I’ve known Sara Flores since 2000 when we both worked together at a (believe or not) investigation agency! Sounds way more glossy than it was. 

Sara is one of the best female writers that I know, so I was thrilled when she agreed to write something for this series. 

Also, today is Sara’s 38th birthday! So wish her a happy and fabulous day in the comment section below! And let her know what you think about her advice! 

(Foreshadowing: I’ll be doing a giveaway in a few weeks for those who comment and/or hit the “like the shamelessness” button on the right..just over there….)

Sara has been married for 10 years and has 7 and 4-year-old sons. She works for a national conservation organization (“saving nature” says her son), but spend most of her time playing Star Wars, baseball, or pirates. She grew up in Michigan but has lived in Chicago for 15 years, and loves to knit, run, go to yoga and read. She recently adopted a bulldog puppy, which is a lot like having a manic 18-month-old in the house. Sara and I have spent many a pre-children evening browsing through birthing books at Borders and gasping in horror.  

I know you’ll love her advice. It’s lovely, poignant, wise, funny…even brought me to tears at moments. 

May you feast on your life today and thank God for for the meal. May you live shamelessly. 

This past summer, I attended my 20th high school reunion. I saw people I had not seen since the day we graduated in 1992, and attended with a woman I have remained close with for those two decades. It was surreal and awesome.

Like any 18-year-old, I was positive I had a lot figured out when I graduated from high school.  And honestly, I wouldn’t change one decision I made from that moment to this one—all of those steps, those turns, those upside-down moments led me to where I am today. And where I am is blessed and lucky, and I know it.  

Any different decision could have landed me somewhere else.

But for sure, there are things I learned along that way that would have helped make the trajectory from there to here a little easier.  So if I could go back and talk to that wild-haired, bushy-browed, girl-almost-woman I was, here is what I would say:

1—Enjoy those college years. They are finite. They are a magical. You have the indulgence of adulthood without the trappings. Often in the middle of my day I revel in the memory of two hour naps I took at Ross Hall. Appreciate those naps. Delight in the joy of living away from home—but then being able to return to home. Wring every ounce of enjoyment out of every class, every late night pizza, every moment you spend with your best friends who live in the rooms right next to you. There will never be another time like it. I promise.

2—Go to the dentist. I know, I know—you come back from college on winter break, and the last thing you want to do is go get your teeth cleaned and x-rayed. DO IT. Here’s what I can promise—the lack of relationship you will have with a dentist in these years ensures you have a close relationship later on. Twice a year. Do it.

3—Spend your money on experiences, not on things. Remember that paper you decided to stay in and write instead of going to see Johnny Cash in Indianapolis your sophomore year? Yeah, me neither. Buy less nail polish and jeans, borrow books from the library instead of buying them, and go to every concert that seems interesting, go to plays and operas and other live performances, travel, go out to eat, and meet friends for drinks. Those memories will stick.

4—Do what scares you. Playing it safe all the time will ensure a narrow, boring existence. Taking risks opens up paths you couldn’t imagine exist. Not knowing how it all will turn out is part of the fun. Really. I can now point out that moving to Chicago—one of the biggest risks you consider–turns out pretty great. That fear you felt as your parents drove away? Totally warranted. Totally worth it.

5—Trust your instincts. You will ignore that small voice inside more than I’d like to admit, and most often you regret it. (Remember the white-blond starfish-shaped highlights you received from the hairdresser who repeated “blonde?” after every time you said “NOT BLONDE!”?—that voice told you to RUN.) We know now The Voice Inside grows with your experience, and she knows you. Really well. The tipping point for you will be having kids—that voice is firm and that voice is wise and kind. When you listen, good things happen.

6—Tell the truth. I know it isn’t easy. But the moments you haven’t been honest you have felt ten times worse than if you’d just told the truth at the beginning. There is freedom in honesty: with others and with yourself. Own your mistakes, move past them, and learn. Honesty means telling people what you’re feeling, rather than keeping it in, hiding it down and not sharing it. Here’s a mind-blowing realization that could save you years of stress and eventually is the key to an amazing marriage: no one can read your mind. You need to tell people what you are feeling and thinking. And this is honesty.

7—Be in the moment you are in. Enjoy where you are—it’s the only moment you own. The past is gone, the future hasn’t happened and frankly, it’s no guarantee. This moment. Right now. Live it. Feel what you are feeling and appreciate what you have. More importantly, enjoy the people you are with right now. It can all change, so fast. That baby you are nursing for the 12th time that day, wondering when he’ll ever be able to feed himself? My darling, he’s raiding the refrigerator right now, Cheetoes in one hand, and a ham sandwich in the other. He’s beautiful and amazing and everything you are imagining he will be—but he’s no longer that baby. Enjoy that moment. Another waits around the bend and it will be just as beautiful.

7.5—Cleaning is overrated. I know it can be therapeutic. But nothing terrible will happen if you leave the dishes in the sink, or the clothes unfolded in the basket.

8—Ask for help when you need it. There is no shame in this. Most people want to help and don’t know how—so tell them what you need. Be frank and open and don’t apologize. Toddlers will teach you this, and you will realize how powerful asking for help can be. There is no prize for suffering, and so much to be gained when you let other people in to help. And you will learn that after you ask for help, others will feel empowered to ask you for help, too. 

9—Your attitude is the most powerful weapon you have. Your tone is as powerful as your words and can change a situation in a single moment. Hold your tongue for a moment and take a deep breath. Slow down and realize you really do get what you give. If you want kindness, be kind. If you want to be happy, give happiness. Anger is real, don’t deny it, but if you need to leave the room so you don’t scream your face off, do it. Yelling has never made a situation better. But your firm, calm, kind voice? That has moved mountains.

10—Say thank you every day. Never stop having gratitude, and never take your blessings for granted. They are plentiful and miraculous and some days, because you are human, they may feel fleeting. Recognize them. Gather them up and focus on them and not on what you may think you don’t have, or on what feels hard. Use your gratitude to refocus your thoughts back to what matters.

11—Learning never stops. In twenty more years, you will have a lot more to tell. I’m so grateful to be the girl I was and the woman I am now. I’m looking forward to hearing what you have to say in 2032. In the meantime, go call the dentist.

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