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For the Sake of Adventure
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.
After a couple of weeks of strict quarantine, I’m all packed up and ready to go for the next part of my gap year!
I’ll set off early tomorrow morning for the first leg of my four-day drive–I’m going from my hometown of Alexandria, VA, to Knoxville, to Little Rock, to Abilene, and finally ending up in El Paso. From there I’ll meet up with my Outward Bound group, and we’ll drive together to Big Bend Ranch State Park. Then, from October 19 until December 7, I’ll be backpacking through the desert and canoeing up the Rio Grande.
I can’t wait–I’ve never spent 50 days away from home, let alone 50 days in the wilderness with only nine other people. My goals are to learn about surviving in the great outdoors, get stronger, and get close to the other students on this trip, all while experiencing one of the most beautiful corners of the United States.
It’s all seemed very abstract to me up until now–I’ve spent months looking for the right gear and breaking in boots, but it’s taken me a while to understand exactly what this trip will be. I think I’ve finally truly realized that all these layers of long underwear and extra rain jackets and nylon pants will actually be worn, by me, in a far away but very real place. I just can’t wait to be there!
It took a while to pull all the things that I’ll need together, but I’ve actually managed to pack pretty light–basically just a couple of pairs of pants, some t-shirts, a warm jacket, and plenty of socks and long underwear. Other than clothes, a toothbrush, journal, and camera are all I need. Hopefully I’ll come back with some great photos and stories to share!
We won’t have phones out there, or internet or TV or newspapers, so the never-ending stream of information that I’ve enjoyed for the past several years of my life will finally be interrupted. After three months interning with a firm that produces political campaign ads, it feels crazy to imagine being so separated from the world of politics and constant breaking news. I hope there will be a way for me to find out if the candidates who I helped make ads for won their races, and to hear about any other important things that happen. 50 days is a long time–I feel incredibly lucky to have this opportunity to get away, but also a bit worried to see what kind of a world I will come home to.
But for now, my most pressing concerns are simply making sure that I have all of the things I need and enough snacks for the long drive there. Best of luck to everyone else at Duke Gap Year Program in whatever you do for the next couple of months–I’ll talk to you guys again in December!
Experiencing an Empty Yosemite
As my family checked in at the front gates of Yosemite National Park, I began to realize that this was the start of a trip of a lifetime- an odd thing to say in the middle of a global pandemic that has practically shut down the travel industry. Assuming that we were entering the park early in the morning for day use, the ranger was happily surprised when my dad produced the confirmation papers for our camping reservation.
“You won the lottery!” she exclaimed, explaining that due to COVID-19, only the Upper Pines campground was open, and only at half capacity. That meant that out of the hundreds of campsites spread throughout the park, only 119 families were able to keep their reservations. At that moment, it did feel as though we had won the lottery.
In the absence of the congestion that 20,000 daily visitors usually cause, I felt like I was experiencing my own private park. Most of the time, masks and social distancing weren’t even required on the trails because the nearest person was out of sight. Parking lots that are normally full by 10am still had spots open late into the afternoon. Even the wildlife could tell that something was different this year, as we heard reports of bears walking around vacant buildings, searching for the people that normally inhabit them.
On our second day there, we drove up a long, steep road to Glacier Point, an area of high elevation with trails that offer sweeping views of the park. On the recommendation of a ranger, we chose to hike to Sentinel Dome, a large, rocky peak that offers a 360-degree view of the Yosemite Valley, Half-Dome, Yosemite Falls, and El Capitan. At the peak, we encountered a ranger who urged us to close our eyes and listen to the wind rustling the leaves on the trees around us. She explained that this was a result of the park’s pandemic restrictions on the amount of people allowed to enter each day. Under normal circumstances, the constant clatter of the diesel busses trekking tourists around the park could be heard, but the pandemic had brought silence to the park. Standing on that dome, breathing in the fresh mountain air, I knew that this was a special opportunity. A chance to experience a Yosemite of the past, devoid of the marks of a bustling tourist industry.
