7 older adults share the life lessons they'd give to their younger selves.
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Ad Council + Meals on Wheels

If you could tell your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?

First off, no, we have not invented a time machine to actually help you do this. Second of all: This is serious! You can't just do the "Back to the Future Part II" thing where you give your former self a copy of a book of sports scores so they can bet on every game and win billions.

We see you, Biff Tanner. Both of you.


If you're like me — and it's totally fair if you're not, and I'm just a bit weird — you're probably taking a few minutes to think carefully about what you might say to a version of you from years or decades before. Would you suggest doing things differently or to keep on the same path? Would you talk of future love or caution about loss? Would you prefer to reveal what's to come or keep it a surprise?

Meals on Wheels posed this very question to some of the lovely humans who use their services across America. They shared the moments that moved them and the things they wish they’d known when they were younger. Here are seven of our favorites.

1. "Don't play tennis on Mother's Day — unless you're playing with her." — Stanley Smart

All images by Mark Seliger, used with permission.

Reserving Mother's Day for tennis matches is just one way Stanley "Royal" Smart honored the memory of his mom. For years, she sent birthday packets to friends and family on their birthdays. After she passed away, he took on the responsibility in her memory.

Stanley wants his former self to stay in touch with family and always "live life to the fullest."

2. "Stay open to adventure." — Lola Silvestri

Lola Silvestri always loved the fun and adventure of ice skating. Little did she know, it would end up being the hobby that led her to her beloved husband, Larry.

The two met at a rink in Santa Rosa, California, where Larry was training to become a professional hockey player. After two years of dating, they married. For 70 wonderful years, they shared a life of love, adventure, friends, family, and fun. She'd tell her younger self to "carry on with a sense of humor" and remember that close relationships with family and friends "mean everything to have a happier life in the years ahead."

3 & 4. "Never go to bed angry." — Charles and Maude Spann

Charles and Maude Spann have been married for an incredible 76 years. Their daughter Carol calls them the "most loving and understanding parents" and an "incredible pair."

As the family tells it, Charles fell instantly for Maude — and her fashionable pageboy haircut — after seeing her at church with his mother. After they married, Charles and Maude traveled the world, including a family cruise through the Panama Canal, where they held a surprise renewal of their wedding vows.

Though time has slowed them down, their love has kept them young at heart. They'd want their younger selves to know one thing: Accept each others' flaws and, above all, never ever go to bed angry at the person you love.

5. "Finish school." — Anna Bach

Anna Bach has a lot of advice for her younger self, particularly about prioritizing education and work. Along with focusing on her schooling, she said she'd tell her younger self to “have family a little later in life to save a little money. Buy homes and all that first before starting a family." Why? "Once you have a family, you are tied up, kind of," she says. "Buy a home first, because the rent you pay is all the time gone, and you have only receipts to show.”

6. "Don't be afraid to try something new. You can find adventure around the corner." — Phyllis Keppler

For Phyllis Keppler, wanderlust has always been a part of life. Working as a journalist, she had amazing opportunities to travel the world, from the jungles of South America to the deserts of the Middle East to active war zones, sometimes with her young children. Phyllis wouldn't have missed a second of any of it — and she'd encourage her younger self to dive in to new opportunities without hesitation.

“Don’t be afraid to venture out and try something new. Don’t always cling to what you know and traditions. Give it a try. I’ve done some strange things in my lifetime, and I don’t regret it at all.”

7. "Don’t always go with the flow. The flow always goes downhill." — Louis Clarizio

Louis Clarizio knows a lot about unconventional paths. In 1950, he became one of only six white professional baseball players to ever participate in the Negro Leagues. His career with the team didn't last long, but his love of baseball still keeps him going today. To his younger self, he'd share a choice batting tip: "When you get in the batter’s box, never look at any of the ball players. When you scan the field, scan only between them. Never look at anybody, just always scan between them. Then I guarantee you that ball will go between them when you hit it.”

However much we'd want — or wouldn't want — to send messages to our former selves, we can only guess what we might say, or whether it would have any impact on what happens next.

