What My 45-Year-Old Self Would Tell My 25-Year-Old Self

It really is true that hindsight is 20/20 and sometimes can only be learned by looking backwards.


I was born on the day following Father's Day at a little after 1 am. My late father always said that I was the best present he had ever received in his life. Well, on June 17, a day that also immediately follows Father's Day, I'll be (what?!) 45 years old. Five years from 50. Wow. Just wow.

A couple of days ago, when I sat to think about where I was—literally as well as emotionally—and what I was doing 20 years ago, I had to stop and catch my breath a bit. I remember when a surrogate mother of mine had her last conversation with me while dying on her hospice bed. She was only in her 50s when she said, "Shellie, it goes by faster than you think." Boy, does it. Although my health is good (praise the Lord!) and I hope to see many (MANY) more years, when I think back to the fact that in 1999, I was only 25 years old and then when I reflect on all of the life lessons I have learned since then…my surrogate mom was correct. Time really does fly. If you're blessed, you have a few things to show for it.

Although I don't take it lightly when someone asks my age, I tell them and they reply with how much younger I look, honestly, I'm a firm believer that if you live each year to its fullest, you are not only unafraid of aging, you're actually ready to move on to the next year; you're open to seeing what the next 365 days have in store.

I'm pretty much an ambivert, so while it's highly doubtful that I'll be out here partying like it's 1999 on my special day, I do want to share a few things that these past two decades have taught me; things that, I wish I had known (or paid closer attention to) back when I was 25.

1.You Don’t Need Half of What’s in Your Closet

Writer Shellie R. Warren

Cody Uhls

According to the Cheat Sheet website, here are some of the things that lose value, just as soon as you purchase them: cars, jewelry, cell phones, furniture, handbags, wedding gowns and clothing. A lot of us know this and still, we're willing to spend at least $150 a month on clothes. Not only is that a trip, but most of us end up "double wasting" our money because even with a closet full of outfits, we tend to only wear 20 percent of 'em.

Back in 1999, I was in somebody's thrift store or somebody's mall, at least a few times a month. I hate to say it, but sometimes I'd be short on a bill because I wanted another dress that I absolutely did not need. I'm still a bit more of a clothes horse than I should be, but definitely not at the risk of jacking up my credit or not having any lights on. Although I must admit that the stats are right—there are some things that I own that I've worn once, if that much.

Hmph. I can only imagine how much money I would've saved if I was more focused on investing than making sure I wasn't seen with the same thing on twice like I was on a television sitcom or something. SMDH. If you're in your 20s and reading this, you don't need most of what you've got. Put some of your money into a savings account instead of into a dresser drawer that's doing nothing but collecting dust. You'll thank me later. I promise you that.

2.It’s Not a Compliment When a Guy with a Girlfriend Wants You

If you've read even five articles that I've written on here before, you'll notice three things—I dig quotes, song lyrics/references and word definitions. Well, in true Shellie fashion, the definition for compliment is "an expression of praise, commendation, or admiration".

Way back in the day, an ex of mine once told me that my biggest issue (as far as men were concerned) was that I treated compliments like they were revelations instead of confirmations. Translation—since I didn't feel very good about myself, I was always "thankful" when a man told me that I was smart, pretty or sexy.

He was spot-on. Shoot, that's how he was able to get some (more on that in a bit). And because men were able to "fill me up" in the places where I was empty, it didn't really matter if he was seeing someone or not—if I was attracted to him and he was attracted to me, I found it to be high praise if he found me desirable.

Lord. If I could first hug and then shake my 25-year-old self, I would let her know that a man who's checking for you who has a woman is nothing to be impressed with. If he truly saw your worth, he'd admire you from afar because he'd know that you deserve a man who could give all of himself; not just some horny guy who spits game to see if he can get his itches scratched.

3.Get Yourself a Tax Account (and Attorney, If Necessary)

If 2019 hasn't done anything else, it has been exposing people and their ish left and right. I believe it was Bill Clinton who once said, "Tell all of your business before someone else exaggerates it." That said, I am very open about the fact that the IRS doesn't like me and I don't like it. It all started around 1997 when I got a job that gave me a 1099 that I didn't know quite what to do with. Then, I found myself seeing more of those tax forms than I ever did a W-2. Anyone who does contract or freelance work knows exactly where I am coming from.

Listen, working from home is a wonderful thing. But if you're going to do contract/freelance work, do you and your financial future a favor and find you an accountant; someone who can help you to structure your finances and keep your taxes in check. The sooner you do that, the better. Oh, and if things get too out of hand, a tax attorney can't hurt either.

