“That went well!” My husband says as we get in the car to head back home after our first small group meeting at church.

“Yeah, I guess . . .” My voice trails off as I think back on the meeting.

It was anything but fun in my book. My nerves had gotten the best of me (yet again) when we went around the room to introduce ourselves. I felt left out when all the other women seemed to share so much in common and instantly hit it off. And it was difficult as usual to listen to everyone share their introductory bios. Bios which all seemed to include years of service toward their life’s work whether it be teaching, nursing, or some other high calling God placed on their lives when they were just kids.

“You OK?” My husband breaks my train of thought.

I take a deep breath and try to answer without letting my emotions take over.

“Yeah, it’s just… really, really difficult… feeling like I’m always behind… Everyone seems to have their lives figured out, and I’m only just beginning to learn who I am. It’s just . . . hard . . . and exhausting. It’s so much more difficult learning things later in life… Especially when everyone else seems so far ahead.”

My voice cracks as the tears start streaming down my face. I turn toward the window and stare out into the night sky. My husband lets me cry as we drive home in silence.

It had been a tough week, an even tougher year.

We had moved across country, away from family, for my husband’s job relocation, just two years into our marriage. My own job in this new city was both a blessing and a curse. I strongly felt God’s favor just for being offered this role, as it was a major promotion for me in a recent career change. But almost immediately upon starting this dream job of mine, I was quickly reminded of what a newbie I was in this field.

Every day for the past year, I would start my days praying for strength to face whatever was thrown at me that day, only to leave the office feeling beaten down by the demands of my high-pressure job. Not to mention two more hours of work waiting for me at home.

So our little debut into our small group that evening had felt like a crushing defeat to the end of my already lousy day.

The thing is, I’ve always been a late bloomer. Most of my life has been marked with experiencing life’s milestones later than my peers. Everything from my labor-induced arrival into the world, learning to ride a bike, my first date, landing my dream job, acclimating to parenthood, and everything in between.

Being a late bloomer often makes life more difficult. When I was younger, it was always hard watching my peers pave the way before me while I struggled just to keep up. In school, I learned at a slower pace and was always one of the last to finish timed tests and assignments. My mind would process information slower, so anything where quick answers were rewarded made my mind fuzzy and my hands sweat.

Even though my awkward school days are long gone, I still feel like that same shy schoolgirl inside a grown woman’s postpartum body. I often feel like that same college student unknowingly struggling with depression while making vain attempts to discover what she wants to do with the rest of her life.

I may have graduated college over a decade ago, but I’m only just beginning to tap into the giftings and calling God has placed on me; something that causes this mid-30s wife and mom to believe the outrageous lie that my best days are behind me.

Attention fellow late bloomers: please believe me when I say your best days are not behind you. They are before you.

Like me, you may feel like everyone is further ahead in life whether socially, emotionally, or vocationally. You may feel like you wasted valuable years just figuring out who you are and your place in this world. Or like me, you may be learning how to speak up and share your passions with others for the first time in your life. For years, I viewed my introverted personality as something that needed to be “corrected” so I’m only just beginning to dust myself off from the shame I felt for too long.

Lastly, you may feel like you are now in a constant cycle of self-promotion just so people take you seriously in your newfound journey of pursuing your passions.

Stop!

Stop trying so hard. Stop feeling like you have to prove yourself. You are enough. Just as you are, in every way. And hear this, too, because this is just as important: your journey of self-discovery matters, no matter how late in life you discover your giftings and dreams. Your story matters! Because you matter!

Believe me, I have to remind myself these things often. Because it’s not easy being a late bloomer. It’s just not. And trying to sugarcoat or downplay it will not make it any easier. So it’s OK to feel bummed about it. But don’t let yourself stay in that somber frame of mind.

Remember, being a late bloomer does have its advantages, too. I have many friends and a sibling who are highly-driven individuals, and many of them have experienced burnout multiple times along their journeys. Late bloomers tend to be more methodical, following our dreams at a steady pace that allows for balance in life and family.

Not to say we can’t still experience burnout, but oftentimes it’s when we’re comparing our journey to others and trying to be someone we’re not or attempting to skip pivotal stages of our personal development. It’s when we’re trying to keep up with our go-getter friends when we realize we weren’t wired to juggle multiple projects simultaneously.

Late bloomers are like the tortoises in the tortoise and the hare story. Remember, slow and steady wins the race.

Another reminder for us late bloomers is allowing ourselves to make mistakes. Sure, it feels like we’re the only ones with missteps right now, but what about our peers 10 years ago? No doubt they were making lots of errors as they began their new careers after college. Don’t hold yourself to an impossible standard. Mistakes happen, especially when you first set out to explore your giftings.

The strategy that has helped me most as a late bloomer is taking time to celebrate my accomplishments, no matter how seemingly small they may be to the outside world. Because if it’s a big deal to you, then it’s a big deal. Period. Even if no one else notices or takes the time to congratulate you. Take time to celebrate YOU. Because you matter.

My husband pulls the car into the garage and turns off the engine. He lays his hand on top of mine. I turn to look at him, my tear-streaked face trying to brave a smile.

“At some point, you’re going to have to start believing in yourself.”

I nod my head in agreement and shrug my shoulders. I breathe in deeply, knowing I will need to give myself yet another pep talk before bed tonight.

My husband nods his head, gives me a kiss and heads inside. Before following him indoors, I take a step outside our garage and look up into the night sky.

“I don’t know what your plans are for me or how you’ll turn these ashes to beauty, but I’m ready, Lord. Please use me. Use my story to bring glory to You.”

As I take in the beauty of the stars twinkling in worship, I feel a peace and comfort wash over me. Like a faithful friend, I feel His presence reassuring me that my perseverance will build character, and character will bring hope. And hope does not disappoint.

I smile my first genuine smile all day, and whisper the word into the crisp, night air, “Hope.”

Alaina V. Fletcher

Alaina is a Kansas native who lives in Cincinnati with her handsome hubby, toddler son, and senior cat. Her childhood love for reading and writing led her to earning a degree in English. She has an interest in and appreciation for all things visual and performing arts. She’s a dancer, runner, photography-lover, and stay-at-home mom to an amazing little boy. Her life-long purpose is continuing to grow in the Lord while using her talents to bless others and unveil her unique and beautiful story of redemption, love, and grace.

Follow Alaina on her blog livelifelovedbylainy and on Facebook: Live Life Loved