The best thing we can do is to listen to people who've lived much of their lives and learn from the words of wisdom they have for us.

Courtesy of Creative Commons
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After years of service as a military nurse in the naval Marine Corps, Los Angeles, California-resident Rhonda Jackson became one of the 37,000 retired veterans in the U.S. who are currently experiencing homelessness — roughly eight percent of the entire homeless population.

"I was living in a one-bedroom apartment with no heat for two years," Jackson said. "The Department of Veterans Affairs was doing everything they could to help but I was not in a good situation."

One day in 2019, Jackson felt a sudden sense of hope for a better living arrangement when she caught wind of the ongoing construction of Veteran's Village in Carson, California — a 51-unit affordable housing development with one, two and three-bedroom apartments and supportive services to residents through a partnership with U.S.VETS.

Her feelings of hope quickly blossomed into a vision for her future when she learned that Veteran's Village was taking applications for residents to move in later that year after construction was complete.

"I was entered into a lottery and I just said to myself, 'Okay, this is going to work out,'" Jackson said. "The next thing I knew, I had won the lottery — in more ways than one."

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Few child actors ever get to star in an award-winning film, much less win a prestigious award for their performance. That fact appeared to hit home for 8-year-old Alan Kim, as he broke down in tears accepting his Critics' Choice Award for Best Young Actor/Actress, making for one of the sweetest moments in awards show history.

Kim showed up to the awards (virtually, of course) decked out in a tuxedo, and his parents had even laid out a red carpet in their entryway to give him a taste of the real awards show experience. When his name was announced as the Critics' Choice winner for his role in the film "Minari," his reaction was priceless.

Grinning from ear to ear, Kim started off his acceptance speech by thanking "the critics who voted" and his family. But as soon as he started naming his family members, he burst into tears. "Oh my goodness, I'm crying," he said. Through sobs, he kept going with his list, naming members of the cast, the production company, and the crew that worked on the film.

"I hope I will be in other movies," he added. Then, the cutest—he pinched his own cheeks and asked, "Is this a dream? I hope it's not a dream."

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We're redefining what normal means in these uncertain times, and although this is different for all of us, love continues to transform us for the better.

Love is what united Marie-Claire and David Archbold, who met while taking a photography class. "We went into the darkroom to see what developed," they joke—and after a decade of marriage, they know firsthand the deep commitment and connection romantic love requires.

All photos courtesy of Marie-Claire and David Archbold

However, their relationship became even sweeter when they adopted James: a little boy with a huge heart.

In the United States alone, there are roughly 122,000 children awaiting adoption according to the latest report from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services. While the goal is always for a child to be parented by and stay with their biological family, that is not always a possibility. This is where adoption offers hope—not only does it create new families, it gives birth parents an avenue through which to see their child flourish when they are not able to parent. For the right families, it's a beautiful thing.

The Archbolds knew early on that adoption was an option for them. David has three daughters from a previous marriage, but knowing their family was not yet complete, the couple embarked on a two-year journey to find their match. When the adoption agency called and told them about James, they were elated. From the moment they met him, the Archbolds knew he was meant to be part of their family. David locked eyes with the brown-eyed baby and they stared at each other in quiet wonder for such a long time that the whole room fell silent. "He still looks at me like that," said David.

The connection was mutual and instantaneous—love at first sight. The Archbolds knew that James was meant to be a part of their family. However, they faced significant challenges requiring an even deeper level of commitment due to James' medical condition.

James was born with congenital hyperinsulinism, a rare condition that causes his body to overproduce insulin, and within 2 months of his birth, he had to have surgery to remove 90% of his pancreas. There was a steep learning curve for the Archbolds, but they were already in love, and knew they were committed to the ongoing care that'd be required of bringing James into their lives. After lots of research and encouragement from James' medical team, they finally brought their son home.

