Today is my birthday. My 45th. Sometimes it’s really hard to believe that I’m as old as I am. Time is a crazy, fucked up, trippy experience. As I sit here in reflection I’m thinking about where I was 20 years ago. My 25th birthday marked a pivotal time in my life.

A month before I turned twenty-five I moved alone from Buffalo, NY to Asheville, NC where I didn’t know a soul. I had an undergraduate degree in English and Photography and no clue what the hell to do with my life. I was coming off a failed attempt at graduate school and a failed relationship. Lost with no sense of direction, I applied to serve as an AmeriCorps member. I was initially rejected but then a space opened up and I was granted the opportunity to join the team. It blows my mind how significant that one, tiny change has been to the course of my life. 

Your life’s purpose isn’t something to figure out but rather something to find. Truly, to let find you.

As I sit here in reflection, I can feel my 25-year-old self sitting with me. There’s so much I want to say to her. If I only knew then what I know now… but would I know what I know now if I hadn’t struggled my way through not knowing? I doubt it.

Regardless, the first thing I would do is praise 25-year-old me for having the courage to make that monumental move. The first several hours on the road to Asheville were drowned in tears. I was sad to leave the few friends I had, scared of what the future held, and totally uncertain that I was doing the right thing. Turns out, moving was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Not only did it set my life on a whole new trajectory, it gave me the courage and confidence to make other major life changes years down the road.

Stepping out of your comfort zone to do something that terrifies you is one of the greatest gifts you can ever give yourself.

I would tell the 25-year-old to stop worrying and overthinking so much. The path unfolds as you walk it, just keep moving forward and know that you will end up exactly where you need to be. The AmeriCorps position involved tutoring kids in literacy and teaching anger management and conflict resolution. I had no experience with any of these things. At the time, I was quite sure I didn’t even like kids. The only real reason I signed up for the job was to get myself out of Buffalo and because I had no damn clue what else to do. I quickly discovered that I not only don’t dislike kids, I absolutely love them! What’s more, helping people strengthen life skills and process emotions has become my passion. The opportunity that almost didn’t happen, that I didn’t even fully want, forged a career path that I never could have foreseen otherwise. It also introduced me to the person who introduced me to the man who would become my husband and the father of my children. We met one month after my 25th birthday (twenty years later he remains here by my side).

Magic happens when we lean into our fear and trust both intuition and divine guidance.

I would encourage my young self to love herself. I’d tell her to quit worrying about what other people think of her. I would explain that she doesn’t have to meet anyone else’s expectations or standards and that she is exactly where she’s supposed to be in life. Though it might seem that everyone around her has their act together and knows what they’re doing in life, that’s plain bullshit. Your twenties are for figuring things out–career, relationships, yourself. I would remind her of her achievements because all she could see at the time were her failures. I’d tell her to love her body. I would point out that her physical form is a miraculous machine that supports her in countless unacknowledged and unseen ways. I’d ask her to treat her body with love and respect. I would assure her that she is beautiful exactly the way she is.

Genuine self love is essential for a successful and happy life.

I would assure myself that it’s ok to trust people. I’d explain that the walls she’s constructed between her and everyone else don’t actually protect her from anything; that they only create more pain by keeping good things away. I’d tell her to trust herself and I would reassure her that she’s safe and in control. I’d inform her that someone else’s lack of affection for her is not a reflection of her value. I would tell her that she is important, that she matters. I’d advise her not to take things so personally. I would explain that no intimate relationship is easy or perfect. People in lasting relationships know this and they weather the storms together. 

Successful relationships don’t just happen, they demand a lot of patience and hard work. 

I’d explain to my young self that there is no way to avoid, numb or escape the incredible grief and sadness she will inevitably experience. I’d tell her that the only way out of pain is through it and assure her that she can handle whatever life brings. I’d tell her that you have to allow yourself to feel your emotions, even (especially when) they’re uncomfortable. Otherwise, you get stuck in toxic cycles of anxiety, depression, addiction, or relational conflict. I’d tell her that when that happens, she doesn’t have to struggle alone. 

There is no shame in seeking support and good therapy is always worth the cost.

At twenty-five being part of a normal, loving family seemed an impossible dream. But I would visualize myself happily playing with my children and imagine what that would feel like. My kids are now teenagers and the impossible dream is my current reality. This is one of the many amazing things I’ve successfully manifested in life. I would tell my 25-year-old self to put more of her attention on what she wants, not what she fears. I’d explain that the universe is not conspiring against her and would encourage her to limit her exposure to toxic negativity (even if that exposure comes from people you love). I’d let her know that any of her dreams can come true if she believes in herself and takes consistent steps to make them happen. Believe it.

Mindful visualization and a firm belief in possibilities sets powerful forces in motion that help you get what you most want and need.

Finally, I would tell my 25-year-old self to relax and enjoy her life. She’s going to make mistakes, she’s going to struggle, and she’s going to feel sad. This is how we learn and gather wisdom. I’d explain that prosperity isn’t about how much money or material wealth you have, but about how able you are to count your blessings. I’d tell her to count hers regularly. There’s always so much to feel grateful for.

All we ever have is right now. Mindful awareness in each present moment helps build a comfortable and meaningful life.

Before you know it, twenty years will be behind you. Savor every moment with acceptance, gratitude, and love. I’m sure my 65-year-old self will have more to add to this conversation, but for now I’m going to relax and appreciate what I’m experiencing today.

Adina Arden Cooper

I'm a lover, a guide and a supportive companion. An artist, an ally and an advocate. I help individuals connect more deeply with themselves and with others through shadow work. I believe that shared humanity is a powerful strength and that our stories connect us in beautiful and sacred ways. As I stumble, skip, or soar my way through this life, I invite you to join me on the journey. Likewise, I'm honored to travel with you. In witnessing one another, we find meaning.