The festivities preceding the New Year seem to infallibly invigorate the public, promising boundless opportunity and thrill in the uncertain year to come. Clichéd adages of “New Year, new me” and “fresh starts,” timeworn yet timelessly dependable, harbinger a chance to finally implement ever-fleeting New Year’s Resolutions and secure a positive start to a brand-new year. On December 31, I, too, braced myself for a positive start to 2022—a “Covid-positive” start.
While engaging in my own undeniably rewarding ventures during the month of December, I encountered the challenge of increasingly comparing myself to my peers. As others shared insight into their exhilarating first semesters at college or riveting gap years teeming with activity, I found myself wondering whether I missed out on the idyllic experiences customary for a student my age.
I attempted to focus on conscientiousness and being present in my family visits, internship, and volunteering. All the while, however, my gap year bucket list elongated with the urgency of fulfilling as many items as possible before the year rapidly concluded.
With more goals accrued, discerning any progress with the list intensified in difficulty, along with keeping myself accountable to my fatally magnified ambition.
Feeling myself falling behind necessitated a time for resolve—an opportunity to take ownership of my goals presented by the prospect of a new year.
Nevertheless, the New Year clichés I now sought comfort in abruptly dissolved when, rather than “taking 2022 by the reins,” my father testing positive for COVID-19 compelled us into taking a Covid test and initiating two weeks of quarantine.
Although distraught by the apparent delay to the start of my new year and the concerning health implications engendered by my family’s COVID-19 exposure, I discovered the circumstances served as an occasion to reaffirm the validity and purpose of my gap year.
Throughout my January quarantine, I partook in seemingly trivial activities, from buying groceries to giving my dogs baths, all of which ultimately allowed me to delve into the original impetus for my gap year: the desire to develop my independence and heal following a harrowing, pandemic-ridden senior year.
Learning to cook new recipes while quarantined took its place as perhaps the most gratifying endeavor I pursued in January. Some of my favorite recipes included:
Teriyaki tofu: The entirely exquisite sensory experience for this dish consisted of a sweetly pungent and nearly sultry aroma, a thick, glistening caramel-hue glaze, and a contented warmth in my chest from a recipe well-done and an instinct appropriately followed. [Image 1: Teriyaki Tofu]
Cauliflower Parmesan Bites
Cauliflower parmesan bites: The crisp, toasted exterior and savory homemade seasoning vastly mitigated the hassle of cleaning up the considerable mess resulting from this recipe. [Image 2: Cauliflower Parmesan Bites
Blueberry Chia Muffin
Blueberry chia muffins: The two mild burns I incurred while apprehensively baking these paled (both figuratively and physically) in comparison to the lightly golden, spongy tops, which reaped a provocatively inviting fragrance.[Image 3: Blueberry muffins]
Each dish, from tart sesame cucumber salad and tangy Thai chicken to blended matcha drinks and a horridly bitter Greek yogurt cake, accompanied with sufficient trial and error, gradually familiarized me with the value of following my instincts and imbuing personal projects with authentic flair.
Healthy Thai Chicken
Spending time cooking and engaging in my home life further prompted me to reevaluate my understanding of “time well spent.” I recognized that even the idlest moments or most minor tasks may serve a greater outcome.
A gap year must not necessarily always derive its value from a checklist, nor from its adherence to a clichéd, general perception of a quintessential gap year.
As with a few of the recipes I attempted, guiding yourself by instinct and pursuing an uncommon avenue may often culminate in unexpected success.