Tag Archive | advice

Be Ceaseless – The Blog Series

Ceaseless. The dictionary loosely defines it as “without pause or stop; unending”; however, I define it as “a person who is unstoppable; a way of being; the attitude a person takes when they do not allow people or circumstances to stop them from achieving their full potential”. It’s a word that defines who I am to the core of my being. I can’t go anywhere without being identified as “that ceaseless author”, a moniker I wear with pride.

But I have gone beyond that. Ceaseless is tattooed on my forearm for all the world to see – a constant reminder of how my children see me and a way to remind myself just how strong I truly am. Over time, it’s evolved into the hashtag #BeCeaseless – encouraging others to view their own circumstances in a different way. BeCeaseless is on t-shirts, bracelets, and even has its own Facebook page. It’s taken on a life of its own, and I’m proud to say that my own failures gave birth to this movement.

Yep. Failures.

For me, being ceaseless is a state of mind. A few years ago, I finally realized I was far stronger than I’d ever given myself credit for, and without that sudden clarity I hate to think where I’d be right now. My only regret in life is that I didn’t realize it all sooner. The fact that I was 43-years-old before I saw myself through my children’s eyes…as someone who is relentless…pushes me to do better and be better every single day. But I’m not doing it for them per say. While I want to set a good example, and be a role model to my kids, I’ve had to learn it’s okay to be a bit selfish about my own wellbeing and my life’s goals. No one is going to hand me the success I want out of life. I have to work hard and earn it. And now more than I ever, I know it’s within my grasp simply because I believe it.

That may seem like hokum and new-age thinking. But even quantum physics has a theory about the law of attraction. By thinking positively and expecting good things to happen, positive and good things will happen. Perhaps that is oversimplifying its definition, but you get the gist of it.

I wasted far too many years on self-pity parties, pessimism, and blaming others for my problems. Everyone has their own demons – a past they’d like to forget and an uncertain future that seems doomed for failure. Skeletons hang in closets like neatly organized bedlam where we hope they’ll stay hidden from the curious eyes of society. I planned to keep my own skeletons hidden from everyone I knew for fear of being judged. But I recently discovered that by keeping my struggles buried, embarrassed to let others discover my failures and pain, no one would ever know the real me or why I am who I am.

There are incidents from my past I wish I could forget, but every traumatic event shaped the person I was to become. Through the tears, the hardships, and the pain, I am now someone that my younger self would be proud to know. Toxic people, fear, blame, and self-loathing will only stand in the way of letting you become the person you always thought you could be. Happiness is up to you. No one, not even me, can motivate you to become who you were always meant to be. That, my dear, is entirely up to you.

This is the first of many blog posts – a series that will ultimately make you see you’re not alone. My ultimate goal is to make you understand just how strong you are. Life is hard, yet you are made of harder stuff…but only if you believe it. As the days, weeks, and months go by, you will discover how broken I once was and how I was able to fight my way back to become the person I am today. I’m not perfect, and I am nowhere close to where I want to be in life…yet. But the point is this…through self-belief, ambition, perseverance, optimism, and planning, I know without a doubt one day I will succeed in everything I want to achieve because I am allowing it to happen.

You can achieve anything.

My hope for this blog series is this: that you discover the hero inside yourself. By figuring out how to let go of the past and embrace your future, you will find that you are free to become the champion of your own story.

As for me…I am ceaseless. I am strong. I am the she I always meant to be.

Who are you?

An Open Letter to My Daughter on Her 21st Birthday

Dear baby girl,

Happy birthday, my love. And congratulations on making it in one piece to this incredible milestone in your life. That’s not to say there haven’t been some bumps and potholes along the way, but then who in life can say they haven’t experienced the same? Now that you’re an adult, there are some words of wisdom I need to share. Much of it comes from my own experience. And some comes from just paying attention to the world around you. So pay attention.

