This summer, I worked at a couple of different summer camps, and spent quite a bit of time interacting with middle and early high school girls. During this time, I noticed a lot of common themes. The struggles they faced caused so much heartache, and it was devastating to see such young, promising women face conflicts such as these. So to all the ladies I talked to, all the ones I didn’t get a chance to visit with, and all the women I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting, here are a few thoughts to take to heart.

1) Education

There’s an art to learning, and a majority of it shouldn’t take place in the classroom. Education is an art that extends far beyond the walls of campus, and seeps into everyday life. Obviously, reading is an aspect of this art. New books, old books, classics, short stories – reading does more than just fill your mind with more stories, it also expands your vocabulary and increases your writing skills. Another form of self-education many people don’t consider is keeping up to date on current events and becoming familiar with history. Not only is it repetitive, but events happening at this very moment across the world have more direct implications than many expect. Know what’s going on, and don’t be afraid to discuss issues, form and change opinions, and be involved on any level possible.

2) Boys

Ah, a topic of tears, anger, and infatuation. Here’s a few key things to know about boys: they aren’t all awful, the good ones will open your car door, and never date a boy who compliments your body before your personality. Ladies, you’re worth more than a one night stand or a call at 3 am. I know that can be nearly impossible to believe, but I promise you that taking the time to develop yourself and finding a man who can encourage your dreams is worth far more than the pain of a few lonely nights or desperate plus-one invites. That being said, don’t always stick the good guys in the friendzone. It’s hard to date your best friend when you won’t touch him with a ten-foot pole unless you drown your feelings in excuses like, “but he’s my brother!” Fun fact: he’s not. If you have a man who is willing to treat you like the queen you are, encourage you, and walk alongside you through the seasons of life, soften your heart a little and learn to love. If there’s a boy who sees what you are before who you are, doesn’t respect you, and is clearly less interested in you than you are in him, tell him “boy, bye”.

3) Fashion

Honestly ladies, there’s a time and a place for everything; learn when and where those places are. A mentor of mine was telling me hysterical stories of girls who showed up to a professional work setting in semi-professional attire and neon bralettes. Instead, acquire a few staple wardrobe pieces for different occasions, whether formal, professional, or casual. Don’t be afraid to try something different or bold, but there’s value in dressing appropriately for the occasion.

4) Friendships

Something I’ve come to realize is that there are different types of friends, times of life that hold an abundance of friends, and seasons of life that seem as lonely as the road ahead. Remember that quality over quantity is a good adage to live by, and that distance doesn’t have to mean a less meaningful friendship. Learn when to let go, when to fight for a friendship, and when to let it run its course.

5) Self-Defense

As a black belt, martial art, and self-defense enthusiast, I cannot stress enough how important it is to be a well-trained woman not only mentally, but physically. In the very least, take a self-defense class. This heightens your awareness, confidence, and ability to think on your feet and protect yourself. You’ll never regret knowing how to defend yourself against someone who means to cause you harm.

7) Victimhood is a Lie

Despite what our culture will tell you today, you are not inherently a victim because of your gender. The fight for success has been a little bit tougher for us in the past, yes. But now? If you are willing to work hard, network, and take risks, you will make it. Berating others for disagreeing with you or being different than you does nothing for you except waste time, expend energy, and victimize yourself. Carry yourself with grace, class, and knowledge, and never let anyone tell you that you are inherently the prey of the world.

8) Confidence

I wanted to finish this with one last thought, and that is that you are unable to gain confidence through the approval of others. Assurance is not something to be earned through the praise of peers or employers. While that may give your confidence a boost, that praise does nothing more substantial than just a boost. Confidence comes from a much deeper understanding of why you are doing what you are doing, setting and reaching goals, and fighting for the truths you choose to hold so dear. The true substance of confidence comes not from being perceived as pretty, smart, or any other petty qualities; rather, confidence is found from an understanding of ambition and a willingness to succeed. Keep your chin up, and own everything you do.

Society will tell you that being a lady is impossibly difficult. Here’s the thing though, friends.

Always keep a smile on your face, grace in your heart, and truth on your lips.

You can do it. You can survive it. You can rock it. Go live life, girls - onwards and upwards.