Dear younger me,
I’m writing this with hope that you read, understand, and take to heart these thoughts.
Building a happy, meaningful life starts with finding and rooting yourself in a belief system that is greater than any person or thing. Believing in God provides perspective on your place in the world.
Second, there is nothing more important than family. Whether it is your biological family or the family you create through deep friendships, they will be your support system through life. Don’t take them for granted – learn from them while they are with you so that their lessons can be your guide when they are gone.
Third, you are worthy of love. Don’t isolate yourself because you feel unworthy and stubbornly move through life on your own. Recognize that it is in community and through relationships that meaning is found and beautiful experiences are born.
Fourth, learn how to share your feelings and care for others in a way that lets them know how worthy they are of love. Strive to be encouraging, supportive, and caring.
Finally, be willing to let go of the mindset that you have control. There is very little in this world you can control outside of your own attitude and actions. Develop resilience and grit and face hard situations early on – don’t run away. Build your character so that you will be able to face life’s uncertainty with grace and strength.
You will find one of your greatest joys in life is watching others grow over time and seeing them face and overcome challenges. Nothing gives me more joy in my life now than watching the people I care for and work with be the best they can be and find personal satisfaction and meaning in their lives.
Wife. Mother. CEO.
About Stephanie Bailes
Stephanie Bailes joined the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention as Executive Director in 2017. Bailes was named a 2021 Top 50 International Museum Influencer by Blooloop and she was promoted to Cade CEO in 2022 for her accomplishments.
To my younger self:
It’s going to be ok.
There are so many wonderful things awaiting you. Just focus on the moment and stay true to yourself as your life’s plan unfolds. Stop rushing through your life.
Life will be full of highs and lows good and bad. Embrace every moment. Most importantly, learn from each experience. Don’t waste precious time looking too far back or too far forward. You can’t change what has happened, but you can grow from it. Nor can you control what’s to come. Do your best to be prepared.
Life is a finite journey, and our world offers so much. Never stop learning and exploring. Always be a student. Wisdom takes years.
As Billy Joel wrote in one of your favorite songs, “life is a series of hellos and goodbyes.” So many incredible people will cross your path in the coming years. Take the time to get to know them. By learning about others, you will learn more about yourself. Fill your life with wonderful people and most importantly, nurture those relationships.
Let your life’s journey take you where you should go. Life offers each day as an opportunity to start anew. Stay open to every opportunity. Chase those crazy ideas you have. You never know where it will take you.
At the end of the day, be proud of your story. You created it. You defined it. You built it. It will be your story. It’s going to be ok.
Wife. Mother. President and CEO of the Community Foundation of North Central Florida
About Barzella Papa
Barzella Papa joined the Community Foundation in July of 2006. As a dedicated community leader, Papa has raised more than $40 million in donor advised funds, agency endowments and planned gifts. In addition to fundraising, she has also managed the distribution of more than $25 million in grants.
It’s been some time since I last saw you; 20 is a ways back, and I remember how eager you were to get started on life. The years in front of you are now the footprints behind me, so I wanted to take a few minutes and share a little of what I know.
You’ve always had ambition and drive, along with the boundless enthusiasm you need to sustain them. It’s important to you, I know, to establish yourself independently, at least as much as possible. You want to stand on your own feet and be self-sufficient, and because of the women who came before us and fought so hard for that agency, you have so many opportunities and surprises ahead. I’m excited for you to discover them – but I won’t spoil it for you. Sometimes not knowing the answers keeps you open to possibilities.
What I can tell you is that it’s absolutely wonderful to feel strong, capable and confident in your abilities – while at the same time, to have a sense of solidarity and support in your family. They’re your sounding board, your confidantes, and your first, best advocates. They’re the ones who will love you enough to give you a soft place to land, and they’re the ones who will never be intimidated at giving you constructive criticism. They’re brave enough to be honest with you – because let’s face it; you’re stuck with them for life. So they have solid job security. They’ll never let you forget where you came from – which is a good thing, because in one way or another, a part of us remains there.
Remember smaller things. Like sleep. Take time just for yourself to do things you enjoy and that have nothing to do with work or school. Allow yourself the mental relief of frivolous pursuit once in a while, because it keeps you optimistic. Say yes to going out and spending time with friends. Make the time to get together and talk about everything from the ridiculous to the momentous, and don’t forget to laugh. Hard. Laugh so hard that the people at the next table turn their heads. Then laugh more.
So many people in your life will give you incredible opportunities and chances to create amazing things. Those are your mentors and teachers; they’ll see your work ethic, your interest in learning, and as they push you forward, encourage you to give back as you climb up. Always seek advice and counsel from them, as well as peers you respect – both in and outside your chosen field. Be curious and unlimited in your inquisitiveness, and you’ll never have a boring day in your life. Stay focused on the future, learn from your experiences, and know that you can grow from those experiences and mistakes. And there will be mistakes. That’s okay. Everyone has them.
That last part is important. Try not to be too hard on yourself, and give yourself permission to forgive your imperfections. In fact, embrace them. They’re unique to you; no one else has them – just as no one has quite the same talent and skill as you. Lastly, keep in mind the difference between what your goals and aspirations are, and the things you think are expected of you. They’re not always the same things.
Wife. Mother. Principal Owner/Broker of Showcase Properties of Central Florida and Thoroughbred owner/breeder.
Valerie became the owner of Showcase Properties of Central Florida in 2013. Not only is she an entrepreneur, Valerie is also a Thoroughbred breeder and owner and was recently named the President of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association. She is the first woman to hold this position in the Association's 77-year history.
Now 78, I would tell my younger self to be braver.
To have more faith in yourself. To explore the world close at hand and trust in your talents.
I remember in high school seeing myself in a bubble where I was safe. I could see out, but others couldn’t see in. I was wrong. So many people “saw” me and believed in me. They encouraged me to write, to create art, to choreograph. My high school teachers nudged me out of my bubble – quietly submitting artwork and writing I created to arenas where it was evaluated and judged of value. I began to see value in myself.
Younger self - Value your unique talents!
Now, I am a teacher and a writer and a choreographer. I love what I do! I cherish the people and experiences that have touched me.
Younger self, you have unique gifts. Trust in your talents and cherish the world and people around you.
Teacher, writer, choreographer
Ms. Skinner taught public school- (K-grade 3) for 18 years, was adjunct teacher and choreographer for UF College of Theatre and Dance for over 20 years and choreographed for the Hippodrome Theatre for over 10 years. Ms. Skinner has been associated with Dance Alive National Ballet since 1965 serving as Resident Choreographer, Executive Director, grant writer and marketing. She is the recipient of 4 Individual Fellowships in Dance from the State of Florida with her works performed throughout the US as well as Costa Rica, Bulgaria and Cuba. Ms. Skinner has been awarded the “Nancy Smith Award” by the Florida Dance Association for “Outstanding Contribution To The Art of Dance in Florida “. Ms. Skinner was also awarded Distinguished UF Alumni and is the co-owner of Pofahl Studios, Official School of Dance Alive National Ballet.