“Be yourself on purpose”: 19 things I’d tell 19-year-old me

Figure out who you are. Then do it on purpose.

That’s my favourite quote of all time and has been ever since I read it about a decade ago.

Do you know which famous philosopher said it?

Not Gandhi. Not Aristotle. Not Voltaire.

Dolly Parton. 

She wrote ‘Jolene’ and ‘I Will Always Love You’ in the same bloody night, then turned down ELVIS when he asked to cover the latter. 

She opened an Imagination Library, mailing free books to children in the UK and beyond every month to inspire a love of reading.

She’s astonishingly smart, soulful, brave, kind, beautiful, hilarious and has a voice made of angel babies, honey and Tennessee sunshine (even if she describes it as ‘a cross between Tiny Tim and a nanny goat’ herself).

The woman is a supreme being and we should all follow her approach to life. She writes the best advice, in simple, from-the-heart language we all understand and feel. 

Now we’ve got that gushing downpour of Dolly-admiration out the way, I’ll get on with the post.


You’ve probably noticed the ‘then and now’ 10-year challenge on social media. Sure you have.

Everyone is sharing photos of themselves from 2009 – all Gwen Stefani eyebrows and hair so over-processed it looks like a coir doormat – shot at the official Myspace angle using a Nokia 33potato. 

It got me looking back at old photos of me a decade ago – a student living in a crummy house in Sunderland. I wore rubber outfits in an all-girl rock band, drank red wine for dinner and dressed my male housemates in my clothes most nights.

Fucking miracle I left with a First, wasn’t it?

So, once I’d had a cry-laugh at my tragic dress sense and synthetic cobalt hair extensions, I started thinking about what the Nina on the right would say to the Nina on the left.

Here’s what I’d tell her. It’s also the stuff I want my sisters to know now – and every single woman learning to be her truest and bestest self, ever.

  1. Hello! You goddess! You will get absolutely NOWHERE comparing yourself to others. Pack it in.
  2. Fuck being small. Never let anyone make you feel bad for being yourself. You already know who you are, so be it even more. Be like Dolly. BE IT ON PURPOSE.
  3. Know your boundaries and act on them with integrity – in your work and in your relationships. Yes it’s awks and yes, it’s not the fastest, easiest or most fun way to navigate life. But it will stop you from starting a war within yourself and it will keep you sane 🙏🏼 Thank you for this golden lesson, Brene Brown.
  4. Don’t waste a second of your exploding existence worrying about what has not yet happened. Whatever it is, you’ll overcome it.
  5. Be remorseless with your kindness.
  6. Human evil makes up a small percentage of this world. It will try to break you. And for a time, you will feel broken. You will be so angry you will be on fire. You will crave justice, every single day. But it will pass. You will find yourself again. You will heal. In the words of the resilient Katie Piper in this wonderful interview with Fearne Cotton ~ they can NEVER take your soul.
  7. It’s okay to focus on yourself. Be as consumed in your work as you want to. Travel where you want to. Live where you want and love who you want.
  8. The precise tragedies, fuck-ups and feelings you’ve experienced are the building blocks of you. Unpacking all of this, having a good look at it, then stacking it back again will be hard, but wonderfully freeing for you. Knowing who you are is magic.
  9. You can remove people from your life if they bring darkness into it. Do it whenever you wish. You’re in charge. You’re the CEO of your own life. Hire, sack, promote, demote. Stop letting the guilt and toxicity of others sneak into your kind head and heart.
  10. If you’re grateful, you literally can’t be anxious. It sounds like a fart-on right now, but start making a gratitude list. Three things a day is a good start. Watch your brain change.
  11. Let yourself be a fanny. So what if you pronounce something wrong. So what if you splash water on your crotch. So what if you’re tagged in a photo that makes you look like Ludo from Labyrinth. When you finally let these things happen, you can breathe again.
  12. You’re never ever obliged to be in a relationship that doesn’t make you happy.
  13. Stop burying, start talking. Find your voice, be vulnerable and you’ll find contentment, regardless. Therapy will save your life.
  14. You cannot take drugs or binge-drink for much longer without feeling dark & empty & scared inside. Lemmy was an exception. You, however, will end up with your old schoolmate putting your knickers on for you in a luxury spa. Put down the Jack.
  15. Always prioritise friends over men. They’re the ones who will be there with drop-everything love and ultimately, help you live happier & longer.
  16. Throw away all your uncomfortable knickers. Especially those horrors with the runaway elastic.
  17. Be prepared for everything to change, at any time.
  18. When you’re completely and utterly overwhelmed – apple core in your throat, chest strings pulled tight, stomach in knots – have a bath, tidy your room, write a list and go to bed before 11pm.
  19. Find another bra to wear with that dress, babes. Better still, don’t wear one at all 😘

Marketers have a habit of being clinical with their messaging. But if it doesn’t have meaning, it doesn’t have anything.

To find this meaning, you must escape your mental cul-de-sacs and find your unique soulful voice.

With these nuggets in mind, we can dig deep into our psyche, discover who we are – who we’re meant to be – and give the lingering whiff of self-doubt a swift boot up the arse. 

We can make ourselves b i g ~ reeking of power and clarity and gratitude and our own signature stardust scent. 

We can shrug off the Imposter Cloak (and the ill-fitting underwear) and believe in ourselves.

We can be vulnerable and brave, pushing through the irrational fear of not being good enough.

We can finally share our message. Shall we?