Later on, I learned that this was not the first time Yosemite has been touched by disease. The famous nature photographer Ansel Adams reportedly recovered from the 1919 Spanish Flu amongst Yosemite’s imposing mountains and towering trees. So while societal upheaval of this magnitude is new to us, it is certainly not new to this Earth.
Standing on a bridge over the Merced River, I attempted to recreate one of Adams’ famous shots of Half Dome reflected in the clear stream below. Comparing the two versions of the same scenery, the landscape appears relatively unchanged. The park has survived one pandemic, and it will survive another, and probably many more after this one. As excited as I am for life to return back to “normal”, I do wish that Yosemite would remain as I experienced it this fall.
The Importance of Spontaneity
This month, in continuing with my gap year’s unintentional theme of spontaneity, I decided to take a last-minute trip to Colorado. My grandparents live in a beautiful log cabin deep in the mountains, and I thought that visiting them would be the perfect way to start off my travels this year!
Though I had hoped the mountains would offer a reprieve from the sweltering Texas heat, when I arrived at my grandparents’ cabin, it was nearly 100 degrees. Additionally, due to nearby wildfires in Colorado and California, the sky was so smoky that I could barely see objects 400 yards away and my eyes stung when I walked outside. Suddenly, the week of outdoor activities I had planned was looking less and less appealing.
Considering the grim weather upon my arrival, I was quite surprised to wake up the next day and see that the ground was covered in a thick blanket of snow! The weather had taken a rapid shift– so much so, in fact, that while the previous day brought record high temperatures to the region, twelve hours later the snowstorm delivered record-breaking cold temperatures. Though a frightening sign of our unstable global climate, we welcomed the snow as it helped quell the nearby wildfires and cleared the smoke from our horizon.
With clear skies and cooler weather, we were eager to spend the day outside. As a native Texan, I have had limited exposure to snow and was excited when my grandparents suggested we go snowshoeing! After bundling up in winter clothes and strapping into our snowshoes, we headed off into the forest. I was astonished at how easily the snowshoes floated across the top layer of snow; I had expected it to feel like I was walking in flippers, but instead it felt almost identical to hiking. Unlike hiking, though, it offered an entirely new, beautiful snow-covered perspective of the landscape!
Perhaps the most significant aspect of our snowshoeing expedition was my learning to properly build a snowman. I had thought the only way to create a snowball was by scooping up a handful of snow and packing it together. I was astonished when my grandpa started rolling a ball of snow around on the ground and it stuck together to form a massive sphere! Our final product was a life-sized snowman, complete with a hat and glasses.
By the next day, the snow had melted enough to take a regular hike. We took a trail that is traditionally so crowded that my grandparents avoid it at all costs, yet with the recent snow and icy trail conditions, it was nearly empty. Though we had to wear ice-spikes to avoid slipping on the steep snow-packed slopes, the beautiful scenery was well worth the effort!
My grandparents have several geologist friends, one of which has his own quartz, biotite, and amazonite mine in his backyard. So the next day, he supplied us with pick-axes and gave us full reign to hack away at his mine and extract specimens to take home. Having taken a geology class in high school, it was exhilarating to be able to put my knowledge to use. I was astonished to find deep green, perfectly-formed crystals of amazonite concealed just feet below the inconspicuous surface!
After several more days of hiking and exploring, we decided to conclude my trip by climbing to the top of a “fourteener” mountain. To be deemed a “fourteener,” which is the highest classification of mountain in Colorado, a mountain must reach more than 14,000 feet above sea level. There are 58 “fourteeners” in Colorado, and my Grandpa has climbed them all– an incredibly impressive feat!
