Up until a month ago, my goals for my life involved publishing a themed chapbook before the end of 2016, moving to Washington, DC, and to intern at the White House.

I also wanted to and become a powerful household name in terms of intersectional writers and politicians fighting for the rights of marginalized communities.

Kind of a lot for a seventeen year old, is it not?

Personally, I didn’t think it was too much. I’ve always considered myself to be a driven individual, so having big, nearly unattainable dreams are a usual occurrence for my psyche.

Keeps me motivated, I suppose. However, this sort of hyper-achievement oriented mindset doesn’t bode well to making friends. Because of that, I was often excluded from social gatherings or friend groups. At a young age, because of the way I was treated, I decided there was no possible way to maintain a healthy personal life and achieve lofty goals. Therefore, I made the decision to cut off people and become a success.

This lasted until my sophomore year of high school, but the damage had already been done. Having these sorts of dreams at a young age clouded my vision of other important parts of life. While I pour myself into a story and hole myself up in the corners of my room, those who I do care about are left behind. The more single-minded I become in achieving, the more my personal life falls to the wayside. Although I’m doing my best to be a better person, sacrificing my personal life for academia and accolades continues to be a consistently bad habit on my part.

Until I met a girl named Brooke.

One of my good friends returned home from college and invited me to meet his girlfriend. Excited as I was to see him, my anxieties definitely took over at times. What if she didn’t like me? What if I’m not “good enough” for older friends? Maybe I shouldn’t go. Of course, I still went. That decision turned out to be a turning point in my post-high school, pre-collegiate mindset. His girlfriend, the aforementioned Brooke, turned out to be one of the kindest, most confident, warm and inviting people I’d ever met. Her positivity became so infectious and appreciated that I couldn’t just leave the same way I entered into that fateful supper at PF Changs. In a way, I created within me a desire to use many of those elements in tandem with my goals.

Mind you, I certainly have no desire to lose myself in the process of learning to take on certain traits. My desires to become a more positive influence were influenced and spurred on by meeting this amazing person. So, here follows my tips on being a positive influence as inspired by Brooke:

Tip 1. Give someone an unexpected compliment. While I was out to dinner with the couple, Brooke looked over at me during supper and said, “You know, you look like you could be in Paris in the 1940s!” That comment was completely out of nowhere, but it made my confidence rise especially high. After that, I’ve made it a point to give a positive affirmation to anyone around me. If the Starbucks barista has a cute lip colour, I tell her! When I rode an escalator behind a person with long, rainbow dreadlocks, I informed them of how beautiful they looked. No one around me is safe from a reaffirming compliment thanks to Brooke!

Tip 2. Go out of your way to be kind to people around you. Upon waking up the next morning, the first thing I heard was Brooke asking if she could make me any breakfast or coffee. After much, much coaxing, I finally allowed for some black coffee. She seemed more excited about it than me! Her kindness towards someone she’d known for less than a full day made me feel so loved and special. I want everyone I ever meet to feel the exact same way I felt that morning, so try to be nice to everyone you meet. Don’t let yourself be walked over, of course, but I try and make it a point to exude kindness.

Tip 3: Make sure your kindness and care are genuine, because people know when you’re not. Being a positive influence doesn’t mean you have to give compliments and be smiley all the time. It does, however, involve expressing yourself in a genuine manner. If you always appear happy even if you’re not, then people will most definitely notice. This has not only made my compliments more honest, but it has helped me in understanding my mental state and emotions better.

Tip 4: Take time for yourself. Indulge yourself in whatever makes you happy and always take time to recharge. Inspired by Brooke and her collection of self-dubbed, “pretty things,” I’ve started saving pictures and bookmarking websites with things that make me happy. Sure, things aren’t the most important. But sometimes, shopping can bring you pleasure! Since meeting her, I’ve purchased some of the items I’ve been staving off buying because of my previous reasoning that,  “Buying stuff won’t make you happy, Jillian.” Well, my altar tapestries and new overalls make me feel happy, so sue me!

Finally, though: Tip 5. Before you can make others feel positive, you must find joy in yourself. The major thing that impressed me about Brooke was how her confidence really showed, even in the simplest of actions. You have to learn to revel in who you are. Love yourself, wholly and fully, before you can truly start to love anyone else. Confidence is something I massively underplayed throughout my years in high school. Mistakenly, it was of my opinion that giving everything I had to other people meant that I would receive just as much love. Unfortunately, not everyone is as loving as we hope. By learning to be confident in who you are and loving every aspect of yourself, you can ensure that giving yourself doesn’t mean losing yourself.

There’s absolutely no way that I’ve done Brooke’s personality, actions, and charisma complete justice. I wish there was a way everyone in the world could encounter her, or at least someone with the same type of infectious positivity. Since I’ve met her, my goals for life haven’t shifted; rather, those priorities have something added to them. Not only do I wish to succeed in academic and personal endeavors, but to be a kinder, more honest and uplifting person. My end goals still involve being a strong, powerful author and politician, but I can most definitely add being a kind, assertive, confident, and welcoming human person to that list.

So, to Brooke and others like her, thank you for inspiring me to be a better person. Thank you for expanding my mind, for making my goals well-rounded, and for welcoming me in when, for many years, I never felt welcomed anywhere.

I hope that I can welcome others as much as you welcomed me.