Women's Day Special: Lessons From The Little Girl Within

As we celebrate International Women's Day, think back on the person who shaped who you are today: your younger self.

As we celebrate the achievements of women around the world, we encourage you to recall your younger self. Chances are, as a young woman, you felt carefree, you focused primarily on yourself, and you rarely censored your thoughts or actions. The whole point was to have fun, explore, and discover. But, girls usually leave more of themselves behind than boys do as they move into adolescence and adulthood...and it just might be time to reclaim at least some of that lost girl (tempered with some hard-won big-girl wisdom, of course).

Where Did That Girl Go?

There are many reasons girls lose some of their inner selves as they mature. Certainly a primary one, says Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees And Wannabes, is that "during adolescence, girls start to believe they have to be effortlessly perfect. They feel pressured to fit in socially and do well in school." And, while these things are a natural part of growing up, you sometimes sacrifice a bit of who you are just to achieve these goals.

For example, you may have silenced a wacky part of your personality to be part of the popular crowd. "Women are socialized to be people pleasers, so as girls move into their early teenage years, they start conforming to what they believe others want them to be," says Roni Cohen-Sandler, PhD, author of Stressed-Out Girls. That urge to conform can extend to your looks; that's why you started spending time worrying about your appearance instead of indulging in a hobby you loved. Or, you wanted to be well-liked so much that you took less risks that might make you stand out.

Finally, as you get older, the time element becomes crucial. "As a child, you can devote hours to dreaming and doing things just for fun," says clinical psychologist Ruth Peters, PhD, author of Overcoming Underachieving. But as life accelerates, you get busy, and it becomes easier to neglect things that really make you happy.

The result: That devil-may-care girl you once were gets lost...which kind of sucks, because that deeper sense of yourself can really come in handy as a grown-up--from helping you get what you want in life to simply heightening your joy. Now, just to be clear, we aren't suggesting you revert back to being childish. It's more about realizing what went missing, bringing back some of the facets of your personality, and using them to your advantage. Here's the lowdown on how to rediscover certain parts of the old you.

Define what's missing.

"Taking a simple look back at the girl you were and comparing her to who you are now will help you see what you may be missing," says Kirsten Harrell, PsyD, founder of Ipopin.com, a website promoting the benefits of positive thinking. Pay special attention to the things that make you exclaim, "Wow, I miss that," and leave you with a sense of yearning, and then translate them to the adult world.

Don't simply rely on your memory. Instead, dig up mementos that will help take you back to the person you used to be. "Looking at childhood pictures of yourself and reading old journals will help you remember that feisty side," says Lisa Machoian, EdD, a psychotherapist and author of The Disappearing Girl. Another prime resource is old pals. "I asked a childhood friend what she remembered about me as a kid, and she told me I was always drawing portraits of people," says Sarah, 30. "I hadn't done that in ages, and I realized I miss it."

Reclaim your old self.

Once you've figured out what you miss, it's time to act. Maybe you dreamt of writing a novel, but you can't just sit down and type 400 pages. Instead, go see an author do a reading at a bookstore. Or, maybe like Kate, 25, you want to reclaim a personality trait. "As a kid, I was really social," she says. "But after college, I never went out a lot. In time, I eventually organized happy hours with new pals."

The key is taking action and being creative. Take risks and follow your instincts, says Peters. Did you love debates as a kid, but set aside that aggressive part of yourself because you worried about pissing people off? Try joining a book club, where you can debate, but on less personal issues.

Don't worry about other people's expectations.

Finally, know that bringing back some of these elements of yourself may startle other people. Your friends may think it's a waste of your time to try new hobbies. Or, it may throw off your guy if you suddenly start showing a new side of your personality. "Whatever people expect of you, don't let it inhibit you from doing what you need to do to feel happy," says Machoian. Keep in mind that while your friends and family mean well, only you know what kinds of things feel authentic to the real you.

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