On the day of the climb, we woke up extremely early, arriving at the trailhead just after sunrise so that we could reach the mountaintop before the afternoon storms. The trail begins just below the tree line, so the majority of the climb takes place over barren granite, with no vegetation in sight. The scenery on the trail is therefore usually quite uninteresting, but with the recent snowfall, the mountainside was a beautiful glistening white beneath the sun. The trail began as a steep rocky slope with large boulders, and completing the 3,000 vertical foot climb felt like an impossible task. However, as we continued to place one foot in front of the next, our goal slowly drew closer. Whenever I began to feel tired, I would remind myself that my grandparents were climbing the same trail alongside me, and they are both 75 years old (albeit incredibly fit and active 75-year-olds)!
After hours of steep upward hiking, we finally reached the peak. Up to this point, our view of the surrounding mountain range had been blocked by the mountainside on which we were climbing. However, upon reaching the top, we were met with a breathtaking view of snow-covered mountains in every direction. The sky was so clear that we were able to identify Pike’s Peak, over 100 miles away! Though the climb was slow and arduous, it was undoubtedly worth the beautiful views and sense of achievement we received. I can’t wait to climb my next fourteener!
I am constantly inspired that my grandparents are able to lead such interesting and active lives. It is a blessing to have them in my life and to be able to share in their love of nature and the outdoors!
The Sun Rises on Autumn
As the sun sets on summer and the pace of “normal” life begins to resume, I have found myself constantly in turmoil about the near future, the years of college, and the distant “career” that supposedly comes after all of this. No matter what career my existential daydreaming has chosen, I find my thoughts wrapped in music. My headphones might be playing music from a 15 hour long orchestral playlist, or my hands are laying down my violin in my case before a quick break. No matter the scenario, this truly unique form of art has captured me and will never let go.
Films and music have been areas of study and entertainment and art that have altered the way I approach living. I see this influence, however, as more of a woven fabric rather than an external force. The subtlety of art in my life has evolved into an enhancement of lived experiences rather than a charging bull of change. When I received my diploma from my music school in June, the lack of closure made each goodbye seem superficial and undeserved. Three months later, the fear of losing one of the constants in my life has made its way into my existential daydreams and thoughts. That consistency is one I aim to keep through my gap year in the spring. This summer, I dedicated myself to one piece: the first movement from Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major. Quite literally since I began playing the violin have I listened to this piece. Depending on the interpretation, it can run from 15 to 20 minutes long, and it is truly something to behold. I began in the summer of 2019, but other shorter, more reasonable pieces took its place. Having no commitments this year to present myself in front of my music school’s jury in the winter, I threw myself at the massive 15 page challenge. Not only was this one of the most musically and technically complex pieces I had tackled, but also did I decide to learn it by myself. The precedent I set for myself while learning a piece took control. Memorization would not be forced; rather, I would let daily repetition of complex passages and daily playing of the piece on Spotify or YouTube take control. I have months to go until I see performance even as a possibility, but being able to play the piece through with most of the memorization already having taken place sets me up for a successful polishing.
As my artistic ideas for the spring begin to shape into plans, my fall plans have been cast. I have spent the last month preparing myself for a three month voyage. As part of High Mountain Institute’s Wilderness and Conservation program, I will spend my fall in the vast American West. My trip will take me through Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona. I begin in Leadville, CO, and through several excursions over the course of the three months, including backpacking, rock climbing, and rafting, I will finish in Phoenix, AZ. My last month has seen an increase in my physical activity, including biking, taking long walks through my neighborhood, or “hiking” in Central Park and through Midtown. I am thrilled to have a change of scenery and continue to learn about the natural world that surrounds us.
Why Take A Gap Year
Although I will not be attending classes this year I will never stop learning and nothing, not even another stay-at-home mandate will prevent me from growing intellectually. I’m learning and growing from every experience I’m having this summer. Everything from navigating social interactions, precarious backcountry situations, catering to guests’ needs and cooking food on outdoor fires (in a summer snowstorm no less) is helping me navigate the future. I am learning to appreciate the benefits of preparation and communication while attempting to resolve problems with upset guests from my job as a bellman at a local high end hotel. That alone will help me in the dorms, classrooms and labs when I get to school.