  1. Your siblings are your lifeline. Friends will come and go, but your siblings are forever. Lean on one another during the hard times. Cry on each other’s shoulders for comfort. Call them first when good things happen. And never judge their choices, behavior, or decisions harshly, because one day you will need them to be just as non-judgmental when you do something questionable. Never ever take that bond you have for granted. It’s possibly one of the greatest gifts that we as parents can give you…a friend for life.
  2. I know that getting up every morning for work isn’t easy and that sometimes dealing with other people and their crappy personalities can be rough. Stress will become an everyday companion as you enter the adult world, but it doesn’t have to control you. Remember that your job is just that…your job. It isn’t your life. Leave work at the door.
  3. Do what you love. Love what you do. For goodness sakes…don’t work in a career field you hate for 40 years. Your sanity and happiness are worth more than money.
  4. Responsibility sucks. But so does living paycheck to paycheck. Never ever quit one job before having another lined up. Trust me. You’ll never find a new job as quickly as you think you can.
  5. Get rid of the toxic people in your life. Being an adult can be tricky, but having the right people at your side can make all the difference in the world. If there are people in your life sucking the happiness out of you, separate yourself from them. For good. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.
  6. Never rush into anything important. Rash decisions are usually a bad idea. Buying a home, buying a car, getting married, having children, choosing a daycare…..always take your time.
  7. Be spontaneous. I know, I know. I just contradicted myself. But hear me out. Go out for dinner at the last minute with the man you love, even if you aren’t wearing any makeup. Wake up on a Saturday morning and drive for 3 hours just to eat at a burger place in a different county. Have fun. You’re only young once.
  8. Find your tribe. A tribe is a group of people who like you and will support you no matter what. They will lift you up and encourage you at every turn. When you fall down and feel like you can’t get up, they’ll be there to help you get back on your feet. I can’t begin to tell you how important this is.
  9. Follow your dreams, whatever they are. My entire life was spent trying to fit into a mold of someone else’s design. I was told that I could be anything I wanted to be so long as it was exactly what they wanted me to be. In the end, I spent the majority of my life trying to make other people happy while I was making myself miserable. And being miserable just made those close to me miserable as well. But once I surrounded myself with a supportive tribe of people who truly believed in me, and I started to live my dream, life began to fall into place. And I was happy.
  10. Never give up. When you fall down, get up. When you fall down again, get up again. Repeat as necessary. Eventually…you’ll stop falling.
  11. If you never try, you’ve already failed. So regardless of how afraid you are of something, give it a shot. You have nothing to lose.
  12. Fear is not your enemy. Complacency is.
  13. The older you get, the faster time flies. Trust me. One day, you’re minding your own business thinking how young you still are and suddenly you’ll look down and realize you have the hands of an old woman. It catches up to you fast. Don’t be in a such a hurry to get to Friday each week. Those Fridays add up. Don’t be in a such a hurry for your children to talk, walk, and start school, because one day you’ll look up and they’ve left the nest. Time is an unkind mistress. Make every day count.
  14. Be grateful for what you have and don’t pine for what you don’t. Let’s face facts. We can’t all be millionaires and live in giant home, drive fast cars, own registered horses, and go on expensive vacations. As much as we’d like to have those things in our lives, it isn’t realistic for 99% of us. Instead, be happy with what you have. And most of all, don’t go into debt trying to attain that perfect life. Perfect is a relative term.
  15. Never…and I can’t emphasize this enough…never ever compare yourself to anyone else. It’s exhausting. And the funny thing is this — while you’re comparing yourself to other people, wondering why you fall short of their perfection, someone is looking in your direction thinking they need to compare themselves to you.
  16. Figure out who you are and be that with everything you have. Never apologize for being you.
  17. When you find THE guy, make date night a priority. Even if it’s only once a month. Make the time to be a couple. Don’t get so consumed in your lives that you forget why you’re together in the first place.
  18. Life is full of pain. We all have it in one form or another. But it’s how you deal with that pain that will define you. If you focus on the pain and things that are completely out of your control, that’s all you’ll know. Instead, focus on the things you do have control over. Focus on the good. Place all your energy into making your life and the life of others better.
  19. Stay out of debt. If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it.
  20. Trust your gut. As a woman, it will rarely fail you. But you have to listen to it.
  21. Write down your goals. Look at them often. Figure out how to achieve them.
  22. Never tell yourself you can’t. Always ask yourself how can you.
  23. If you’re rude to a server at a restaurant, just know they’re spitting in your food. Kindness begets kindness. Being a jackass has repercussions.
  24. A crockpot can be your best friend.
  25. Get a pet. Stop worrying about the hair. That’s why you own a vacuum. They’ll love you unconditionally. Trust me. After a bad day, they can make it all better.
  26. Take care of yourself. Take care of your teeth. Work out. Drink plenty of water. Use moisturizer. Take vitamins. Eat a balanced diet. I’m telling you…you don’t want to look back and wish you’d taken better care of yourself. By then, it’s too late.
  27. Never buy generic toilet paper.
  28. Always buy generic dry noodles.
  29. Target is the most addicting place to shop. Never ever think you can simply go in for one item and leave with just that one item. You’re just kidding yourself.
  30. Smile more
  31. Cry more
  32. Love more

