In January 2013, one of my college friends was trying to get in touch with me. KMarie sent me a Facebook message asking me to give her a call. Outside of social media, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d physically spoken to her. It was probably at her rooftop birthday party a few years ago. Nevertheless, I was excited to catch up with one of the most beautiful people, inside and out, that I’d ever know. However, this conversation wasn’t exactly two old girlfriends catching up. K began to tell me about a fitness challenge that she and one of her friends were launching in just a few days. It would be a 90 day friendly competition among women all over the country who were committed to changing their life. While many people have been aware of my constant struggle with weight, no one had ever really approached me like K did. I was honored that she’d even think of me to be apart of her group and then, I became embarrassed. Had I completely let myself go to the point where K knew I needed some kind of intervention? And it was as if she knew that I’d begun the routine of beating up on myself when K began to congratulate me on all my life accomplishments to date and then said “Candice, I just believe you deserve to be 360 degrees of beautiful.”

Before K said it that January day, aside from my mother, no one had ever called me beautiful. Immediately, it was as if I knew K didn’t mean to call me that and I decided not to take it to heart. I did, however, decide to sign up for her fitness challenge for one reason: because she asked me to and there is nothing I wouldn’t do for her. (Yep, she’s just that amazing.) I was placed in a group comprised, largely, of college friends and Sorors. Many were mothers, educators, businesswomen and fitness enthusiasts- all looking to transform their lives for the better. We created a forum where we could check on each other’s progress, send our daily “Sweat Checks” and keep each other motivated. That group became my lifeline. I was pumped! I was excited! I went hard….at first. And then, my enthusiasm waned. I began to get discouraged because I wasn’t seeing results fast enough. So I quit, I stopped checking in with my group and tried to find ways to avoid having to check in with K, too. I tried to convince myself that I was just too busy to focus on me right now. I tried to tell myself that other people and things needed me more than I did and to take even an hour out for myself was beyond selfish.

However, all that changed over the summer. In 10 weeks, 11 people I knew died- including a dear friend that I’d just talked to the day before and one of my most beloved cousins. I attended 9 funerals in a matter of 2 months. There is something beautifully haunting about death. At the same time you’re mourning the fact that these individuals are gone, you’re also re-evaluating your own life and the choices you’ve made to date. The end of someone’s life can, in many ways, cause you to begin living your own. I made an appointment with a primary care physician to begin to take charge of my life. I met my new physician and confided in her that, regardless of my marital status, I wanted to be a mother within 3 years. I told her I would be 31 this year and I wasn’t interested in high risk pregnancies or being the old mom with the young kids. As only a middle aged Black woman can, my beloved OBGYN kindly told me that nothing about my health said I wanted to be a mother anytime soon. Then, she began to get very clear about what I needed to do to first be healthy for myself and then to ensure the pitter patter of little feet. She gave me the task of losing 10 pounds before my next follow up visit with her.

It was something about being told that I was the only thing in my way that lit a fire underneath me. Like many, I look forward to an amazing career, a wonderful life and someone to share it with. But motherhood? I am not ashamed to say that is my heart’s deepest desire. Yet, according to my doctor’s report, I wasn’t living like I believe I deserved it. So many of us have dreams. It could be to lose weight, go back to school or start a business. But we live like we don’t deserve those dreams. We eat what we want and don’t exercise. We miss application deadlines with no regret. We create every excuse as to why the business will fail before we even get it started. We live like we don’t believe in ourselves. For years, I struggled with my weight and finally resigned that, if I was going to be fat, at least I would be smart. Yet, every time I stepped on the scale or chose the elevator over the stairs, I knew that I wasn’t living my best life. But, part of me believed I didn’t deserve that best life.

I left that office focused and determined to lose that 10 and more. One of my best friends introduced me to Twerk Zumba (yes, church girls twerk!) and I began to pop, lock and drop the weight. Family and friends began to notice a change in me. I recently had coffee with an old friend for my birthday. As she complimented me on my weight loss, I told her about my conversation with KMarie in January, when she told me I deserved 360 degrees of beautiful. I told my old friend that I was beginning to believe it.

Why am I telling you all of this? Maybe you don’t have a friend like KMarie. Maybe your family and friends have been talking so much that you’ve chosen to drown them out. Whatever it may be, please know this: YOU DESERVE TO BE 360 DEGREES OF BEAUTIFUL! Yes, you! You really do! So be it!

Have you made a resolution to lose weight this year? Ignore all the people who make jokes that you’ll forget about the gym by March and get moving!

Have you decided that this will be the year that you’re going back to school? Tune out all the folks who want to remind you of the number of times you’ve stopped and started and go enroll!

Is this the year that you want to get that business off the ground? Don’t let anyone tell you that it can’t be done!

Living our dreams makes us beautiful. It brings brightness into a world that has suffered in the dark. You deserve to be beautiful. You deserve to bring beauty. You deserve to be given beauty. One year later, as I congratulate myself for losing twice what my doctor instructed me and as I grunt through my first week of a new and much more intense exercise program, I am grateful that I listened to my friend and found myself deserving of 360 degrees of good and perfect gifts. This year, may we all find the courage to walk into the beauty that is all around us.