Over the past few weeks, as many of my friends leave home and settle into life as college freshmen, I have been reading, hearing and watching scores of entertaining stories about the various amazing experiences they all seem to be having. This was inevitably going to be the first gut check where I’d likely be second guessing my decision to take a gap year. As my family and friends predicted, it hit me hard. But it also forced me to review my sentiments when deciding to take this year off and remind myself what I hoped to gain from it. My anxiety hasn’t lasted too long, thankfully. I remembered that I’ll eventually get my chance to be a freshman at Duke and that I’m actually not missing out on anything. My initial intention to create time, space and experiences between high school and college to grow as a person and gain knowledge and perspective along the way to help maximize my time at Duke is still front and center as I embark on my journey.
One of the biggest keys to success in college and life that many high schools don’t effectively teach is intrinsic motivation. For students to truly make the most out of their years in college they need to know what they want to do and how to get there, but also, most importantly, why they want to do it. Knowing and being able to articulate the “why” gives students both the focus and drive to maximize their educational experience. In high school and college most students are motivated extrinsically, by grades, others aspirations, and following the status quo or society’s general idea of success, not driven by personal interests. Those motivations lead to many students losing interest in their classes and simply being unhappy. In a gap year, especially this one in 2020, there is no clearly defined path to success. The path to knowledge, self-awareness and enjoyment needs to be crafted by the individual and is largely going to be free of judgement. I am navigating the current climate by choosing to pursue areas of intrigue or curiosity, and not chasing the wishes of others. As students are able to identify and follow their inner guidance chips they will be owning their choices, chasing their moments, learning by trial and error and likely setting themselves up to truly flourish in college and life as more informed stewards of their intrinsic motivations.
I wish all my buddies a wonderful year of discovery. Right now my plans span from mountain peaks, to the far Pacific and back to Europe, with much detail still to be filled in. I look forward to seeing what I learn, how I adapt and where I might grow as a friend/son/brother/student over the coming year.
Dang, That Was Unfortunate
This is Ray, and I’m starting to write my second blog. Since my last blog, I’ve hiked the Lost Coast Trail, planned a thru-hike of the Tahoe Rim Trail, and hiked in the Trinity Alps Wilderness.
The Lost Coast was a really nice way to re-enter the backpacking world. I went with one of my close friends; we finished the 26-mile trail in three days and two nights. We finished our four-hour drive Saturday afternoon and hiked 9 miles or so. We then trekked 17 miles the second day, and barely hiked anything the third day to finish early in the morning. Some of my highlights were jumping into swimming holes, eating dinner after a long day, and tidepooling. The lost coast is normally super foggy and cloudy, but we had clear skies the entire trip. The views were crazy!
After the Lost Coast trip, I was super excited to keep on backpacking. I set my sights on the Tahoe Rim Trail – a 160-mile loop around Lake Tahoe. I planned on finishing the hike in eight days, hiking 20 miles a day. It would be my first-time solo trip, and I was pumped for it. I made myself a resupply box to pick up in Tahoe City and got my permits. Instead of a tent, I brought g a bivy sack (an enclosed sack for your sleeping bag – there’s only room to lay down). I don’t have claustrophobia, and I don’t really see the purpose of hanging out in a tent by myself. My back welcomed the change from a 3 pound tent to a 1 pound bivy.
A day before I wanted to leave, everything took a turn for the worse. Wildfires in California were absolutely destroying Tahoe’s air quality. The idea of inhaling smoke 24 hours a day for a week wasn’t super appealing, I’m not going to lie. I called an audible to shelf the Rim Trail and wait out the smoke. (California is still on fire, so we’ll see when this happens). This is/was a huge bummer and very unfortunate. On a broader note, my trip cancellation is trivial compared to the people who have lost their homes and their lives from the fires. I need to be aware of my privilege.
