Before you begin, let me explain. I just finished a 50 day Outward Bound course. 50 showerless, uncomfortable, incredible, challenging, absurdly fun days. In retrospect, this was the most fulfilling experience of my life, but a challenge like this is one that cannot be overcome without reaching immense highs and lows, without pointed self-reflection. Purposefully designed for this kind of reflection was our solos—two days camping completely alone, with no source of entertainment except a pen and paper and absolutely no tasks or expectations.
With that, I give you a solo reflection, transcribed (and gently edited) from the pocket-sized journal I carried with me every day.
I haven’t yet been able to express why I’m here on this trip—what makes it worthwhile for me. When I found this Outward Bound trip many months ago, I had two priorities: plan a gap year, and make it interesting. I knew I loved the outdoors and I desperately wanted an adventure, so this course seemed perfect.
174 river miles and hours of brutal desert hiking later, that isn’t enough anymore. I’m aware of the fact that there’s a greater lesson to be learned here—that one thing that I will look back on as my greatest growth—and I’m thinking that it may simply be a sense of purpose, a drive to set and achieve goals.
I’ve come to the conclusion that all throughout high school I lived my life adhering to my two main goals: try hard in school, get into a good college. Though it is a gross oversimplification of events, this meant that I focused almost exclusively on my immediate tasks and workload, striving towards unquantifiable goals with the persistent question: How good is good enough? For years, that purpose sufficed in keeping me motivated, thanks to an ever expanding workload and rather lofty standards for my own success. I’d be hypocritical to say that these are unworthy goals, I have a similar set of expectations for my college years, but I’ve come to the realization that exclusively setting broad, long term goals for myself was extremely stressful and unfulfilling. Benchmarks, and any accompanying sense of achievement, were subjective and few and far between.
Six months ago, when quarantine hit and I graduated high school, my goals timed out. I woke up every day lacking a purpose. The future was—and very much still is—entirely uncertain. My ability to set new long term goals for myself was non-existent.
Waking up on my first day of solo today, without anything to do for the first time in 32 days, I despise my desire to pass time as quickly as possible. It’s a feeling that I know well, a reminder of the days I spent isolating at home, frustrated and bored out of my mind with nothing “productive” to do. I don’t want to live without fulfillment, without short-term, achievable goals. I thrive on learning, achievement, and personal growth.
I realize that this change must come from an internal shift. It is more mentally and physically draining to be constantly striving towards something than it is to be unburdened by commitment, no matter how much more fulfilling it is. The way to inject purpose into my life, especially during unstructured time like a gap year, is to consistently set and work towards goals instead of allowing myself to be aimless. That is my big take-away, that I can make room for personal achievement without relying on the structures that have traditionally defined success in my life.