Two nights before I left Seattle for Pre-Departure training I was lying in bed. My thoughts weren’t of excitement or anticipation at all—I was brainstorming ways to get out of doing the bridge year I had so eagerly signed up for eight months prior. I was warm in my blanket and outside of my window was Evergreen trees that—after 18 years in Seattle—I had come to see as a symbol of natural beauty. I was home. In a house I knew. In a city I felt comfortable in.
On the morning drive to the airport a couple of days later, I couldn’t help but question what I was doing even more. There is a special view of Seattle driving north or south on the freeway. The skyline becomes more and more prominent as you pass by Lake Union, and on the right day the mountains provide a perfect backdrop. Coming or going from the city, I pay special attention to it. And looking at it on this day, I was so upset at myself for deciding to leave it for such a long time. For all of the “get out of your comfort zone” pep talks I had given to myself on the days leading up to this, this time I couldn’t justify why I would leave such a perfect place for something so foreign.
The first couple of days at Pre-departure training didn’t make it any easier for me to get over those fears. But after the shock of knowing I wouldn’t be home for eight months subsided, I was able to truly listen to the other fellows’ stories. Hearing what led them to pursue a bridge year, what they hoped to gain, and where they see themselves going, I now know that I am unquestionably in the right place. This isn’t because I feel completely comfortable with what I am doing—I’ve realized I never will be. But I’ve also reaffirmed that “comfort” isn’t what I’m looking for. I am surrounded by the right values and the right people. I am in no way prepared for what is to come. But I have support and I am as ready as I ever will be to lean into that vulnerability and take the challenges on anyway.
I am inherently the “type” of person that would not choose to take a bridge year. I could have easily gone straight to college without any qualms about it. I relentlessly look for ways to stick to the straight path. In high school I did my homework before anything else and kept a meticulous schedule of extracurricular activities and college counseling meetings. But through this mindset I’ve developed values and habits that need to be addressed before I allow myself to enter the next stage of my life. These values and habits wouldn’t be changed by going straight to college.
I don’t take chances. I don’t say yes to enough opportunities for adventure and fun. I get in my own head too easily and stress myself out. I always look to stay on the beaten path. I ask if I am being successful instead of asking if the task I am responsible for is being done to the best of my ability. Change scares me. None of these issues can be addressed in one eight month period away from home, but my 18-year old logic says that if I put myself in enough new and uncomfortable situations, I’ll ask questions and get closer to figuring out what I don’t know. I’ll be better at knowing myself and questioning myself. When I know those things better, I can be better at trying to find answers, through higher education.
No matter what happens over the next eight months, I know that I am going to learn about myself this year, surprise myself this year, and learn and adapt to a community and family that I never would have crossed paths with otherwise. When I go back home in eight months I will be the same person with the same circumstances in the same beautiful city. I am not missing out on any opportunities by leaving. But after exploring the world and myself I will be able to pass the special view on the freeway the night I get back with a more nuanced perspective and a better sense of self.