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It's just past midnight.

I've only just stepped back from the closet-sized kitchen inside my studio apartment where I watched, ironically unplanned, as all three clock hands met at 12:00 am.

"I'm 27," I thought to myself. "I just turned 27." 

Birthdays have never shuffled by for me without my notice or care. For me, I believe they are a great time to self reflect, not to mention are the perfect excuse to make people hang out with you and not flake out. They are a legitimate reason to splurge on a vacation, a ticket to a theme park, a huge, fancy dinner or even a day to just do whatever in the world it is that you want to do.

I usually splurge on theme park tickets. 

I sometimes wonder if 20 years ago the 7-year-old Mandi would have thought I'd be over the whole "Disney Thing" by now, or if she knew that I would always find connection to my childhood stories and even find peace in them through hard times.

Buuut... I'm sure that with buckteeth and grass-stained knees, Mandi was already three songs deep into her Pocahontas cassette tape while playing with Barbies in the backyard to be too busy to think of such things.

Reflecting on my last 12 months of life and the journey it took me on, I'd like to say I could compare my story to the bravery of Mulan, the boldness of Belle, or the joyfulness of Anna. But in recent weeks I have discovered the exact thing that I have most incredibly identified with in my 26th year of life.

I've been the pumpkin. 

Yes, I am talking about the vegetable. Growing un-noticeably in the Tremaine estate garden and curiously chosen by the Fairy Godmother to be transformed into Cinderella's shining carriage for the ball. Before we get too far down the mouse hole, let's step back into the "real" world for a moment.

One year ago I was several months into working for a fantastic start-up company focused on helping people around the world. Coming out of years of penniless non-profit work, the bells and whistles of my new position, and most importantly testimonials of happy and inspired customers, helped keep me motivated even through the tough days of long desk hours.

I was blessed. My own Fairy Godmother had turned my pumpkin vines into diamond wheels that were taking me down a path that seemed right for me. Only, as life would have it, speed bumps slowed my carriage down and details and responsibilities of my career path began to weigh heavily on my heart. I wasn't doing what I loved and I wasn't using my gifts. I wasn't singing, dancing, writing, or even loving as strongly as the core of my soul needed. Something in me was lost. Thinking a new environment would be a better fit, I made a switch to a new employer. One month into the new job... I hit my midnight.

In a painful and embarrassing moment, I lost my job. Without any warning I was transformed from the sparking, perfect carriage, back into a pumpkin. I was left feeling torn and shattered, nothing less than the midnight aftermath that I had read about in Cinderella as a child. You see, people on social media, and also in person, love to congratulate you on accomplishments, especially around areas that society has chosen as making the "most sense." Career/Marriage/Children/Income. If Cinderella had Instagram, her sierra-filtered Royal Ball transformation would have a whole lot more hearts than pics of her scrubbing the floor. #maidproblems

Even as children, our hearts sunk as we saw her glamorous carriage turn to a smashed pumpkin and watched as her rags replaced her sparking gown. But what I failed to understand then and only recently have understood now is that those things did not make her Cinderella. The carriage, the dress and the society status did not make her the princess that millions across the world still love today. Most of all, they certainly were not the things that won her her happily ever after.

Cinderella's rags were a part of who she was, no matter how undesirable it seemed to others or even sometimes herself. She wasn't really a princess, the mice weren't horses and the pumpkin was not a carriage. Cinderella reached her dream of marrying the prince despite not having the picture-perfect life or the fairytale upgrades. If one the most iconic stories of all time didn't involve finding a happy ending by being something you really aren't, then I am ready for my spell to be broken too.

What I have learned in this nothing short of transformative year for me, is that too many of us are trying to be a Cinderella grand carriage when we are really just pumpkins. Also, being a pumpkin is different for everyone. Whether you are a lawyer, an actor, a contractor or a circus performer. We are really just perfect the way we are at heart without having to look storybook perfect or look like our life is on track so others can approve of us.

Today I'm back to being a pumpkin. I'm a waitress and I'm really good at it. I love meeting new people, being on my feet, and I'm working for a company I love again. I'm writing more, reading more, and reaching for new dreams. Dreams that come from the core of who I am. I'm not depressed, I'm healing, I'm feeling like myself more and more everyday that I get farther away from trying to be something I am not.

When midnight strikes, it is dark. Pain can happen. Confusion, loss, and frustration will want to envelope you. But we get the chance to remember that it is a new day, a new year, a new opportunity to choose your own dream, your own glass slipper, by being who you truly are.

My name is Amanda. I am 27 years old and I am no longer a carriage. I am a pumpkin.

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