A year ago I had my life figured out.
Well, not my life, but certainly the next five years. The summer before my senior year of high school, I spent a lot of time thinking about the future, mentally planning what would happen after I received my diploma: I would go to some Ivy League college (I didn’t really care which one, as long as it had the prestige), where I would spend my time training as a track athlete and preparing to become one of the movers and shakers of the world. This plan of mine was not impossible. I was a 4.0 student, a star athlete on my track team, and involved in so many extra-curricular activities that I had about as much free time as I had unicorns. I knew (or thought that I knew) what it took to achieve this future plan of mine, and spent high school carefully building my college application into something Ivy-leauge-worthy. I never imagined a future other than this. Of course, the details were liable to change, but I was so confident that my plan would be fulfilled that I never even bothered to think of a backup. I had known that I would be going to college straight after high school as soon as I was old enough to understand how the education system worked, and that I wanted to go Ivy ever since I visited the Harvard campus when I was 13.
As you are reading this from a blog about a student taking a gap year, it’s a little obvious how that plan ended up. A year later, and instead of emailing my future roommate about the color scheme of our dorm room and training with my new coach, I’m packing for nine months in Senegal and trying to learn Wolof. I am truly about to embark upon an adventure that I never, ever planned for or expected. And I think that’s a good thing. After all, I spent high school making myself into the person that I thought I was supposed to be, rather than discovering who I wanted to be. Not getting into my choice colleges was not a curse, I now realize, but rather a gift. I have been given the opportunity to grow as a person, to discover another corner of the world, and to learn about myself in depth as I encounter obstacles and challenges that I never would on some beautifully maintained campus.
Maybe in a parallel universe I got what I thought I wanted. Maybe there is a version of me somewhere out there moving into a dorm room and learning the layout of campus. Maybe she just started English 101, or something equally predictable and mundane. I, meanwhile, will continue to pack and prepare for a year of the unexpected.