The year was 2015. I was about to graduate highschool. My iPhone 5s screen was barely cracked and I finally had my own money to buy Maybelline's Baby Lips chapstick. Drake dropped the album If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, and 10 Bands became my new anthem. Life was looking up. You kinda had to be there. 
As a recovering overachiever, I often made the joke that I peaked in highschool. My bedroom was filled with tiaras, awards, and trophies. My after school extracurriculars were followed by weekend auditions at colleges, tutoring, voice lessons, and leadership intensives. The only thing I was missing was becoming the head of a cheerleading squad, and dating a quarterback. 
Okay fine. I did try and start a cheer squad at my highschool too. 
In my eyes, life was set. I just had to follow my plan. I had milestones positioned for each passing age. After I graduated highschool, I would reach success by twenty-two and have a luxury apartment on the Upper East Side. At twenty-four I’d be on Broadway. At twenty-six, I’d win Miss USA. I was absolutely delusional. I mean being on Broadway and prepping for Miss USA? You’ve got to be kidding me. 
In all seriousness, I was equating my worth to an imaginary scale which dictated that my existence be reduced to tangible accomplishments. While my zeal for achieving success was admirable, I’d succumbed to being the object of society's projections. This deep rooted perfectionism was met with a fictitious inner obligation to constantly perform. The two were inseparable, and a part of me loved existing in this paradigm. 
 Fast forward a few years later. I was about to graduate college and enter into the real world. There were no extracurricular activities, and no award ceremonies to hide behind. Even one of my greatest accomplishments, receiving my diploma, was reduced to a two dimensional computer screen, due to a global pandemic.
Months changed, seasons blended. Suddenly normal life began again. This time I was twenty something, with real world responsibilities. Bills, work, career. I no longer felt exceptional. I had two jobs and student loans. I was living in my mothers house, unable to obtain pleasing employment and provide for myself and  family. 
Suddenly real life wasn’t about milestones, but survival. No one cared about what I’d done, but what I could physically provide. My past, glittered with accolades, was not impressive when the world around me demanded a transactional approach for my presence. 
Still, I kept idolizing the past overachieving, people pleasing, version of myself, and sought desperately to hold onto her. In her reality, I was socially accepted and I was loved. I craved the validation the world gave me. Without her I was lonely, ostracized, and struggling to live. This wasn’t who I was supposed to be. This wasn’t the trajectory I planned for. Did I lose myself?
Absolutely not. 
At the core of it all, I longed to be appreciated and seen. To be valued for simply existing. Something that our society deems as unimaginable. We are told from childhood that without something attached to us considered extraordinary, our lives aren’t impactful. We are force fed to believe that who we are should be reduced to a salary, or a magnificent feat.  
The truth is, this world doesn’t owe you anything. This version of myself so bent up on being special to others was not remarkable. I had to realize that the things that made me astonishing had no correlation to what I’d achieved, or yet to achieve, but who I was in my entirety. My essence. 
The power within me that confronted challenges, and turned dreams into palpable realities. I had to recognize my worth. 
See, it isn’t what you’ve done, or where you’ve been, but who you truly are. Beyond the success you think you need to obtain, lies an individual destined for triumph. What we deem as losing ourselves, only serves as encouragement to grow one step closer to who we’ve always been. 
It’s never too late to start over again, with the understanding that you are worthy of defining your own 
personal definition of victory. It’s never too late to dream again, and accomplish your goals, from your own individual perception of achievement. Staying mentally stagnant in time and place, will leave you feeling dejected and alone. 
Still, understanding self worth is no easy task in the face of real world comparison and adversity. In an age where it is so easy to be robbed of your joy, give yourself grace. You are exactly where you need to be. 
If that’s unsatisfactory, and you’re still searching for an accomplishment to be proud of, be proud that you’ve survived yet another day. 
Getting out of bed to face the world around you, is no mere task. This alone deserves a round of applause and a million trophies. Give yourself your own flowers. 
If you’re reading this, it’s never too late. 


McKenna Kelley