Metro, Column

Sometimes the Wrong Train Can Bring You to the Right Station

If you’re reading this, chances are your day is following some rudimentary structure. You woke up at a specific time, got dressed, hurriedly scarfed down a cold bagel or ill-prepared snack, and walked across campus to get to class. Then you might have grabbed lunch with a friend in the precious hour you had at your disposal before your next class. The feeling is comfortable, a discernible rhythm to quotidian life at school that we’ve grown dependent on and without which we would feel lost, perhaps even out of sync with the world around us.

I buckled under the weight of this dependency, widening fault-lines that I had never thought to repair. It felt as though my personality was slipping through the cracks. I wasn’t looking for a way to fill in the gaps, but rather to redefine who I was to the people around me. This personal renaissance would require time. With the click of a button, that time would be all mine.

When I decided to take a gap year in the summer of 2016, I hadn’t prepared a rational explanation for my parents nor did I have any semblance of an itinerary for the next 365 days on my own. That scared my parents to death, a development that I desperately wanted to avoid. The pit in my stomach grew more intense by the day, filling my thoughts with regret. I felt uncertain about the whole decision. What was I really looking for? Will my “bravery” be rewarded? What will become of all my high school friends and the people I hoped to befriend as they begin their college experience without me?

I became so utterly consumed by this swirling tornado of uncertainty that I lost sight of what was really happening. I was learning how to grow in a way that I wasn’t receptive to growing up. While it sounds like one of the many platitudes associated with gap years, the feeling was nothing short of transformative. The world magically seemed to burst with opportunities like never before.

During the year, I found myself dancing clumsily as a guest at a traditional Indian wedding, driving a gondola down the Grand Canal in Venice, and teaching robots how to recognize my voice. I tried prolifically, and I failed tremendously. At first, these failures left me drained and invariably disillusioned. I had this idea that the only meaningful experiences were the ones in which you came out victorious, with a medal or a material validation of success to show for it. Naivete was my only explanation. So what if I struggled to cope with the pain of knowing my grandmother was en route to a life spent in the nursing home? And what was really so bad about not becoming a black belt in aikido?

The further I explored beyond my ill-constructed radius of comfort, the more exposed I became to the very aspects of life that I had been blind to for so long. Uncertainty for the future, familial tensions, and the nature of growth loomed in the back of my mind. Yet, I’m thankful for how vulnerable I made myself by embarking on this gap year, for I learned, among so many other things, to be thankful for everything I am given. Even the doors that were shut in my face and the people who turned me away served as precious hints that those experiences were not for me at that moment. Perhaps in the future they would come back into focus, but there was a certain relief that resulted from this shift in perspective.

Failure became as valuable as triumph. In fact, I welcomed failure. How was I supposed to explore my own identity if I never sought out opportunities to challenge it? Admittedly, taking a gap year was a leap into a foggy abyss. I was the first one in my family to have even thought about it, let alone carried through with it, but it was finally a decision I made for myself, significant not only in the moment but also today. In some strange sense, the decision had already been made— all I had to do was trust that it was the right one. Sometimes, what you thought was the wrong train can bring you to the right station.

Featured Image by Alessandro Zenati / Heights Editor

January 21, 2018