In the middle of June, a package arrived at my doorstep containing the “Duke Common Experience” summer reading book. “The Measure,” written by Nikki Erlick, details the ethical and humanitarian quandaries that befall society after the sudden and mysterious arrival of what can only be described as seven billion individual “Pandora’s Boxes.” Everyone in the world 22 and older wakes up one morning to a parcel at their doorstep, each containing a string, the length of which signifies the time they have left to live. The remainder of the book deals with the different ways people change their lives in response to this jarring reminder of mortality. In these final weeks of summer, as my gap year slowly gives way to course registration and packing for my first year at Duke, I realize that, in a way, my gap year had a “string” of its own.
As in Erlick’s book, for the duration of my year I was aware there was a definitive end date. Like most of Erlick’s characters, I didn’t want to take even a minute for granted: I trekked through South America and fell in love with Spanish, I worked jobs that I loved and gifted me with mountainscapes and life lessons, I hostel-hopped in Japan and South Korea with two new friends, I studied courses in music theory, positive psychology, and coding, I absorbed beautiful literature, music, and scenery, and I opened myself up to new beautiful people, in new beautiful ways. Obviously, I was lucky to have few obligations this year beyond seeking adventure and making the most of the special time, so moving forward things will be a bit different. But I’m grateful for this reminder, from Erlick and from my year, of time’s passing, and time’s potential.
I journaled earlier this month about how I don’t believe in “defining moments.” The entry, written in response to burgeoning internal pressure to distinguish between a “pre-gap year Georgia” and a “post-gap year Georgia,” was logged in at 11:23pm, so it’s definitely not the most insightful thing I’ve ever written, but I stand by my assertion: “[rather,] I support the conjecture of ‘defining muscles:’ habits that become the melody to which our heart beats – our simple, daily devotions that cling to us so much as we cling to them.” During my gap year, I discovered and grew new “defining muscles,” that I plan to nurture and hold on to from now until the end of my string. This year, in all its brevity, taught me that “todos es posible, nada es seguro,” or, “everything is possible, nothing is certain.” Its adventures reminded me just how vast the world is, and conversely, just how small it can be. It emphasized that I am not the center of the universe, whilst empowering me to be the center of my own universe. It’s a balancing act to stay true to both your individuality and your community responsibility, but amazingly, those two aspects of selfhood feed each other. I let in whatever came to me, and in doing so I benefited from the infinite wisdom of Andean cosmovision, hard-hitting book lines and song lyrics, poems, plays and passerby, effective altruists, great artists and their paintings, snow, and the stars. I lived sisterhood and observed motherhood from new angles, I luxuriated in freedom and fluidity, and caught a fresh glimpse of the chaotic balance that exists between all things small and large, earnest and deceiving. And, contrary to what I expected, I discovered that making the most of your time isn’t about filling it with a hundred different things. It’s about planting roots and then nourishing them – giving time to the things you care about, and getting the most out of those things that you possibly can.
I’m not sure who the majority of the DGYP blog readers are, but no matter how many years you have under your belt, if you take away anything from my blogs, let it be the fact that there is no timeline for success, and no perfect time for adventure. Most of my friends this year were at entirely different places in their lives than myself. These new friends, successful and daring and fun-loving and talented and smart, taught me that it’s never too late to try something new. Though that seems self-evident, I used to feel a sense of bitterness and regret that I hadn’t become a professional athlete by the age of seven, or an award-winning poet at thirteen, as if the passage of time meant that mastering a skill or being the best version of myself was something that had passed me by. We don’t all have the privilege to take time off of life as we know it (though I hope that programs like the DGYP continue to exist and increase access to the chance to put a pause on the daily grind) but we all get to wake up and choose to better ourselves and the world around us each day. Any day is a good day to do something new and different, and take a first step off the well-trod path.