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Blazing A New Trail...

Mallory Hagan

I've never been one to conform. My entire life leading up to this point has been a constant rejection of societal standards, and I can honestly say that I have never been scared of change. On one hand, I think this mindset has served me well—after all, I have had some pretty extraordinary life experiences. On the other hand, my rejection of 'norm' has, more often than not, left me feeling that I am somehow inadequate; defending my every decision to a series of skeptics and sometimes even myself. I'm sure you can see how this could create quite the internal struggle.

It's become clear to me that I am never going to stop taking the road less traveled.

Essentially nothing in my life has happened on the rest of the world's timeline. From making the decision to leave Auburn at 19 and moving to New York City, to experiencing one of the most rewarding and bizarre jobs in America, my life has continued to find forks and turns and opportunities that take me away from the traditional road that most walk on.

I'm here to tell you that road (the traditional one) may truly be a wonderful way to move through life, but it doesn't have to be the only way.

So often I have had conversations with people in regard to school, work, travel, etc. and, especially recently, the look on their face most closely resembles pity. In many ways, the past three years have presented challenges that I was not expecting (some external and some internal), but I have lived a whole lot of life in twenty seven years (on my own terms), and let's be clear—I am perfectly content with the forks I have taken.

If I could tell you the amount of times I converse with young people (young women in particular) who say, "I could never just pick up and move," or " How did you find the courage to do _____?" you would be blown away. The pressure society has placed on all of us to conform—to fit—is truly baffling. What is the point of life if you don't live? Why is everyone so scared to step outside of their comfort zone and be different? I believe that the traditional path(s) to success is a guideline worth following, but it's not the only path to a happy, fulfilled and joyous existence. Is higher education important? Absolutely. Is work experience important? You bet. Is life experience helpful in the long run? For sure. Do all of those things have to fall in a certain order? Not to me. 

In the past eight years of living in New York City, including my short stint in Los Angeles, I have learned so much about the world and life. I have shaken hands with the likes of politicians from Mike Bloomberg to Hillary Clinton, waited on legends such as Beyonce and Bon Jovi, spent afternoons wandering museums that most only ever read about, had nights out that belong in movies, traveled to Africa for education expansion, danced my face off with Bruno Mars, completed an Associates Degree in Advertising and Marketing, won Miss America (a 10 year life journey), made countless friendships, impacted the state and community through advocacy and volunteerism, and had numerous experiences that most can only dream about. Life has been good to me, but New York City ran it's course, and about six months ago, I (sadly) knew it was time to move on.

At first, the potential of leaving New York City was terrifying. My initial concerns were, What will people think? Will it look like I have somehow failed? Am I disappointing people? Is this me giving up on something I want? And while I think these are all valid questions, they probably closely echo a lot of the concerns that anyone faces when deciding to make a life change. At the end of the day, though, the only person we cannot afford to disappoint or give up on is ourselves. We have the power to design our own course. Since we all know the definition of insanity, I decided that I didn't want to be insane. ;) Moving away from NYC right now seemed to be the best option for me and my career—that settled that!

So here I am, living back in Opelika, AL (truly a sentence I never thought I would utter), and eagerly awaiting my 7:00 pm (you read that right) bedtime to begin my new job tomorrow at WLTZ First News in Columbus, GA. Are you wondering how I got that job? I asked for it. I pushed aside any self-doubt and I thought to myself, If you don't ask for what you want in life the answer will always be no. Turns out, more often than not, the answer is yes.

I'm certainly not an expert on life, and I don't claim to be, but I am an expert at pulling myself up by my bootstraps and moving forward with gusto. In my closing statement during my Miss America interview I said, "I want to be Miss America so I can show other young women out there that you can take the road less traveled and still be successful." I truly had no intention of that being my closing statement that day, and I definitely didn't know it would still ring true now, but if there's anything I know it's that your life is your own and you deserve to live it the way you want to. What do you want to do?

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave {BLAZE} a trail. -Emerson