It took Barbados-based corporate attorney Dr. Sharma Taylor years to come to a place of self-acceptance; a place found far beyond achieving all her academic goals.
Among her outstanding credentials is a law doctorate from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand funded by a Commonwealth scholarship, a law degree with first class honours at the University of West Indies (UWI), and a master's degree on a scholarship, also at UWI.
The Jamaican-born 34-year-old encourages those who struggle academically that simple adjustments to inner convictions can change your life direction.
Although inspired by the love of her hardworking mother, a school teacher, and the support of her economist father living overseas, Sharma initially struggled with self-doubt as she felt socially excluded from other high-achievers in her prestigious high school.
She felt rejected because, "I wasn't rich enough, I came from a different social background, and I didn't party, or crave the attention of boys or do other things teen girls usually bond over."
As a result, she admits, "I suffered from depression, low self-esteem and at one stage anorexia, even after I made the track team."
No matter how she changed her appearance or what she achieved, even in national debating and math competitions, she explains that "none of this was deeply fulfilling".
"I had a lot of anger, and my mother and brother bore the brunt of this," Sharma says honestly.
One afternoon walking home from school, Sharma thought about harming herself, as she wanted "to feel something on the inside, and for the emptiness to go away".
Then the amazing smile of an unfamiliar little girl changed her mind.
"She looked at my sour face and gave me the smile of an angel," Sharma remembers. "I knew God was using her to show His gigantic love so I decided not to proceed with my plan. I never saw that girl again."
Sharma had believed from age 16 that it was unfair for all humanity to be aware of imminent death but have no control over the end of their lives.
She questioned, "What about the millions of people suffering and in need of love?"
In light of what a Christian Sunday school had told her about God, she recalls, "It felt instinctively right that a Creator existed, but I did not know what that meant for my life."
During her initial law studies in Barbados she continued to investigate God. Then at age 19, she decided at a Christian concert that she could not live apart from God.
"I wanted the peace, joy, love and acceptance of a heavenly Father," she explains, "and I knew that academic achievements or a good job would not plug the hole inside. I knew God was personally calling me."
"I asked Jesus to change my life. I accepted that He was the Son of God, who came into the world to reunite us to God, after we severed that relationship due to our disobedience. I believed that through Jesus I would have a relationship with God and everlasting life with Him."
After this she says, "God gave my life meaning. I have more joy on the inside and am secure knowing that God is for me, as He speaks to me every day when I am going through problems."
A recent example of hearing from God was as a result of an interpersonal conflict she was encountering.
"Communication with this person was a problem. I needed guidance and I didn't know how to handle this difficult situation", she said.
Later that the same evening without knowing there had been an issue, two friends sent her a song and message and the following day she heard a programme on a religious radio station that all told her the same thing: "I should not run in fear from the problem; that God was for me; that He is intentional and working everything for my good."
"I am amazed how God confirms His Word and speaks so clearly," she says.
In addition to a miraculous healing of long-term stomach pains, Sharma knows God is powerful because He strengthened her on mission trips to Nepal, Mozambique, Malawi and Guyana.
"I have done things that have scared me while on the mission field, in sharing the love of God with others. God has given me the confidence because I know He is ahead of me."
Sharma now works in a high stress position in the financial services industry. She is glad that God has given her patience and a heart to forgive rather than be angry.
"God helps me every day, as I have to rely on Him for guidance, strength and wisdom. I tell you that choosing God is the best life decision you could ever make. He will take you to places you never thought possible; places of adventure and purpose; starting with acceptance of yourself."•