For much of my 20s, I was on the look out, not the look in.
I would often become defensive, jagged and ungraceful with my expression, especially in intimate partnership.
Now, I've shifted toward the belief that self-inquiry is a prerequisite for self-expression. I asked myself enough questions to be able to live more freely in alignment with who I really am.
Then, I started asking others how they did it.
All of the women you'll read about here are in the business of living all of themselves -- every gritty, honest, beautiful cell of their experience. This is what I strive for myself, and this is what I believe can shift worlds -- the authentic expression of every human being.
I'm writing a book about this belief, encompassing the full-length version of each of these interviews, interweaved with memoir. I've plucked out weeds/gems from my life, inspired by what each interview evoked (or provoked) in me, the intertwining of which, I hope, will show that our full expression is vital because it gives others permission to do the same.
As for me, I would tell my 20-year-old self to look inward, be still, be curious, be vulnerable... and to live from that space whenever possible.
As for the women I interviewed, here's how they answered the question:
If you could talk to your self of 10 years ago, what advice would you give her?
Ten years ago, I was in my second year of college. I would have said: Be true to you. I was in a relationship for a year that shattered me. It took me three years to get over it because I had gotten so far away from myself. I abandoned what and who I was to be with him.
I got away from being true to myself, and it brought out a lot of insecurities, pain and fear of abandonment. I am grateful for that experience; it pushed me to work through a lot of pain.
Another thing that comes to mind is: take financial risks. I would manage my finances more and have more systems in place. Now, I'm excited by the financial spreadsheets I feared before. My relationship with money now is one of being in control -- it's another just area of life to optimize.
What I would say to her is the same thing I would say now. I would tell her: love yourself first. Love is a thing that you do, a choice that you make -- not just a thing you feel or say.
I would tell her to practice self-love in little ways every day, and trust that I'm fully deserving of the benefit of that practice.
Now, when I put things in my body, I think: Will this give me energy to do work that's impactful, or will I feel tired after I eat this? When I look at a job, I think: is taking this job an act of self-love, does it expand and nourish me, or does it shrink me? If I do a job I enjoy, I get to bring that joy to other people.
Tonya Leigh (Creator, French Kiss Life):
I would tell her a few things. The first thing would be to stop worrying about what other people think. It's not your job; what you think of you is your business.
The next: take more action. I'd tell myself to get out of my head, because I know now that clarity comes through action.
Then, I'd tell her to notice what people are thanking you for. That's always a clue to where you can give value in the world. People would say to me: "Wow, you give me permission to be feminine"; they thanked me for it constantly. I didn't realize at the time that this was a sign as to how I could provide value.
Finally: cut out the middle man. Oftentimes, we put a middle man into our equation of happiness. We think: "When I'm my ideal weight, I'll feel sexy," or, "When I have X dollars, I'll feel abundant." I wish I'd known that I didn't need that middle man -- that I could create those feelings for myself right here, right now.
Live the essence of what you want now. I didn't realize that 10 years ago; I believed that I didn't have what it took or that I wasn't enough or that no one would care. I didn't realize that's just a thought; it's not who I was. I taught myself that I'm not my thoughts, I taught myself how to guide them better. Thoughts aren't reality.
Mélanie Berliet (Journalist; Author):
I would tell myself that it's ok to quit sometimes. When I was younger, my mom didn't let me quit things, so I had this really big fear of quitting Wall Street. If you're feeling misplaced, sometimes it's ok to stop what you're doing and reevaluate.
I finally started quitting in my 20s when I left Wall Street and began to explore how I could be a writer. Watching my sister go through everything that she did inspired me to do that.
Amy Smith (Creator, The Joy Junkie):
I would have been in the middle of an intense quarter-life crisis. I would tell her that although it seems rough right now, you're absolutely capable. You're going to blow yourself away with what you're going to create; the woman you're going to be over the next decade is going to blow your mind.
Lean into trust, I'd also say. And these are still the lessons I'm learning now. I'm a firm believer that you keep getting presented with the same lesson until you learn it. And we never stop learning.
Jen Blackstock (Creator, The Unbridled Life):
Ten years ago, I was working in New York City in the finance industry, wearing a suit every day. I would tell that girl to slow down and notice everything that's happening around her. I was really numb back then; it's so important to allow yourself to feel what's really happening.
I'd also tell her: spend time figuring out what your unique rhythm is. Meditation and moving to the ocean has helped me so much. Noticing has helped me figured out that using an alarm clock was making me rush through the day, so I stopped using one. I wake up when my body wants to; it slows me down and helps me be in my pace.
Nicole Antoinette (Creator, A Life Less Bullshit):
The most important thing I would tell myself would be: trust yourself more. I spent a lot of time giving away my power doing things that weren't right for me -- people would tell me: you should pursue this, go to this school, and I would listen. It's taken me a long time to be able to trust myself.
I've learned that things don't happen in a straight line, and that's beautiful. I was a food studies major, I worked for a chocolatier, co-owned a cookie shop, ran a children's day camp... I would tell myself to trust that it's all part of the process.
Susan Hyatt (Master Certified Coach; Author):
Ten years ago, I was a real estate agent. I wasn't enjoying my work but I was feeling the pressure to make a lot of money. I thought I had golden handcuffs. I was feeling burned out and overwhelmed and like I really wasn't doing anything well -- in my work or in my home life. I felt very stuck.
I would have said to her: life doesn't have to be this hard, you can change and do whatever you want, you are smart and brave enough to pull off anything, and this too shall pass.