12 Things I Would Say To My 20-Something Self

Written by Amber Valletta

Next month I'll turn 40, which is exciting and intimidating. I'm excited because I feel power from building my inner self. I'm intimidated because part of getting older means letting go. Letting go of youth, letting go of loved ones who pass on because that's what happens as we age, and letting go of old habits that no longer serve me (but are comforting in some distorted way).

Nearing this milestone has made me think about what I want the next 40 years of my life to look like, and what I've learned in getting to this place. Knowing what I do now, here's what I'd say to my 20 something self.

1. There are no regrets, just lessons.

Everything and everyone you'll experience—good or bad, fair or unfair, trivial or meaningful—will be a teacher. Someday you'll realize that your unique challenges are common threads in the fabric of life. Every human being experiences situations or traumas that may be played out by different people, but the feelings will be universal.

Use these lessons to grow and become a better version of you. Focus on how you can better serve others with kindness. Right mistakes when you are wrong, then move and grow forward.

2. Relax, play, laugh, and say yes to adventures.

You are young and free. You are working with the best of the best in the fashion ... so enjoy it! You love being creative and playing dress up, though you seem to forget this! You're so busy working and wrapped up in a serious relationship (one that's overly serious for a girl your age). Yes, it's stressful being so young working with adults in an industry that can be flippant and sometimes cruel, but you are safe. I have your back.

3. Just say no.

Drugs and alcohol will rob you of your present, keep you a prisoner of your past and hold you hostage, blocking any real future. Addiction will be your darkest demon, but it will ultimately save your life. Your sobriety at age 25 will become the cornerstone of building your self-esteem and discovering who you truly are and want to be. It won't be easy, but you won't have to walk the road alone.

4. Don't say "I do."

It's just a suggestion, but don't get married at age 20. You're not yet a fully formed adult and should probably be getting to know yourself better. Plus, getting married out of fear of hurting someone is not the healthiest choice. But you're 20 years old, so I will forgive you. (See #1.)

5. Humble yourself. Ask questions.

Don't be scared to not know all the answers. Just ask! No matter what it is! You're a girl from Oklahoma who is suddenly thrust into supermodel stardom, who doesn't really understand the fashion industry. It might be a good idea to ask simple questions. Like when you're being sent on a casting to meet a photographer named Steven Miesel. You have no idea who he is, so you don't think it's a big deal, and your agents laugh at you for not knowing who he is.

Instead of getting informed, you get embarrassed. It's kind of sweet and naïve because you didn't even know you could say, Who is this person? You're also allowed to ask simple questions about cameras or lighting. You'll benefit from this, and no one will hate you or think you're stupid.

6. Dare to dream.

You can be anything you want to be in life. You can even run a company and will! Every person on this planet has the right to be the best version of themselves and dream as big as they so desire. Don't dim your light!

7. Know that you matter to me.

You matter to me because there is only one you. You matter because you're part of a bigger picture that you can't even begin to comprehend. You matter because you are made of the same particles that make up everything else in this universe; therefore you're connected to all of it. You matter because you are loved and you love.

8. Anyone who says they love you but abuses you physically or mentally doesn't have your best interest at heart.

Love is kindness. I know you see the good in others, but the pain and self-hatred caused from this relationship will break your heart. It will take you years to let go of the past and stop feeling like a victim. You will grow from this experience and learn to never be treated or harmed like that again.

In the end, you'll be led to return to this relationship only for healing, and you will forgive. This will set you free and allow love to overpower resentment. Remember to see the best in others, but let others find the best in themselves.

9. Enjoy the disconnectedness of it all. (You're living in a time where there aren't even cell phones!)

Personal computers are irrelevant and no one sends emails. Twitter what? Instagram who? Facebook matters? None of this exists yet, so enjoy the days of getting a fax or using a giant rotary phone, because soon people will get their panties in a wad if you don't reply to an email in less than 24 hours.

Don't get me wrong—there are amazing attributes to the digital age: I love the ability to google just about anything, and I deeply value the power of the Internet to connect with others to create monumental change. However, we will lose some of our innocence and it will take effort to put down our gadgets and disconnect to reconnect.

10. Gratitude will be the compass for your attitude.

Practice it. When you're feeling sorry for yourself or blue, make a list of 12 things you're grateful for in life. I promise it will shift your perspective.

11. You can't control life.

There are things we can't control that will hurt or be amazing, but they are just happenings. Life in action. Take ownership of your peace of mind and joy today and don't make decisions based on reacting to your past.

12. Thank you.

On February 9, 2014, you will celebrate your 40th birthday! It won't be the time to have a mid-life crisis, it will be the time for contemplation and celebration. How do you want the next 40 years to feel and look?

Oh, 20-something self, you will have lived all of those years to get me to this place. You'll see you have wisdom, courage, strength, humor, faults, losses, success, and most of all, love. At this moment, you'll see life doesn't stop, there is no there there; it's here.

Thank you, because at this moment, you have everything you need.

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