Otherwise, you'll be like me—not only be on never-ending IRS payment plans, but wondering if you'll ever see a tax return again. #doubtit

4.Stop Befriending People Who Expect You to Do Most of the Work

Something that I make sure to say, just as often as I can, is don't let people tell you that you shouldn't expect reciprocity in your relationships because you absolutely should. For years, I would hear people say, "Shellie, if you have to keep tabs on what someone is or isn't doing, you aren't giving for the right reasons." Nooooo…the real deal is if I have to keep tabs at all, they aren't doing enough, the giving/receiving ratio is way off and somebody is being taken for granted (umm, me).

I stayed in this pattern for most of my life, really. A lot of codependents were in my space, I'm a survivor of abuse and my self-esteem used to be pretty low, so I thought being loved meant doing whatever someone wanted me to do and tolerating the crumbs that they gave in return. Oh, the drama and heartache that I could've been spared, had I learned what real friendship looks and lives like and I released those who didn't fit the bill.

The users and manipulators that I encountered? It wasn't all their fault. If I had been my own friend, I would've set a better standard for myself. I was nowhere near knowing this in my 20s, but I am on top of this lesson now. 100 percent.

5.Some of the Most Toxic People Are So-Called Church Folks. Find God for Yourself.

Writer Shellie R. Warren

Cody Uhls

Don't think I've missed the irony in the fact that, for as long as I've been abstinent (going on 13 years now), that I've been out of church that long as well. In church, I was a broken mess. Out of church, I am healthier than I've ever been. For the record, I consider myself to be a disciple (John 8:31-32) and since I am one, there's no way I can be "anti-church"; it's just that, I don't support counterfeit, dysfunctional or toxic versions of it. And, for many years, on both Sabbath and Sunday, that was my experience (if you are a church-goer, two great reads areThe Emotionally Healthy Church: A Strategy for Discipleship That Actually Changes Lives andPagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices).

Since I've been out, it's been amazingly refreshing to learn about THE GOD as opposed to a God version that so many religious leaders wanted to push on me, based on their own perspectives, experiences and sometimes, even their ego. With the freedom that I have now, I've actually come to adore Scripture and spirituality on an entirely different level. And for the skeptics who think I've become "woke", the Bible does not teach "a white man's religion". The Bible is an eastern culture book; most of it happened in the Middle East and Egypt. Don't let these…white evangelicals fool you.

Anyway, knowing what I know now, I definitely would've told my 25-year-old self to not let people dictate what one's spiritual journey should look like. If I had come to that conclusion before my early 30s, I'd probably be even further along in my walk now. These days, I don't defend what I'm doing. There's absolutely no need. I simply advise folks to calm down and "watch the fruit" (Matthew 12:33). Oh, and I also remind them of a dope Oswald Chambers quote—"Never try to make your experience a principle for others but allow God to be as creative and original with others as He is with you." Amen? Amen.

6.Recycling’s Good—Except When It Comes to Dudes

Not too long ago, while being interviewed, someone asked me if, at this point in my life, was I afraid that I'd never get married; you know, because of my age. NOPE. One explanation for why I'm not worried, fearful or anxious is found another article I wrote last year—"Let's Settle this 'Black Women Don't Get Married' Thing Once & for All". According to it, I'm in my prime for getting married. Another reason why I'm not stressin' out is because I know me. Although it's different strokes for different folks, I'm not the kind of woman who will announce that I met a man, fell in love and got engaged in six months. No, I need to know, know, know, know, know you. And really getting to know someone? How did Mariah Carey once put it? "Love Takes Time". So, why get stressed out over something that won't happen overnight?

However, I will say that it's one thing to have the desire to know someone. It's another to settle so deep into the folks that you already know that you don't branch out and meet new people. Because a lot of my former sex partners were also friends, in many ways, I felt so comfortable in their space (both physically as well as emotionally) that I kept dealing with them. Over and over again. It was pretty much like I was recycling them. While it meant that I knew what I was getting into, what it also meant was I was remaining in a relational cul-de-sac and, for the most part, not getting anywhere.

25-year-old Shellie, recycling is great for the planet. Not necessarily the best thing for your love life, though. It's OK to get rid of some dudes. And open yourself up to some new possibilities.

7.The Sooner You Draw Boundaries with Your Family the Better

A few months back, I penned a piece entitled "Why You Should Be Unapologetic About Setting Boundaries with Toxic Family Members". Listen, I don't know if it's residual PTSD from slavery or what but this misguided loyalty to people who abuse us just because they are our blood has got to stop. If anyone should be a safe place, if anyone should be held to a high standard, it should be our kinfolk. When they mistreat us, for the sake of our health, sanity and the future of the generations to follow, boundaries (limits) must be set.

Just a couple of weeks ago, a close friend of mine said to me, "Shellie, you've always been fabulous. But I must say that since you have removed certain family members from your life, you're a lot easier to deal with." I bet. Due to my past abuse—physical, verbal, sexual, psychological, neglect—I found myself on a constant roller coaster of anger and fear. Those types of emotions can make you semi-paranoid and controlling. Now that I see what I needed to remove in order to be my best self and live my best life, why would I incorporate "that" back into my world, simply because it's "family"?

