It's been 11 months since I was crowned Miss Gem County 2015; my year is winding down. I’ve had an incredible year with some great appearance opportunities and service hours. I just finished my first year of college at the University of Idaho and so I’m back in the area for the summer.
I thought this would be a good chance to write about my experiences from my first year away from home. My first year in college was truly amazing. All my life, I heard people say “College is where you’ll find yourself,” or “You’ll really figure out who you are in college.” And now, a year in, I couldn’t agree with them more.
When I first went to college, I thought events from my past, especially negative ones, defined the person I was. I felt “stuck,” like I couldn’t move on from my past and that it was holding me back from being the person I wanted to be.
A few months into college however, my perspective started to change. My roommate and very good friend Mariah took a “Love and Happiness” class our first semester of college. Quite frequently, she and I would discuss the topics she learned in that class and relate them to our own lives. We started theorizing on the topics of love and happiness.
Meanwhile, our group of friends from high school were all chatting on Facebook in one group chat. Ironically, one of them asked the group how happy we were on a scale of one to 10. The answers from the rest of the group ranged from two to nine, but Mariah and I were the only ones who said 10.
We did a little experiment and asked friends around campus what their number would be. Yet again, the results were the same: two to nine with the very rare exception of 10.
Mariah and I contemplated on this for a while, wondering why we were 10s and why it was so rare to be a 10. We came to the conclusion that the reason people don’t say 10 is because they don’t think they can be. They don’t think it’s attainable, or possible. There’s always something that can be improved on, or better in their life, which makes their life less than a 10.
You always hear people say that “it’s okay to not be okay.” While I can empathize and understand all of these perspectives, I’ve chosen to take a different train of thought.
The reason I’m a 10 is because in my mind, being anything less would mean I’m not being grateful enough for my life and what I already have. For example, while one person might only be a seven because they’ve had a stressful day at college, I would still be a stressed-out 10 because I would be embracing the challenge and the fact that I’m even there, learning and attending college.
Your happiness and contentment is all a choice and state of mind.
So why not choose to be a 10 if you want to be? I think contentment is being more grateful for the good than sad about the bad. Once I realized this, I decided to be as happy and grateful for everything as I could - the good, the bad, the challenges, the stressfulness, and the beauty of it all. I started seeing the good in everything. And I decided I didn’t have to be a product of my past like I had originally thought. Just because something bad happened to you last year, or last week, or even 10 minutes ago, you can rise back up and still choose to be a 10 out of 10.
After this change of heart, what happened next was even more amazing.
I found I had more love in my heart than I ever thought possible. And I think it was because I loved myself and life so much more. I was kinder, more confident, more mature, braver and more self-actualized.
For a good part of my past, I had been an over-analyzer. I lived a lot in my own head, and couldn’t quite find clarity in life. But changing my mindset and deciding to be as positive as I could be resulted in me being authentically and unapologetically myself.
It also helped that I found the greatest group of friends I could have ever hoped for who fully accept me for who I am.
Having this mindset has increased my passion for everything.
I refreshed my drive in school and I’ve decided to double major in vocal performance and international studies. My ambition is to teach music to children and do humanitarian work in developing nations because I want to serve and broaden my reach.
My first stop is this summer: my family and some friends are going to Sri Lanka and we plan to do some service work there.
I’ve been running, lifting weights and playing soccer and piano with more intensity than ever. I was cast in an opera production back at school, and I embraced every minute of it. I was on the Relay for Life committee, as part of my Miss Idaho platform, and helped raise over $30,000 by fundraising and advertising. I held a canned food drive in Emmett for Miss America’s National Day of Service, volunteered at a funrRun, and was part of the Gem County Business Expo.
Now, I just have one big hurdle in front of me to get over. As of this week, I will no longer reside in Emmett. My mom sold our house and the process has been harder than I expected. Since we lost our dad almost two years ago, I’ve felt like the house and property is what I had left of him. This is the house that we built together, the house I grew up in and loved and cherished.
But I’ve learned that letting go is a very empowering feeling. Today, I had the empty house all to myself and time to really ponder and think. I walked around our beautiful 5 acres of luscious trees and grass, and I had an overwhelming feeling of gratitude.
I was grateful for the memories.
I was grateful for the times that I raced my dad in the field.
I was grateful for the times that we sled down our hill in the snowy winter or skated on our icy canal.
I remembered building fences with my dad around our pastures, and shelves in our shop.
I remembered when my little brother and I would go collect the chicken’s eggs, or go feed our rabbits outside.
I remembered running through the sprinklers, and watching the sunset kiss our beautiful Idahome.
I remembered climbing trees, and all the kittens that were born, all the squirt-gun fights we had, all the dancing, all the laughs, and all the good times.
And, for all that, I am grateful. We may have built this house, but in turn it really built me. So I’m still a 10 out of 10.
Besides, I have a strangely sweet feeling that there are far greater things in my future than anything I could ever leave behind. All that matters is taking that step, however simple or complex it might be, and moving on. So you ask me what I learned in college? I think I learned how to live.
-Miss Gem County 2015, Jessica Ellis