Today, three-year-old James is thriving, filled with infectious joy that bubbles over and touches every person who comes in contact with him. "Part of love is when people recognize that they need to be with each other," said his adoptive grandfather. And because the Archbolds opted for an open adoption, there are even more people to love and support James as he grows.

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There's an old saying that luck happens when preparation meets opportunity.

There's no better example of that than a 2016 discovery at the University of California, Irvine, by doctoral student Mya Le Thai. After playing around in the lab, she made a discovery that could lead to a rechargeable battery that could last up to 400 years. That means longer-lasting laptops and smartphones and fewer lithium ion batteries piling up in landfills.

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Tory Burch

Courtesy of Tory Burch

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This March marks one year since the start of the pandemic… and it's been an incredibly difficult year: Over 500,000 people have died and hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs. But the pandemic's economic downturn has been disproportionately affecting women because they are more likely to work in hard-hit industries, such as hospitality or entertainment, and many of them have been forced to leave their jobs due to the lack of childcare.

But throughout all that hardship, women have, over and over again, found ways to help one another and solve problems.

"Around the world, women have stepped up and found ways to help where it is needed most," says Tory Burch, an entrepreneur who started her own business in 2004.

Burch knows a thing or two about empowering women: After seeing the many obstacles that women in business face — even before the pandemic — she created the Tory Burch Foundation in 2009 to empower women entrepreneurs.

And now, for International Women's Day, her company is launching a global campaign with Upworthy to celebrate the women around the world who give back and create real change in their communities.

"I hope the creativity and resilience of these women, and the amazing ways they have found to have real impact, will inspire and energize others as much as they have me," Burch says.

This year's Empowered Women certainly are inspiring:

Shalini SamtaniCourtesy of Shalini Samtani

Take, for example, Shalini Samtani. When her daughter was diagnosed with a rare immune disorder, she spent a lot of time in the hospital, which caused her to quickly realize that there wasn't a single company in the toy industry servicing the physical or emotional needs of the 3 million hospitalized children across America every year. She was determined to change that — so she created The Spread the Joy Foundation to deliver free play kits to pediatric patients all around the country.

Varsha YajmanCourtesy of Varsha Yajman

Varsha Yajman is another one of this year's nominees. She is just 18 years old, and yet she has been diligently fighting to build awareness and action for climate justice for the last seven years by leading school strikes, working as a paralegal with Equity Generations Lawyers, and speaking to CEOs from Siemen's and several big Australian banks at AGMs.

Caitlin MurphyCourtesy of Caitlin Murphy

Caitlin Murphy, meanwhile, stepped up in a big way during the pandemic by pivoting her business — Global Gateway Logistics — to secure and transport over 2 million masks to hospitals and senior care facilities across the country. She also created the Gateway for Good program, which purchased and donated 10,000 KN95 masks for local small businesses, charities, cancer patients and their families, immunocompromised, and churches in the area.

Simone GordonCourtesy of Simone Gordon

Simone Gordon, a domestic violence survivor and single mom, wanted to pay it forward after she received help getting essentials and tuition assistance — so she created the Instagram account @TheBlackFairyGodMotherOfficial and nonprofit to provide direct assistance to families in need. During the pandemic alone, they have raised over $50,000 for families and they have provided emergency assistance — in the form of groceries — for numerous women and families of color.

Victoria SanusiCourtesy of Victoria Sanusi

Victoria Sanusi started Black Gals Livin' with her friend Jas and the podcast has been an incredibly powerful way of destigmatizing mental health for numerous listeners. The podcast quickly surpassed a million listens, was featured on Michaela Coel's "I May Destroy You," won podcast of the year at the Brown Sugar Awards, and was named one of Elle Magazine's best podcasts of 2020.

And Upworthy and the Tory Burch are just getting started. They are still searching the globe for more extraordinary women who are making an impact in their communities.

Do you know one? If you do, nominate her now. If she's selected, she could receive $5,000 to give to a nonprofit of her choice through the Tory Burch Foundation. Submissions are being accepted on a rolling basis — and one Empowered woman will be selected each month starting in April.

Nominate her now at www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen.