A tangle of emotions swirl within me as the plane lifts off the runway of the Atlanta airport. I have flown many times before, but none felt quite like this. As the plane rises, the expansive city comes into full view. My stomach drops, simultaneously with the giddiness of finally commencing my journey and with the longing for the life I am leaving behind. In this moment, I fruitlessly will the plane to return to the ground and grasp at what is now far behind me. Emerging above the clouds, my heart and stomach ache. The emotions of anxiety and excitement I feel remain at war, refusing to reconcile each other like oil and water.
The experience of boarding the final plane to Ecuador and seeing my last glimpse of the United States for eight months was not entirely unlike getting the flu shot. After not receiving the flu shot all my life for no particular reason, and in lieu of the many required vaccinations I had to get for this trip, I decided for myself that I would get the flu shot for the first time. In fact, after doing my research, I considered it a ludacris decision to go without the flu shot. I was so deadset in my logic that I figured any apprehension that I may have against needles was trivial and inconsequential. Confidently, I marched into the Safeway down the road from my house and asked for the shot, no problem. But, as I sat down and gave my arm to the pharmacist about to administer it, every muscle in my body instinctively screamed at me to get up from my chair and walk out the door. The sight of a long needle was enough for me to override reason and latch onto emotion. In the space between logic and fear, I froze.
Wy whirlwind week at Stanford preparing for my gap year was filled to the brim with activities, lectures, training sessions, and more. Out of all of the words of inspiration bestowed upon us fellows, one piece of advice has stuck with me. Abigail Falik, the founder and CEO of Global Citizen Year, gave the second speech of the week. Her advice was directed at those of us worried about what we were leaving behind at home by partaking in a gap year. She said to think of life like monkey bars.
To swing on the monkey bars, one hand goes in front of the other. To move forward, you must let go of what lies behind you.
The next rung on my monkey bars is Global Citizen Year. And in reaching for it, I must let go of my previous iteration of self exclusively formed within the confines of Bend, Oregon. The next rung on my monkey bars remains foggy. I do not know exactly what I am getting myself into, nor do I know how I will change as a result of this experience. Uncertainty is uncomfortable. We can let it freeze us, or we can lean into it and see where it takes us.
I ended up getting the flu shot without a hitch. I held onto my conviction that receiving it has infinitely more pros than cons to get through the momentary anxiety of seeing a needle about to be stuck in my arm. In the end, the shot hurt, but not nearly as much as I had imagined it would. I trusted myself enough to be able to reach for the next monkey bar and grasp it firmly without retreating into my comfort zone.
Existing in the liminal space between the monkey bars is a part of learning how to grow. While the emotions tied to the past and future may feel like oil and water in their incompatibility, it is in these moments of discomfort that we can discern our strengths and weaknesses. True growth, by definition, is uncomfortable and the ability to grow is a skill honed over a lifetime.
If anything, during my gap year, I want to learn how to better grasp at a more evolved version of myself in the face of uncertainty. By allowing myself to swing forward, I’ll become all the much better at letting go.