I used to watch hours of Disney Channel and think of the day when I met my perfect boy who I’d walk on the beach with, hand in hand. That was fantasy. Real life wasn’t that way for me.

It seemed that as time went by, that special someone never appeared in my life. Instead, they seemed to come in the form of someone else’s boyfriend or a friend who would never see me as more than that — a friend.

Not all attention is good attention, but when you’re in high school and feeling as if you have warts on your face, any attention feels warranted. I had friends hit on by guys at parties. I had friends who had a string of relationships. That was never me. I felt invisible.

My role always seemed to fall as the best friend, mom, or pseudo sister — the person that was called on late at night, the shoulder to cry on. As the years went by, I asked myself, is there something wrong with me? “You’re the strong, independent girl,” they would tell me. “You don’t need anybody, but yourself,” they would say.

Women’s publications always tell women to love themselves unconditionally. However, little is said about finding the strength to love yourself. Regardless of how strong, independent, and amazing people told me I was, the pain of rejection and the desire for admiration still sat deep in my stomach. For a woman to look in the mirror and tell herself, “I am ok,” is a radical action that takes time and maturity.

During middle school, I fell in with the mean girl crowd, which swiftly ejected me after a couple of months. I felt lost. During that time, I buried myself in my schoolwork. It acted as my only constant. Regardless of how people treated me or the perceptions that people had of me — school would always be the same. If I put in hard work, I would get my due reward.

My dependence on schoolwork extended into my high school years. However, while school and work inhibited my insecurities and provided an output for my angst — suppression was not healing or dealing with those insecurities.

Suppression and denial landed me in a crooked pseudo relationship with a young man when I was seventeen. I never liked him in a Disney channel way, but over time, my desire for someone to see me in a more-than-friends type of way got the better of me. As I flirted and went on dates, I felt like my good sense was screaming for me to, “listen – GIRL, you’re making a terrible mistake.” Eventually, I realized that I was using this poor boy to massage my own ego. I knew that he was never who I needed, he was just a stop on the way.

On one hand, I felt selfish. School, work, and other commitments were integral to my future. There was nothing that could stop me. I felt confident in who I was and who I was becoming. On the other, I felt as if I wasn’t good enough. I felt that the markers of Disney best friends and boyfriends were absent in my life and therefore, part of me was absent.

The ending of that relationship marked the beginning of my university journey and I knew I had to choose. I was uncertain about many things, but one thing was clear — I required a paradigm shift. The insecurity I felt could not be cured by any person or multiple people.

Although my parents had programmed me to love myself at a young age, my independent realization of what that meant only began recently. It is a process where I had to look inside and see the strength that others had pointed out in me. I had to look at what I wanted and who I wanted to be.

I realized that I will be a lawyer, a disturber, and a writer. Regardless of who comes into my life, those pillars and goals will be constant. Instead of contorting myself to make others feel comfortable with who I am or be the person I think I’m supposed to be, I can be radically me.