This year has been a whirlwind—of traveling, meeting new people, starting new jobs, and beginning my last year of undergraduate work. This time last year, I was picking out which clothes to bring to Paris; right now, I am deciding what to bring to my new apartment in downtown Atlanta. Some things have gone exactly as planned, while others took a long detour and ended up at an entirely new destination.
Despite all the surprise that 2013 has brought into my life, it has brought even more inspiration, hope, and happiness than I could have ever asked for. I traveled across Europe with a small red rolling suitcase (which only had one wheel when I put it on the plane to Atlanta). I applied to teach English in Japan. I decided to take a year (or two?) off from school. I worked with the best newspaper staff I could have ever asked for (who have become my family). I really realized how important writing has become to my life. I made some incredible friends. I acquired a second family halfway across the world.
Through all the happy moments, I hit some bumps. I struggled to communicate on the way to catch a bus (almost missing it!) and broke down crying in the Paris metro. I almost quit a job that was very important to me. I hit a crisis as I tried to choose graduate schools and had to make a major decision about my future. I said goodbye to some of the best people I’ve ever met until “sometime.” I watched best friends and family go through some of the most difficult moments of their lives. I spent too much time away from the people I love most.
Every year brings some of these moments, some years bringing more of one than the other. I think that this year, I learned more about myself than I ever could imagined. And I’m walking away with some incredible advice, thanks to the craziness that was 2013.
Do not be afraid to dream big. One of my best friends once told me, “We are dreamers, you and I….even if only one in ten of our harebrained schemes comes to fruition, that’s still one more than most people.” I rather like hairbrained schemes. And if there’s anything I’ve learned from that advice and from my travels this year, it’s that sometimes seemingly insane plans turn into a beautiful reality. Hold on to your most precious dream, for one day it may come true, in some form or fashion.
Learn another language (or two, or three). I could not be more passionate about this. The United States may be a big country, but no one experiences culture shock flying from New York to Seattle. Dare to learn a language that belongs to a culture dramatically different from your own. How can we communicate with others—and learn from others—across the world if we are not willing to take the first step? There is something so extraordinarily beautiful about being able to speak to someone in their native language. Your world grows each time you do.
Take a step outside of your comfort zone. I am not inherently an adventurer. Though I love to travel, the idea of backpacking and traveling alone scared me. The first time I did it, I was terrified. When I had to give a presentation in French to a class of entirely native French speakers, I thought I was going to throw up. It was a huge step out of my comfort zone, but I couldn’t be more happy I did both. My comfort zone has expanded—and you will only learn and grow from stepping outside of it, in whatever capacity. Do something different.
Love deeply. It changes everything.
Cherish the special, fleeting moments. There are so many exchanged laughs and smiles, nights staying up talking about the important things, and moments with amazing people that I will cherish forever. And, more than likely, I stepped out of my need-a-schedule comfort zone to have moments like that. I will never regret the last-minute decisions to spend more time with someone I love or to stay out later than I should to have life-changing conversations. These are the moments that matter the most.
2013 has been good to me, y’all. In 2014, I’ll graduate from college. And the rest of 2014 is a mystery—but what I do know is that I’ll be spending it with the people that matter most.