more questions about his life: And spend more time with him doing nothing. That’s what you’ll remember most when he’s gone.
  • Say yes to the Peace Corps, Fulbright and every opportunity to travel the world on someone else’s dime: That shit ain’t cheap.
  • Find a good therapist now before you’re in the depths of depression: You have a family history so it’s not a question of if it will happen but when.
  • Treat your mental, spiritual, emotional and physical bodies like you love them fiercely: Because you do even if you don’t act like it all the time.
  • Journal everyday: You’ll want to remember all of this 10 years from now.
  • Stop playing it so safe.
  • Stop apologizing for being a bookworm: Your love of books and words will pay off someday and you’ve got a few bestselling stories just waiting to be told.
  • Write the books you want to read: Stop looking for other people to share their stories. Yours is valuable too.
  • Surprise yourself: Turn left when your routine says go right. Some of your most amazing experiences will come from what looked like wrong turns at the time.
  • Stop looking for love outside of yourself: At 34 you’re going to fall in love with yourself and your life and it’s going to be amazing. Just watch.
  • Every single thing you’ve ever done will prepare you for where you are right now: It might not always feel like it but your steps are divinely ordered and the universe is rigged in your favor my dear <3.

Now I want to hear from you: what’s the #1 piece of advice you’d share with your younger self?