After postponing the Rim Trail, I started to research the air quality in the rest of California. While cross-referencing air quality maps with open space, I found the Trinity Alps Wilderness – a small wilderness by Mt. Shasta. The mountain and the current wind conditions had created a small pocket of breathable air. I found a weather report, a trailhead, and left the next day with four days of food. I was itching to get out of the house.
“I’ll get a map on the drive up,” I hoped as I pulled out of the driveway.
I arrived at the Trailhead late at night (with a map) and prepared for an early morning. At 5:30 am, the air in the Trinity Alps wasn’t perfect, but it was much better than the rest of California. I reached a lake two hours in and stopped for breakfast: cold instant oatmeal, a bar, and some jerky. Breakfast of champions.
From a high ridge, I could see heavy smoke in the distance. The smoke on the horizon combined with an uncertain air quality forecast pushed me to turn my trek into a day hike and find my way back to the car that night. I let my mind drift while I hiked: calm hiking is fast hiking. My water filter proved its worth at multiple streams and lakes.
I finished 12 or so miles by noon. After a snack, I stood up, took a swig of filtered creek water, pulled my pack on, and continued to walk. I passed more lakes, traversed more ridges, and saw fewer people. After hiking many more miles and jumping into a lake, the sun started to set. With five miles left, I started to hustle. Hiking sucks when you start thinking about how much you have left. The last five miles sucked. I expected to see the trailhead at every turn in the trail. My calves cramped.
I was ecstatic to finally reach my car. 14 hours and 25 miles later, I was wiped out. While I thought it was an awesome experience, my calves disagreed. See you all in the next blog!
Being Flexible – It’s Not as Bad as It Seems
In my last blog post, I wrote about preparing for a backpacking trip along a 65-mile stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail. But because of the wildfires raging all across the state, I had to make a few changes to my plan. Instead of backpacking along the PCT and braving the hazardous air quality (as well as the risk of being too close to a fire with no way of escaping), I will be going on a road trip along the coast of the Pacific Northwest!
In other news, I recently graduated from an accelerated EMT program called Project Heartbeat! For five weeks, my classmates and I spent seven hours listening to lectures and four hours practicing skills every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, passed a written midterm and final, survived the notoriously tough Trauma Day, demonstrated what we’d learned during the last day of skills testing, and completed three ambulance ride-alongs. As grueling as the program was, it was also one of the most fulfilling, fun, and interesting things I’ve ever done. I got the chance to meet people from all walks of life who share a passion for emergency medicine, to learn about the human body and how it responds to injury and illness, to test my physical and mental limits, and to practice actual patient care – something I thought would be impossible until I had at least graduated from college. Just over a week ago, I took the national EMT exam (known as the NREMT) and am now officially certified as an EMT!
What surprised me most was how much I enjoyed taking the EMT course even though it was never part of my original gap year plan. I had been looking forward to spending this summer travelling with friends and family but, because of the COVID travel restrictions, I had to be a little flexible. Flexibility has never been one of my strong suits – I’m the type to plan out all four years of classes before even starting freshman year and map out every activity and meal in a two-week long vacation. But despite my initial disappointment at not being able to travel, retrospectively I can see that the COVID travel bans were a blessing in disguise – without them I would never have had the opportunity to become certified as an EMT or meet the people I did. And although the California wildfires made my backpacking trip impossible, I am looking forward to seeing a new side of the Pacific Northwest from the road. Turns out a little flexibility can be a good thing!
Subject to Change
Unpredictability will be a major theme this year for all of us, and I’ve already gotten my first taste of that in the form of a major change of plans this fall: originally I was going to be on my way to the mountains of North Carolina right now, backpacking and canoeing with Outward Bound for two months. Instead, I’m writing this from my desk and won’t be leaving town for another four weeks. Outward Bound’s NC office announced that it is unable to offer programming this fall, and I’ve been transferred over to their Minnesota office.
