Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to wait until you're ringing in the New Year, popping champagne, and buying everything sparkly to reflect back on the previous year and how much has changed, how much you have changed. For me, the ending of the summer season seems to be a very nostalgic time, and perhaps when I do the most reflecting. I'm not really sure why that is, but I think I personally attest it to the end of a crazy work season and another school year beginning.

This time last year, I was a completely different person. I was someone who didn't have a backbone, said yes just to please others, never put myself first, and was always worried about what other people were going to think about any kind of decision I made. I looked to other people to see how I should make my decisions, and I wasn't really living life for myself. I lost who I was in other people, and struggled to find my place in this world. I found myself just going through the motions day in and day out, not really living. I never would have admitted it, but I was insecure in every aspect of my life.

Throughout the past year, I experienced many highs, but also many lows. Highs, being starting a new chapter of my life at a new University where I met so many amazing people, to excelling at work and achieving milestones, big and small. Lows, being having my heart torn into pieces, not understanding what was happening to my body physically in regards to health, and a lot of the time not knowing who I was as a person.

I lost people whose presence I thought would be in my life forever, but gained so many more and learned who is true and real to me. Those experiences where you think "that will never happen to me," did in fact, happen to me. How rooted I truly was in my faith was tested multiple times, which had me then questioning almost every aspect of my life. I learned that everyone is fighting their own demons day in and day out, and not one person can measure the intensity of your personal struggles, for everyone feels in a different way.

But now, a year later, I can say that I am astounded with myself and how much I have grown. Not only am I healthier physically, but mentally as well. I am now the girl who can say, "no" to anything I don't feel comfortable with or feel like doing, without feeling any remorse. I stand up for myself and what I believe in, and I don't let people walk all over me or my feelings. I know that there is a greater plan for me, and to trust in that plan. I no longer focus on trying to plan every detail of my life, whether it be big or small, but I go with the flow more often and prioritize what actually matters and what doesn't.

I'm also living. I'm never taking a moment or person in my life for granted, for you don't know if you will ever get it back. Instead of going through the motions, I'm soaking up the little things in life that mean the most; like a sunset lighting up the sky on the way home from a long shift at work, the laughter that stems from the belly that I share so very often with my best friends, and the sacred moments I get with my family when we're all together.

But most importantly, I am happy. I am happy with who I am as a person, inside and out. I am happy with the people in my life, and I know when to cut someone out if they are only bringing negativity in. I realized my worth, and to never settle for anything less than I deserve. I'm confident in who I am as a person, what I want, and what I need.

So my advice to you, is to not be afraid to grow. While life changes, whether they are big or small can be absolutely terrifying, they can also be so extremely rewarding. You don't have to stay stuck in your rut, searching for happiness anywhere you can find a little piece of it, in temporary things. Because at the end of the day, happiness isn't something that you check off a list once you've found your soulmate, landed that job you were stressing about, or bought your dream house or car. It's not a number on a scale or making sure you match your idol when you look at yourself in the mirror. Moreso, happiness is feeling content in your own mind and heart, truly loving who you are as a person inside and out.