Why I Write

Many people are under the impression that authors write because they want to be famous. This is true in some cases. However, that isn’t always the case. Some do it to supplement their income. Others do it just for the joy of writing. Many do it because they feel they have something to share. For me, the reason I write is personal.

Growing up, I was told I could do anything I set my mind to. But each time I made a decision on what kind of career to pursue, someone in my life told me why I shouldn’t.

“You can’t go to school for journalism. No daughter of mine is going to be a filthy liar for a living.”

“I think becoming a radio D.J. is a bad idea. There’s no future in it.”

“You’ll join the military over my dead body.”

“You want to go to school to study literature? There’s no money in that. You need to be more realistic in your goals. Dreams don’t pay the bills.”

You get the point.

So, for years I went along with all of it and did what was expected of me. I went back to college and earned a degree in business. Any love of writing that I had left in me went dormant. I went about raising my daughters and going through my 9 to 5 days as if nothing was amiss.

And then in 2009, something happened that changed my life. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was the start of something amazing. Something big. Humongous.

I lost my job.

Yep.

So there I was. No job and no way to help support my family. I tried to find a new job, but it was tough out there. I became withdrawn thinking I had disappointed my children and my husband. I cried almost daily and couldn’t get out bed. But after a few months, I discovered something that consistently seemed to cheer me up.

At the time, the Harry Potter movies (at least the ones I owned up to that point on DVD) played 24/7 in my bedroom. I watched them over and over – and over and over and over. They made me smile. They gave me hope. And they gave me an idea.

I pulled out my husband’s old laptop and just began to type. I’m not sure where the words came from, or the story for that matter, but they started to flow nonetheless. It began to develop into a narrative about a girl who discovered an ancient secret that was handed down from mother to daughter. Her newfound powers were to be used to save the world and her family. And since my oldest daughter’s birthday was coming up, I decided that I would finish it and give to her as a birthday gift.

When I finished, I thought the story was brilliant.

Looking back, the story was crap.

But I wrote it. I wrote every single word. I poured my heart and soul into the story, and in the end I dusted away any of the cobwebs that had gathered in my brain throughout the years. My juices began to flow and I wrote another book. Then another, and another, and another.

And then those same people who discouraged my dreams early in life came back and said all the same things.

“You can’t make any money writing books.”

“So after you write this book and get it out of your system, are you going to quit writing and get a real job?”

“Don’t you think your time would be better served cleaning your messy house than writing books? It’s not like you’ll ever be famous.”

But this time, I didn’t listen. I smiled politely and walked away.

Why did I continue to write? It wasn’t necessarily to become famous, or make a lot of money, or even to get noticed – although those are all nice goals.

It was because I’m not just an author. I’m also a mother to three amazing young ladies. They look to me for guidance in life – a role model to show them how life should be lived. And what kind of role model would I be if I gave up on my dream?

“Don’t do as I do. Do as I say.” I heard it a lot growing up – almost daily. But as the years passed, I realized that it was some of the worst advice anyone could have ever given me. Actions speak far louder than words. My daughters look to me to learn how to deal with life’s situations through my actions and reactions. Because – come on – let’s get real. How often do our kids really hear what we have to say?

I write because I want to show them that following your dreams isn’t folly. It’s important. It’s the dreamers in this world that have given us movies, books, music, television shows, new medicines, prosthetics, art, and a whole slew of other things that are important in this life. Einstein was a dreamer as was Edgar Allen Poe. They all dreamed of giving the world something we’d never seen before. Where would we be if they had given up?

