I recently had a birthday and can say that turning 54 makes a person reflect on what they have accomplished and where they are in life. I remember my college years like they were last week, and most days feel like I am the exact same woman that I was in my 20’s. But upon thoughtful study, it doesn’t take long to realize that I am a whole lot smarter, calmer, and happier than I was in my younger years. What a gift it would have been to have had the advantage of experience back then to make me appreciate and enjoy everyday life. Here is what I would have told myself in my 20’s.

Set Goals/ Behave Intentionally
When I turned 50, I sat down and wrote out my short- and long-term goals as they relate to my core values. I was surprised to find how much time I was spending on activities that didn’t support my goals or with people that weren’t important to me. Life is so short, and one only has limited time. If you knew you only had one year to live, would you continue to work in a job that you hated, or volunteer for causes that you were not passionate about? Would you pass up a trip of a lifetime because you were afraid to ask for time off work? I would tell my younger self to spend time evaluating goals and behaving intentionally.

Chill Out
I was so stressed out in my young adulthood. Partially because I was poor, and on my own, but also partially because I was so self-conscious. Feeling undue awareness about myself only made me feel like people were critical or looking down on me, when they simply were not. If I could go back, I would advise myself to “chill out!” Not everyone is looking at you, or thinking about you, or caring about what you are wearing. In fact, most people are only thinking about themselves. I became great friends with women later in adulthood who I previously thought didn’t like me. The fact was that they didn’t know me before, and probably didn’t think much about me either way. Once I was more confident and less stressed about how everyone would perceive me, I was able to be my genuine self, breathe, and enjoy other’s company.

Appreciate Your Looks & Health
I am so tired of hearing women talk about how they need to “fix” an aspect about their body or looks. It hit me just this year that I had been complaining about the same ten pounds that I wanted to lose for 30 years. It’s all my kids have ever heard me talk about regarding my looks. A few years ago, I broke my wrist and had to have surgery. It surprised me how much the accident took me down. My wrist hurt and the lack of strength and movement made many tasks very difficult or impossible. Physical therapy helped the wrist, but also my perspective in a huge way. Thank God I didn’t break my right wrist, or my foot like the man next me in the office. At least I could drive. Before this accident, I had never been in the hospital for any other reason besides the birth of my children. No illnesses. I am thankful today for eyes that can see, ears that can hear, feet that can walk, and a heart that beats. I believe in eating healthy and exercising, but I would say that fixating on a couple of pounds or a feature that can’t be changed is not productive. Appreciate your body and your looks. I would love now to have the skin I had in my 20’s, which I didn’t appreciate one bit at the time.

Ask for What You Want
You will tend to get what you want more often if you ask for what you want. Professionally and personally. If you feel you deserve a raise or promotion, ask for it. What is the worst thing that can happen? If you don’t get your request, you can ask for a plan to get what you want, or you can consider getting a new job. I am glad that I don’t have to tell my younger self to have fun, travel, and spend time with friends and family. I did plenty of that in my 20’s, which I don’t regret for one minute. I continue to learn new things every day and try to be curious about life. I continually work to remind myself to be appreciative, intentional, and confident. Hopefully I won’t have much to tell my younger self in the future!

Julie Petr
Dress for Success Indianapolis
Executive Director