For a few days, I thought that I would be going to MN in September. Then I got another email–they weren’t able to meet all of the requirements to run that program, so I was given the option to transfer again, this time to a program in Big Bend Ranch State Park in Texas. Now I’m planning on being gone from mid October through the first week of December–we’ll spend 50 days backpacking through the desert and canoeing on the Rio Grande. I’ve never been to Texas or spent much time in the Southwest, and I can’t wait to experience such a beautiful part of the country! For now, I’m preparing for this trip by exercising regularly and gradually increasing the distance I can walk with a weighted backpack.
I’ve been able to extend my internship, and I’ll keep working until I leave in October. When I wrote my last blog post I had just started working with this firm, and after only a month with them I’ve already learned so much. My job, in a nutshell, is to be on call to help a group of associates produce political campaign ads. This usually means scouring the internet for images and videos, or reading through speeches to find quotes. One of the most interesting jobs I’ve had so far was recording and transcribing a call with a client–it was fascinating to listen in and hear how members of our firm went about learning what they need to know to best help this person’s campaign.
At first I was nervous about starting this internship because it’s completely remote–I was worried about learning to work with people who I’ve never met face-to-face, and starting a job without receiving any in-office training. I’m lucky to work with a team of incredibly nice people, many of whom started out as interns themselves and are always willing to answer questions and explain everything. One of the benefits of my Outward Bound program being pushed back a month is that I’m now able to stay with this firm through the first couple of weeks of October, which is their busiest time of the year. If everything goes as planned, I’ll be in Texas and completely off the grid for all of November and the first week of December–that means not finding out how our clients do in the election until a month after it happens. It’s going to be odd having no idea what’s going on after being so involved for three months, so hopefully I’ll see all good news when I get home!
Since I’m not travelling yet, I decided to give myself a bit of a change of scenery by moving my workspace up to the desk in my brother’s room now that he’s away at college. This is where I’ve been doing work for my internship, filling out paperwork for Outward Bound and (fingers crossed) a spring Where There Be Dragons program, and studying Chinese. I’m looking forward to continuing to work on the things that I enjoy and hopefully getting out to Texas in October, but of course, my plans could change completely in the next month. If they do, I’m ready–that’s all just a part of the process this year.
Taking to the Mountains
Throughout this month, while I have been searching for concrete plans for the upcoming semester and thinking about what I want out of this year, I have taken to the mountains. Connectivity to nature has been a foundational pillar to my upbringing in Aspen Colorado. It has been preached and practiced by everyone from friends and family to the local schools and the community, and I have not hesitated to jump right in. I have learned so much from my experiences in nature, but in this last year, with all of the difficult decisions and circumstances we have had to face, I have found nature to be an incredible place to think and find clarity.
In particular I have been chasing fourteeners in these last few weeks. Fourteeners are peaks with summits above 14 thousand feet of elevation, and they surround my home town. I had never actually climbed a fourteener before these last few weeks, and they are an experience unlike anything I have ever done. Most recently I summited Castle Peak and Conundrum Peak in the same day, and what I have realized is that there are so many more memorable moments involved with these trips than touching that top point. Everything from conversations around the fire, to 3:30 am wake up calls, to even butt sledding down the remaining snow patches, is what makes these trips incredible. But what I sought out in particular was the time to think and look. Moments to do that are so rare in day to day activities yet so beneficial in every area of your life.
What I was hoping to find clarity with was where I should spend my time and what I want to volunteer for. Two opportunities became a possibility recently, and I was having a very difficult time prioritizing one over the other. The first is tutoring underprivileged students in European cities, and the other is in Hawaii working to help preserve the natural beauty of the islands doing watershed and animal research, or helping cleaning up beaches and forests. They are both amazing but I can only choose one and I was stuck. While I was taking in the beautiful landscape trying to catch my breath, I realized that my passions lied more with the protection of the environment and enjoying the natural beauties of our world than tutoring students and the city life. That time helped me find clarity and to prioritize which of these opportunities was best for me, and I have no doubt that I will be back out there soon with other important decisions that need to be made.