Shirley Maclaine

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Dear Shirley,

Regardless of how outrageous it may seem, ask for guidance from your higher self and follow it. Also, don't eat so much sugar.
—Shirley MacLaine, 78, actress and author
Ann Patchett

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Dear Ann,

As it turns out, you are very, very small. Think grain-of-sand-on-the-bottom-of-the-Atlantic small. All those things you think are so important now—love, work, art, money—they don't matter. Don't think everything will happen once you finish your first novel. Don't think five pounds or $500 could make all the difference. Be grateful and kind; there is nothing more important than that.
—Ann Patchett, 48, author of State of Wonder
Marian Wright Edelman

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Dear Marian,

If you don't like the world the way it is, change it—one step at a time. Be prepared for how long change might take and how hard it will sometimes be. Always remember the quote you wrote in your diary after hearing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak: "If you can't fly, run; if you can't run, walk; if you can't walk, crawl; but by all means keep moving."
—Marian Wright Edelman, 72, president of the Children's Defense Fund
Whoopi Goldberg

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Dear Whoopi,

Stay out of your own way.
—Whoopi Goldberg, 56, cohost of The View
Nina Totenberg

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Dear Nina,

I know you want to be Nancy Drew, but in real life, fearlessness can be stupid. Getting followed by the KKK in Mississippi and shot at in Northern Ireland is not good, so use a little more caution. As for your complaint that people don't take you seriously because of your gender, I'd remind you that you have gotten lots of scoops from self-important men who were happy to blather their brains out to a "girl." Being the only woman is often lonely and difficult, but you just have to suck it up. With luck, there will be more of you soon.
—Nina Totenberg, 68, legal affairs correspondent for National Public Radio
Octavia Spencer

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Hello Traveler,

As you make your way along life's tumultuous highways, it's important to note that you should always carry a map, have plenty of fuel in the tank, and take frequent rest stops.
—Octavia Spencer, 39, 2012 Academy Award winner for best supporting actress
Nikky Finney

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Dear Nikky,

Watch your life as if it were a film. Absorb everything. What you see, hear, and feel will stamp every alphabet of your work.
—Nikky Finney, 54, 2011 National Book Award winner for poetry
Michael J. Fox

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Dear Michael,

When the time comes to chase your dreams, and it will, they may seem elusive; but know you won't catch them all at once. Just one challenge at a time.

When success comes, and it will, don't gobble it up—savor and share it, and it will last.

When love comes, and it will, don't bury it in expectation and projection—be prepared to fall in love all over again every day.

When the unexpected and inconceivable intrudes on life, and it will, deal with life's actual events—don't obsess about perceived eventualities.

Relax—enjoy the ride.
—Michael J. Fox, 50, actor and activist
Lisa Jackson

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Dear Lisa,

Finish every bit of schooling right now. Tuition will go up (a lot!) and the responsibilities that guilt you into not going back to school later will only grow.

Don't marry until at least 30. Take the time to get to know yourself first.

Cherish women. Lift them up and empower them. Not all women are worth the effort, but on average, humanity does well when women do well.

And you know that kinda gaudy crystal jewelry Mama wears to Mardi Gras balls? Go ask for it now—you will not believe how much you will crave that stuff in the future.
—Lisa P. Jackson, 50, EPA administrator
Pam Oliver

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Dear Pam,

Television journalism will be humbling. Expect to get kicked in the teeth a time or two.
—Pam Oliver, 51, TV sportscaster
Walter Mosley

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Dear Walter,

Look deeper into the actions you take and the truths you take for granted. Ask why and then ask why again.
—Walter Mosley, 60, author of All I Did Was Shoot My Man
Mika Brzezinski

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Mika, Mika, Mika!

Stop taking everything so personally. Don't waste your time wondering why somebody didn't return your call or spoke gruffly to you. Even more crucial, do not—and I repeat, do not—bring the baggage of a bad moment with someone to your next meeting; if you command respect and good cheer in a room, others will follow.
—Mika Brzezinski, 44, cohost of MSNBC's Morning Joe
Carrie Fisher

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Dear Carrie,

If there's a choice between companionship and anything else—especially career—choose companionship. It's the only thing that has the potential to last. Choose career and you'll spend unreasonable amounts of time attempting to look younger than you are and feeling you aren't succeeding. Fame is not acceptance.
—Carrie Fisher, 55, actress and author
Susan Orlean

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Dear Young Susan,

Slow down! There's no need to rush professionally or personally. You still have five years when every gamble you take won't be held against you later.

It's worth trying, but then (usually) abandoning: asymmetrical haircuts; pants with pleats; boyfriends without jobs; group living arrangements; decorating with things found in Dumpsters; meditating; traveling without reservations; making your own cheese. Think of everything you do now as a story that will be funny when you tell it in 20 years. You are entitled to make a mess of things. Be whimsical, reinvent yourself, and take a lot of pictures.
—Susan Orlean, 56, author of Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend
Katie Couric

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Dear Katie,

It pays to know your stuff about sports. A lot of guy talk and bonding happens over big games and great athletes, so it helps if you're not clueless. Playing a sport like golf can be even more helpful. Whether you win or lose on the links doesn't matter—it's being invited to play that counts.
—Katie Couric, 55, host of Katie, premiering in September, and author of The Best Advice I Ever Got
Cecile Richards

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Dear Cecile,

Work with people who aren't like you, especially folks who've had fewer opportunities than you. They will enrich your life and put the world in perspective.

For a lot of your life you'll be taking care of someone—as a mom, a wife, a daughter. Find something that brings you joy, whether that's baking pies or playing the saxophone.

Most important, never turn down an opportunity. There's always going to be a reason to say no: You don't have the right clothes, the right experience, the right connections. Learn to say yes anyway.
—Cecile Richards, 54, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America
Candy Crowley

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Dear Candy,

Be brave. Most times the answer to "What's the worst that can happen?" is "Nothing you can't handle." There will be aggravating, sleep-deprived, hurried days dealing with the nonsensical and the stupid—and you should find a way to enjoy them. You're not going to get those days back.
—Candy Crowley, 63, CNN anchor and chief political correspondent

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