My 2 oldest daughters

My 2 oldest daughters

My daughters need to know that failure happens. People fail every day. But if you get up each time, dust yourself off, and keep moving you haven’t truly failed. The only time you really fail is if you stop trying.

I have one daughter who dreams of one day working in TV, film, or Broadway as a make-up artist. I have another daughter who wants to become a pastry chef. Neither of these are “practical” goals. Some might even say they’re unrealistic or impractical. But why should that stop them from following their dreams?

My youngest daughter

My youngest daughter

So I continue to write – push ahead – improve my craft in an effort to make my children proud and show them how to succeed in life through example. I don’t need to be famous. I don’t need to make a million dollars. I only need to show them my resolve, and then maybe…just maybe…one day I can show them how that hard work pays off.

I am Not a Bestselling Author – But I am a Success

Far too often, people consistently look back at their lives and focus on the wrong things. They dwell on abuse, financial pitfalls, break-ups, or just the unfairness of life in general. I know. I’ve gotten hung up on every single one of those things myself. But over the years, I learned a valuable lesson. And I’d like to share that with you here.

My entire life has been one wrong move after another. In my early years, I made a lot of wrong turns and tended to be rash when making decisions. As I grew older, I tried to rectify that, but it seemed that bad luck just seemed to follow me no matter how hard I tried.

I was beginning to think I was cursed.

But then something happened. Something wonderfully – awful. And it changed my life.

I got fired from a job I hated.

Yep. I got fired.

At the time, I was thrilled (I really, really hated working there) and simultaneously thought it was the end of the world – that I was an incredible failure and had let my family down. Here, I was a smart, intelligent, well-educated woman whom – for the next 9 months – was unemployed and couldn’t find a job to save her life. And to top it off, my husband was having a difficult time acclimating to civilian life again after a deployment and was suffering from anxiety, depression, and PTSD. His work prospects weren’t great, and he took a graveyard job cleaning up parking lots.

Paying the bills became difficult. At one point, we went 4 months without hot water. Taking showers became a whole new kind of adventure. I boiled water every night so the kids could bathe. A friend paid our past due electric bill so our lights wouldn’t go out. We tried our hardest to make things as transparent for our children as we could, but it wasn’t easy.

It was one of the lowest points of our lives.

With only days to spare and on the verge of having to live in our mini-van, we managed to move out of the rental home we loved and into a cramped apartment we hated with neighbors who were the epitome of awful. We ended having my husband’s GTO repossessed and nearly filed for bankruptcy.

I became withdrawn and stopped hanging out with people I cared about. I kept myself secluded, not wanting people to realize how bad it had become. I kept my friends and family away so they didn’t see what a failure I was.

Now, look. I’m not trying to get you to feel sorry for me. Quite the opposite actually. Just bear with me.

It was during this very bleak time in my life that I rediscovered my love of writing. I used to write all the time when I was younger. Poems, short stories. I used to love the release it gave me from whatever thing I was going through at the time. It was like my own, personal therapy. And since money was extremely tight, and my oldest daughter’s 15th birthday approaching, I decided to give her something different that year.

I wrote her a book.

I called it “Schuyler and the Saga of the Sages”. It was a medieval fantasy about a girl who realized she had magical powers that had been handed down through the women in her family. I loved it when I wrote it. Looking back at it…it was god-awful. But writing that story – spending all my free time on allowing the words and characters to flow from my head onto the pages on that hand-me-down laptop – it gave me a sense of purpose. Like something had been missing from my life. It had taken those cobwebs in my brain and dusted them away.

I was hooked.

I needed to keep writing.

After 9 months, I managed to find a temp job in a call center. I was told that I was over-qualified, but I didn’t care. We needed the money, and I was willing to work as hard as I could to be the best phone representative I could be.

During this time, I came up with the idea of Dusty and Jack and quickly began developing their story in my head. I spent my lunches and evenings (after the kids went to bed) working on “Haunting”. I quickly realized that I was on to something and couldn’t get the story out on paper fast enough.

