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If I’m lucky enough to live to be 100, then today is my official quarter life. I’ve had the privilege of living in the South my entire existence, walking on Southern soil for 25 years. I think I’m officially no longer a Southern girl but becoming a Southern lady. As we’ve launched, the one question I always ask folks in interviews is “How do you define a lady?” The common theme is gentleness. Fine manners and gentility are swell; however, when it comes to making a great lady it’s about kindness: a compassion not of this world. This ideal truly gives me something to strive for in the coming years.

Here are the top 25 lessons I’ve learned by my 26th birthday.

#1: Accountability is everything. This attribute goes hand-in-hand with trust, faith, and all the other fine virtues in a human being. It’s one thing to say what you do and entirely another to do what you say. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about lessons we learned as kids “don’t talk with your mouth full”, “don’t speak unless spoken to”, and if our words and actions are all we can live by, then as adults we have to be even more cautious about what we say and when we say it.

#2: Gumption. It makes you succeed when others tend to give up and fail. This year I read “Gone With the Wind” and in her story, Margaret Mitchell teaches us something very important about gumption. When we lose everything, gumption gives us the strength to keep calm and carry on. I like to think Southerners have gumption in spades.

#3: Drinks are to be consumed with loved ones. Don’t drink alone, don’t drink with coworkers (unless you love them enough to call them friends or family). Drinking is a celebratory activity. I should save my liver to do it with those folks who mean the most to me in this world.

#4: Standards. Your standards are yours and yours alone. This is a direct quote from my pal Dr. Milton Gay:

“Be a standard for yourself. What is the handling of this situation such that, regardless of the outcome, I will respect myself for having done it this way.”

#5: It’s okay to be sad. Another lesson from Dr. Gay: there is no “normal” when it comes to our feelings. There’s happy, sad, and everything in between. We feel joy, bliss and fun but then we also get depressed, angry and flat-out pissed. It’s okay to feel these emotions, as long as we know how to cope with them.

#6: All single women should have a dog. Jones my super pup also known as Jonesy, Jo Jo, Indiana Jones, and Monkey has been my best friend for the better part of my twenties. If I hadn’t adopted Jones, I never would have met Becca Hancock, who got me working with Fetch which lead me to puppy-sitting Marley and eventually marrying his dashing owner Kevin Patrick.

#7: Make a list of your wants and needs. It helps you actualize your heart’s truest desires. Then, as your life carries on, and you accomplish your goals, it feels mighty sweet to check them off your list.

#8: Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. I asked to be Editor of The Red & Black, for a certain salary starting a job, and even asked KP on our first “play date” when he came to pick up Marley. Have the gumption to ask the tough questions and your courage will help you succeed.

#9: Focus on your strengths instead of your weaknesses. Maximize on the things you’re good at. Going through’s STAR Program and taking Strength Finders changed my life. By the way, my strengths are Positivity (in case y’all couldn’t tell), Input, Achiever, Learner and Maximizer. I encourage all of you to take Strength Finders if possible.

#10: Change. It is a good thing. There’s been a lot of upheaval in my world recently, and all for the better. When I was a kid, I hated change. I loathed moving from Washington D.C. to Atlanta, but now in my happy existence deep below the Mason Dixon line, I’m damn glad to be a Georgian. Moving forward with “mature” adulthood I know there’s going to be even more change. Bring it on.

#11: Remember historical context. Having the ability to look at your past actions, paves the way for our future. I can’t dwell in the past, but look to it for lessons and find a way to move forward. See #10.

#12: Nothing other people say and do is because of you. It is a projection of their own reality, their own dreams. When you are immune from the actions and opinions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering. Today, on my 26th birthday, I pledge to stop worrying about the actions of others, looking only to myself to set an example.

#13: Find a way to escape. In this week’s column, Our Southern Girl in South America, Chelsea Cook writes about how she escaped her urban surrounding of Santiago, Chile, for a country retreat. While y’all can’t escape to South America like Chelsea, it’s important to remember to take a break from reality even if it’s just for a hot minute.

#14: Speak with integrity. Let every word you state be in the direction of truth and love.

#15: Live your dreams. We have tough realities to face: commitments to our families, lifestyles, car payments, mortgages which hopefully have low rates, bills, we can’t run away from them. But we can transcend everyday hardships when we dream. Our dreams, our passions, are all we can really live for…and when you dream, DREAM BIG!

#16: Honor your commitments. If you made promises or vows, keep them. Nuff said.

#17: “Never let anyone outside your family know what you’re really thinking.” This quote was uttered by Marlon Brando in “The Godfather” and I’ve started to mark my actions by those words. When it comes to important decisions only confide in those individuals you truly trust.

#18: Make time to be on time. I used to have a serious problem with lateness and am constantly working to correct it. If I’m planning to be somewhere, I’ve started carving out time in front of that time to ensure I’m not late. It’s a sign of respect plus it helps with accountability (see #1)

#19: Write To-Do lists. It’s a great feeling to know you set out to do something, whether it’s mopping the floors or launching a blog, and know you achieved it.

#20: Celebrate your achievements. Whether they are little victories or huge undertakings. If you did good work, there should be good reward. As Sarah Silverman wrote, “Make It A Treat”! Find a way to treat yourself for working hard.

#21: Dance, sing, act, create and play! Just let loose, let your hair down. I’m all for dancing like no one is watching, and if they are, hopefully they’ll start dancing too.

#22: Truth. I’ve told a lot of lies in my 25 years and I’m not proud of a single one. There’s this saying there’s no such thing as a fresh start, but I am sorry for not always speaking the truth and can only strive to speak with integrity. Lying is the easy way out. I should always be honest with myself and those around me…no matter how hard it may be.

#23: Beauty. There’s so much beauty in this world, particularly in the South. I loathe words like ugly and fat. Screw them. There was a time when I thought myself ugly because some mean people called me that…but I’ve grown up (see #12). There’s an inherent beauty in all of existence.

#24: Freedom. Ah, sweet Independence. Our Founding Fathers fought for freedom from taxation without representation, and in today’s American society I believe freedom is having the courage to live the life you truly desire. We settle for jobs, lifestyles, because they’re comfortable. Yet as we’re free we should always be stretching to see how far our wings can carry us.

#25: Love. If grace is unmerited thankfulness, then love is infinite joy shown to others and to ourselves. A few years ago I was introduced to this wonderful truth in “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho. It’s called The Soul of the World. All things are one. We’re all connected, intertwined, because we’re all here in one existence together. Growing up in a Christian household, I learned of God’s never-ending love. As humans, we’re fallible. But if we can always keep love in our hearts then ultimately we’ll make the world a better place.
Truth, Beauty, Freedom and Love. It’s what I’ll continue living for in my next 25 years. We’ll be exploring more of these virtues every day here on Our journey is just beginning.

What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned in your life?