There was a long period of time around my early teens when I had a lot of issues with self-esteem. Yes, everyone had “this phase” as a grade-schooler or middle-schooler, but I was consistently convinced that I often endured bullying that was worse than the average 12-year-old girl. I mistakenly surrounded myself with people who made me feel like I was never good enough, pretty enough, thin enough, or smart enough.

The true problem with this was that I couldn’t shake it. Even after I recognized the toxicity of these people and removed myself from their environment, it did very little for my self-esteem. By then, I had been shot down so many times that it simply became ingrained into my mind: I was never enough at all.

There was a time in high school when I decided that hating myself because of what people thought of me made my life complete hell, and I needed to turn some things around. But it didn’t begin with me; it began with my real friends. The girls who knew about what I was dealing with and gave me the best friendships I could ask for.

Without even knowing it, my friends have given me so much of my self-esteem back. They inspire me every day as they forth with confidence and with grace, and I am driven by them to make better choices on how I view myself. It comes from the simple things. One of my friends brought me back a mug from Disney World one year that said, “You Have a Special Way of Making People Smile.” She could not possibly imagine the smile it puts on my face when I remember that it’s true.

Another one of my friends gave me a travel mug (I drink a lot of coffee, OK?) that reads “Today, I Woke Up Flawless.” Every time I use it, I remember, “Oh yeah, I’m flawless just the way I am” and I go about my day, ever so flawlessly. I’m not afraid to carry it around in public, or to ask the Starbucks barista to fill it up with my vanilla chai tea latte. I know that 12-year-old me would never have believed in herself enough to have the confidence to use it, but now I do.

A common theme that I’ve begun to weave in and out of my daily life stems directly from mugs like those: inspirational quotes. I am simply obsessed. I used to think they were cheesy, but now I’ve learned that there’s nothing like a Pinterest board full of them to remind yourself to be the best person you can be every day.

It doesn't stop there. I am grateful for the people who send me screenshots of inspirational quotes to start my day, and the people who don't end their nights without saying to me, "I love you and I care about you." I am grateful for the people who take time out of their day to say hello or bring sunshine to my life on a cloudy day.

There’s a difference between me relying on my friends to validate me, and taking matters into my own hands to improve my life in a positive fashion. I’ve taken the amazing qualities of friendship, loyalty and positivity that they exert onto me, and I am using them to be a better version of myself every day. I am more grateful than words could ever describe for my friends instilling the confidence in me to make better life choices and for reminding me to always see myself in a positive light. Thank you to everyone who inspired me to write this. You know who you are.