Once it was done, I revised it, edited it, and revised it again. It was a never-ending process while I tried to make the story as close to perfect as I could. My husband deployed again. He was off to serve his country, and I was left to raise 3 girls on my own. It made finding time to get any writing done difficult, but I always managed to find time.

Then one day while browsing the Internet, I discovered a contest called “Reader’s Favorite”. I could submit my manuscript, even though I wasn’t published, and have it critiqued and judged. I knew I wouldn’t win – after all – I was a nobody. But, I thought that I could use the critique to develop my writing. So, I went through “Haunting” one more time, made sure it was perfect, and submitted it before the deadline.

And then I forgot all about it.

I went about my days working 40 hours a week and taking care of my daughters’ needs. I was hired permanently at the call center and was promoted to supervisor in less than a year. That was when I began outlining the sequel to Dusty and Jack’s story.

And then I received an email stating that I was a finalist in the “Readers Favorite” awards.

Whaaaa???!!!!!

I freaked. I thought, no way! That’s not even remotely possible.

And then I calmed down. Just the fact that I was a finalist gave me confidence that maybe – just maybe – I could do this. Maybe I could do this writing thing on the side and make something of it.

And then the day came to announce the winners.

My finger moved down the computer screen until I got to my category. There were gold, silver and bronze medal and 2 honorable mentions. When I saw my book and my name in the silver medal spot, I thought I was hallucinating. My body went numb. And I began to cry.

My silver medal

My silver medal

The past few years had been difficult. We had struggled financially – nearly hitting rock bottom. And it almost destroyed us. But we kept pushing forward. And here I just won 2nd place in a competition where the other 4 finalists were already published. My self-confidence shot up. And for the first time in years, I felt invincible.

That was in 2011.

In 2012, I was offered a publishing contract by a small, indie press and the rest was history.

Author, BJ Sheldon, and The Dusty Chronicles

Author, BJ Sheldon, and The Dusty Chronicles

Now, in 2015, I’m preparing to publish the final book in The Dusty Chronicles trilogy – the final chapter of Dusty and Jack’s romance. And I’ve also been working on a brand new stand-alone novel involving fallen angels.

Here’s where I try to make my point.

I’m not well-known. I’m not a famous writer. I’m not a New York Times bestselling author.

But I am a success.

How, you ask?

Because I am able to look back at all the bad times and see how far I’ve come. I don’t dwell on the past – I use it to me stronger. I use all of the shame and embarrassment as a learning experience – a way to inspire myself and others when it feels as though things can’t get any better.

Getting fired was the best thing that could have happened to me. If that hadn’t happened, I never would have started writing again, and I wouldn’t be where I am today. I followed my dreams, and they led me here.

I’m a success. It has nothing to do with money. It has nothing to do with fame. It’s because I am able to do something I love – something I’m passionate about – and it makes me happy.

And even though I’m not a bestselling author, that doesn’t mean it can’t happen in the future.

Tell yourself you can. Then do it.

Tell yourself you can.
Then do it.

So, no matter what’s happened to you, I’m here to tell you that anything is possible. Don’t let your mistakes dictate your future. You are more than your past.

You are a success just waiting to happen.

An Open Letter to my Niece as she Starts College

My dearest niece,

Today is you birthday, and you are headed off to the hallowed halls of higher education. You thought being a freshman in high school was rough? Well, pull up your big girl panties and get ready for the ride of your life.

College is a whole new world filled with fun, stress, and changes that will forever shape your future.

Since I’m the queen of unsolicited advice when it comes to you and my daughters, I thought…”Why not offer up some useful advice about how to get through college without screwing it up?”

So…here it goes.

1) College isn’t for everybody. But you decided to further your education and attend a school that is hours away from your parents…and me. So, my first bit of advice is this: Don’t forget WHY you’re going to college. You’re going there to learn. You’re going so that when you get out, you have accumulated knowledge that you didn’t have before you went in so you can find a career you love. Remember that. College = Knowledge.

2) This brings me to my second point. In college, there will be men. Notice, I didn’t say boys. Boys no longer exist in your world. They can be a wonderful distraction, but they’re just that. A distraction. Refer back to #1.

