Someone very special in my life turned 19 yesterday, a young woman whom I’ve viewed as a little sister since the day she was born. She’s been through a lot in the last year, losing both her mother and her aunt to death within a few short months of one another. But she is strong, she is beautiful, and she is tenacious, so she will be alright—better than alright, if I have anything to say about it.

Amber and Sadie campingMy lovely cousin and I are a full ten years apart in age, and, while I have no children of my own, I want a daughter just like her one day. In fact, so deeply does her life impact my own, it was her birthday that made me think deeply about the last ten years of my life, and my own follies have prompted a letter of advice both to my her and to my 19-year-old self.

If I could say a few things to each one of these precious girls, I would tell her to wait, just wait. Stop trying to move too fast. Grow up when you are ready, not when society tells you you must.

Related, don’t say yes to anything unless you are absolutely sure you’ve answered your own calling first.

I would tell this beautiful 19 year old to be brave. To not be afraid to be alone or to have her heart broken. To embrace independence over premature commitment. I would want her to know that her personal growth would occur in direct proportion to her commitment to herself, and that by doing so, she would avoid a mistaken commitment to someone unworthy of her love. I would tell her to trust herself enough to see the world through her own eyes rather than looking from behind someone else’s lenses.

I would also say this:

Your life will not progress in a manner consistent with your best-laid plans. Even the most finely tuned itinerary is subject to interruption. But try to go with the flow. Embrace spontaneity. You’ll meet a lot of interesting people and have a lot of great experiences that way.

Play an instrument. If you start now, you’ll have ten years of practice under your belt by the time you’re my age.

GET YO’SELF TO SCHOOL. You may have a high school diploma in your possession, but I promise you: Your college education will be the one thing you will never regret attaining, and one of the few things that no one can take away from you. Forget the hype that obtaining a degree will land you in a mountain of debt. It may, but so will the alternative. So choose your own adventure. Would you rather be temporarily indebted to an education that will serve you for a lifetime or owe a slew of corrupt creditors for a bunch of crap you don’t need?

Practice self-improvement rather than selfies. In ten years, you’ll have created a self worth living with, rather than simply a self worth looking at.

Sometimes it takes discovering whom you can’t be without before you know whom you want to be with.

Fight less, love more. And don’t argue with people or insult them via social media. It only makes you look the fool.

Understand the meaning of the word “toxic” not just in the literal sense, but as it relates to your habits, your relationships, and your social life. Then banish those things and people that are.

Remember: No one’s going to do it for you. Any of it.

If you have to drink it or smoke it to find energy, peace, or enlightenment, it’s not worth your money or your time.

Read a book, not just your Facebook news feed.

Life is too short to worry about someone else’s grammar, someone else’s lapse in judgment, or a difference of opinion. Let it go, you’ll live longer and be happier (since I’m pretty sure that’s what you’re shooting for).

When you hear that you, as a millennial, are lazy, entitled, and generally doomed to failure, ignore that, too. This lousy commentary comes from the pitiful sad sacks who are just bitter that they didn’t change the world. But there are plenty of people out there just like me who believe you hold a tremendous amount of promise. Believe us when we say you are our beautiful future.

Above all, sweep yourself off your own feet. Fall in love with you. Once you do, you’ll be able to spot the impostors.

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