Love and forgiveness are important. So are security and sanity. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't have both. Boundaries will give you both. If I had accepted that when it came to several of my family members two decades ago, this woosah that I have would've been a part of my life way back then.

That's OK. Ain't no way I'm giving it up now. Lesson learned.

8.Your Final Abortion Is Gonna Be One of Your Greatest Regrets

Remember the ex I was talking about earlier? Back in the late fall of 1999, I found out I was pregnant with his child. December 4, 1999, I had my fourth and final abortion. The following year, he had a little girl with someone else. I'm not gonna shift blame or play the victim because he couldn't make me do anything. But I will say that it's always been fascinating to me that the same man who told me he wasn't ready for a baby is the same man who impregnated and married someone else literally 12 months later.

Every time I talk about my final abortion, I tell people that I know—that I know that I know—that I heard God tell me, "You don't want to do this. I promise, you don't want to do this." I did it anyway, thinking that even if consequences came, I had plenty of time to become a mom.

I'm 45 now. I'm still not a mother. I've made peace with that, but I'd be lying if I said that I didn't regret that cold winter's day in some random city in Kentucky. Yeah, if I could talk to my 25-year-old self, I'd tell her that 20 years goes by a lot faster than you might think so, don't make choices assuming you have all of the time in the world. You don't. And definitely don't do something simply because a guy wants you to. What you need is bigger than what he wants. Period.

9.Your God-Given Gift Will Never Betray You

I haven't had an office job since 2000. The last time I did was the first and only time that I got fired. I took that as a sign that I needed to stop ignoring my passion for writing and figure out how I could make an actual living from it. At the time, I didn't have a car or a computer, so I bummed rides over to a family friend's home, got on their PC and looked for people who would let me write for them, for free, so that I could build up my resume.

It worked. I started off doing some relationship Q&A, then features and then, in 2002, Denene Millner (an editor for the now-defunct-but-then-was-oh-so-dope Honey magazine) gave me a shot. I wrote a piece about what it was like to get an abortion at a man's request, only for him to turn around and have a baby with someone else a year later (all things work together, y'all). Around that same time, I started having a feature column in another magazine called Relevant. They published my first book in 2004. 15 years ago this month. And, as they say, the rest is history.

If I had more confidence in my voice, my experiences and my writing gift, I wouldn't have jacked off my college years, worked dead-end jobs or probably got into half of the situationships that I did out of sheer inner frustration and boredom. So, yeah…if I could do about 30 years back over again, I would've started doing what I did in 2000 then.

The lesson here—God will make sure our gifts, talents and calling will take care of us. That's a part of the reason why He gave it to us in the first place (some 20-something-year-old needed to hear that).

10.Worry Changes Nothing. Peace Alters Everything.

Writer Shellie R. Warren

Cody Uhls

George Bernard Shaw once said, "People become attached to their burdens sometimes more than the burdens are attached to them." Indeed. Yeah, if church folks want to focus on what's a sin, WORRY IS A SIN. It's in the Bible (Matthew 6). Signs that you're a worrier? You create movies in your head out of things that haven't happened yet. You lean on the side of the negative most of the time. You don't take risks because you believe they won't work out. You make real problems out of hypothetical situations. You stress out for no good reason (there's never a truly good reason, by the way). You're tense, anxious and, oftentimes to the people around you, it's annoying.

I grew up around chronic worriers and so, for a really long time, I had no idea how to appropriately cope with challenges, waiting seasons or bad news. It caused me to make financially poor decisions, to use sex as a coping mechanism and to put myself on random emotional roller coaster rides.

These days, my life is very different. After learning what the Hebrew word for peace (shalom) really means, that's what I strive to have in my life on a daily basis—"completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord".

One of my favorite people died at the top of the year. During the last 12-16 months of her life, we discussed how much stress consumed her and ultimately attacked her health. There are plenty of studies to support that stress is the #1 health problem that Americans have. Nothing is worth sacrificing your well-being for.

So yeah, if I could tell my 25-year-old self anything else, it would be "Baby girl, no matter what or who it is, they ain't worth the stress. If it's not bringing wholeness, health, peace, safety, prosperity, rest and harmony into your life, LET IT GO. Ultimately, it means you no good." Your health, your lack of wrinkles and your sense of sanity will thank you in about 20 more years.

And you know what, y'all? It absolutely does.

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Jamie Foxx and his daughter Corinne Foxx are one of Hollywood’s best father-daughter duos. They’ve teamed up together on several projects including Foxx’s game show Beat Shazam where they both serve as executive producers and often frequent red carpets together. Corinne even followed in her father’s footsteps by taking his professional last name and venturing into acting starring in 47 Meters Down: Uncaged and Live in Front of a Studio Audience: All in the Family and Good Times as Thelma.

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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