3) Speaking of men, there are some that will do or say anything to get what they want from you. Now, I said ‘some’. Not ALL men are pigs, but unfortunately there will be guys with selfish intentions who will try to sweet talk their way into your life. It is your job to figure out which ones are crap and which ones are worth your time. I can’t give you much advice on how to determine which is which. But, I will say this…a woman’s gut instinct is rarely wrong. Listen to yours. If you get even the slightest bad vibe…tell him to take a hike. A really long one.

4) Make friends. Make all kinds of friends. Don’t just make friends with the people who are just like you. That’s boring. Make friends who have different interests than you – people who like different kinds of music, movies, and books. Learn what makes people tick – learn their passions and their dreams. People like that will teach you what the real world is like. Because one day, you will be out in the real world with a real job and “spoiler alert”…you will work with people who are vastly different from you. If you can’t figure out how to get along with different kinds of people in college, the real world is gonna suck.

5) Study

Your Aunt BJ, headed off for college. Don't laugh...that outfit was very chic.

Your Aunt BJ, headed off for college. Don’t laugh…that outfit was very chic.

6) You’ll have a roommate. You may get along with her. Then again, you may not. This is a great way to learn what marriage is like. Living with someone you don’t always see eye to eye with in a small, confined space? That’s almost exactly like marriage. Have a fight? Talk it out. You’re right and they’re wrong. Guess what? It doesn’t matter. They’re messy? They snore? They don’t like how you make your bed? Welcome to being an adult. Sometimes you have to swallow your pride and apologize, even when you’re not wrong. Show an interest in what they’re doing. Tell them how much you appreciated them cleaning the bathroom. It’s all about compromise, give and take. Like I said – just like marriage.

7) Study some more

8) Learn how to prioritize. This will be one of the most valuable things you’ll ever master. Classes and schoolwork before play. Hard work before fun. Which paper to write first. Figuring out what takes priority in life is part of being in adult, so learn this now.

9) You’re not in high school anymore.

10) You won’t get awards in college for participation. If you want something, you’re going to have to work for it.

11) If you screw up. Own it. People will respect you much more if you admit failure than making excuses for what you’ve done.

12) Keep studying

13) Back to those men. Don’t date someone just because he’s popular, well-built, and hot. Because that’s just stupid. Popularity goes away after you graduate, even the best built guys eventually gain a bit of weight, and sometimes hot guys lose their hair. You date someone because they make you laugh. You date someone because they would rather stay in with you than hang out with their friends. You date someone because they’re the first person you want to call when something good happens. You date him because he makes you smile and isn’t jealous, rude to waiters, and secretly cries during your favorite chick flick. And you continue dating him because it turns out he’s your best friend.

14) Have fun. Up until now, I’ve talked about hard work and remembering that college is there for you to learn and not screw around. But it’s also a time to find yourself. But do it intelligently. Don’t do something that could get you arrested or killed. Drinking is prevalent in college. Be smart and use your head. One day, you’re going to be married and have children of your own. When you’re about to do something, ask yourself this question: “Will I be able to tell my children about this one day?” If the answer is no…don’t do it.

15) Refer back to #1

Your Mother

Your mother

16) Call your mother at least once a week. Mostly because she will miss you and because you love her, but partly because if you don’t I’ll never hear the end of it.

17) Remember to sleep once in a while.

18) I  know I mentioned it before, but don’t drink. I would hope you’re smart enough that I don’t have to mention the drug thing.

19) Go to the store with your friends and buy ridiculous costumes. Put them on and spend a Saturday in downtown making fools of yourselves and taking pictures and doing goofy things. You are only young once.

20) Listen to me or don’t. It’s up to you. But let me leave you with this – high school wasn’t the best years of your life. College won’t be either. Your best years are yet to come. Have fun. Be silly. Be yourself, and find yourself.

 

An Open Letter to my Daughter on her 18th Birthday

(The following is an open letter to my eldest daughter today on her 18th birthday. It is unedited and stands as is…a testament of a mother’s love for her child.)

Dear Sky,

Today, you turn 18 years old. You have reached a major pinnacle in your life, but it has only just begun. I eagerly wait with anticipation to see what your life has in store for you. Of all the things I am capable of giving you today, I feel my words are the most valuable.

