I used to be afraid of taking steps forward. I could endlessly perfect something, and still, never truly put myself out there. I felt metaphorically and literally confined by the bounds of my environment, which was founded on school, stress, and overall a narrowness that I was highly aware of due to my impending transition to college.
I wasn’t unhappy. In fact, I think I probably had an average level of sleep deprivation, anticipation, and excitement for a typical high school senior. However, the same perfectionism that prevented me from fully jumping into things made me reluctant to “figure it out” once I was “in it.” I felt I lacked a framework that would make me feel more connected to work and creating and this esoteric notion of “purpose.”
Making the most of college hinged on building that framework. Now in the time of quarantine, I have an indefinite amount of unstructured days ahead of me. The framework I built through the varied experiences of my gap year is helping me utilize time and progress with a more open perspective.
Taking a gap year was a big step forward for me. Initially, it represented a commitment to my growth and investment in my future at university and beyond. It fulfilled that, in expected and unexpected ways. As I sit at my desk now, the salt lamp and humidifier glowing through their rainbow sequence in tandem, I feel that sense of tranquility and connection that I desired so deeply in the beginning. Despite this feeling that the world is holding its breath, raging with fear and infection, it is like if I close my eyes and sit still enough I could be anywhere. Standing on the beach in Bali, the tide rolling bright orange rocks back and forth along the shore. In an enclave at the top floor of the WeWork building, floating above the pulsating networks of San Fransisco.
All throughout my time in those amazing places, I was inspired by even more amazing people making a deliberate commitment to their days. Taking steps forward didn’t always look like I expected; though I am a fan of the dramatic, much of the love and connection I witnessed in others were subtle. Those profound moments were woven together from circumstance and past and passion and future. At the intersection of these, I began to find a deep sense of purpose. Whether it was a methodical, mindful daily routine, like that of Balinese salt and fish farmers, or the continuously evolving projects of the San Francisco startups and business community, there was never any stagnancy. I saw people dancing with life, moving forward, but more importantly, doing so despite fears and doubts.
I think I’d always felt this intense fear of failure. I thought that if I was prepared enough then I wouldn’t have to feel the pain of fear and uncertainty. Overall, I know I’m one of many who felt unprepared to jump in and “figure it out.” Now, with the circumstances of a pandemic, it's the only option. I believe people want to move forward but are often unsure of how to do that. We’re all existing in our respective spaces, forced to rely on our frameworks, and move in a positive direction according to our sense of purpose. For me, that means getting up every day and pushing myself to create and explore. I can thank the advice of my mentors for helping me to understand new ways of doing that. I enjoy making art and coding and learning online, but this time I feel a new connection to my work that invigorates me.
Looking back, my fear was whether or not to take a leap. These days it isn’t a question of if, it’s a question of how. I can’t help but feel connected to my past self and other students, both at Year On and in school, during this time. I was offered the opportunity to expand, mentally and emotionally, through experiences not available to everyone. I hope that others who feel as I did are able to see this time as a space to prepare and learn more about themselves. If I could consolidate my lessons learned into a useful message, it would be to develop an attitude of compassion and encouragement for oneself. Recognize that there is still so much opportunity and potential in every day, and make a deliberate commitment to finding those things that resonate. Try a new class. Join a group call. Make a painting. But more importantly, try to seek out resources and outlets that allow for the expression of that purpose. Never doubt that you have something to give, and take a bold step forward.