These are exciting times for you: finishing high school, going to college, moving out on your own, starting a career, paying your own way, dating, marriage, having kids. The possibilities are endless. But, I’m not going to lie. At times, life is going to get rough. It’s inevitable; however, it’s all in how you handle the stress of life that determines whether or not you will succeed. Having a negative attitude toward the stress and being pessimistic will not, I promise you, resolve anything. Taking deep breaths, keeping an optimistic attitude and developing a character that doesn’t quit will take you much further in life than anyone tells you.

I remember back 18 years ago to the day you were born and smile as I recall my first words upon your arrival. “She’s beautiful! She looks like a troll doll!” (I blame the drugs, but who could blame with that little tuft of hair sticking straight up like that!) From that moment on, my life evolved around you. There was nothing I wouldn’t do to keep you safe. I know I’ve told you this before, but being adopted myself I looked at you as my first real blood relative. That moment of your birth was the day I realized I wasn’t alone in the universe. I had you.

When I look at you, I see my own eyes looking back at me. They are thoughtful, ambitious, spontaneous and quick to find the good in others. I can only hope you learn to find the good in yourself. People will disappoint you. It’s in their nature. It’s the ones who disappoint you, own up to it, apologize and never do it again that are worth keeping around. At the same time, be careful with whom you choose to associate and don’t be so naïve to believe that you can trust just anyone. Make others prove their worthiness to be trusted as anyone of sound mind will ask of you. Be someone people can rely on, but don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of either. Stand up for yourself and for those who cannot stand up for themselves.

Love yourself and don’t allow anyone to make you feel less of a person through their words or actions. You, and you alone, are in control of your emotions and well-being. By allowing someone else to taint your self-worth, you give them power over you.

Choose your battles. Life is too short to be arguing with someone all the time about everything. This goes for friends and family as well as any future romantic relationships. Be empathetic and put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to see things from their perspective. You will be rewarded in ways that you have yet to understand.

Don’t be a bystander…ever. Get involved.

A smile at the right time will always go a long way.

When you find the love of you life and eventually get married, let go of the little things. The toilet seat doesn’t matter. Who forgot to unload the dishwasher means nothing. Whose turn it is to change the baby’s diaper isn’t worth the argument. Most things in life are “little things”. By learning to go with the flow and learning to laugh at the appropriate moments, your marriage will be successful.

You have potential for great things. Your love of children and kids with special needs is one of the things that make you amazing. Remembering that they are the reason you have a purpose in life will take you far…farther than I think you realize.

Marry your best friend. Don’t settle. He should make you laugh. Whatever you do, don’t allow him to place you on a pedestal to be worshipped, because when valuables fall, they break. Make sure he sees you as an equal and is willing to walk beside you and not force you to the rear. Make your marriage first and your children second. By doing so, your children will see what a real, loving marriage is and will be all the better for it.

If it feels wrong, don’t do it. If you know it’s wrong, don’t go along with it.

Be a leader, not a follower.

Don’t be in such a hurry to grow up. Yes, you’re now officially an adult, but that definition goes far beyond just being a number. Being an adult means being responsible with all aspects of your life. There is plenty of time to move out and live on your own. Other than your current job after school, your only other job for the next few years should be discovering who you are as a person, going to school, and learning from the mistakes of the adults around you. There are many of us who came before you that have made plenty of mistakes, me included. Don’t make the same ones just because you want to be treated as an adult.

Think long-term and not short-term. The mistakes you make now can haunt you forever. You don’t want to live with that kind of guilt.

Ask for advice. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Asking for help is NOT a sign of weakness…instead, it is a sign of maturity that shows you know the depth of your limitations.

If someone gives you constructive criticism, don’t assume they’re being critical. Take it for what it is and smile. It may be the best advice you ever receive.

Above all else, remember you are loved. Even though we can’t be together today, a huge milestone in your life, you are surrounded by people who would each give their own lives to protect you and keep you safe. None of us want to see you fall, fail or get hurt. Your family is forever.

Follow your dreams. Never give up on something you desperately want. Ever.

Don’t make the same mistakes I’ve made in life.

You are my first-born. You are love and all things good in my heart. When you hurt, I hurt. When you have joy, I have joy.

Happy birthday baby. I love you…forever.

Mom