I almost didn’t write this because I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.
But then I realized that was kind of the point. That in life, in order to be true to yourself, you might hurt people’s feelings in the process.
About two months ago, I made the first big decision that caused my parents, brother, aunts, and uncles, professors who had asked, and hey, even my doctor looked at me funny when I told her, anxiety. The decision to travel back to Florence, Italy, where I had studied abroad, and spend a month there.
I think perhaps everyone thought I wouldn’t go through with it. That I would back out under the pressure of their objections. That I would be struck by a sudden bolt of clarity and common sense, awaken from my international daydream and say, “You know what? You’re right. Let’s go ahead and cancel that.”
But I didn’t.
I was strong, and it was seriously hard not to change my mind. I really love my parents. I value their opinions because they are intelligent, kind, and good-hearted people. And of course, they were worried about my safety. What kind of parents would they be if they weren’t? But as a recent graduate, it was time for me to start separating what I wanted for myself from what other people wanted for me.
That is something they don’t teach you in school.
During the last semester of my college career, although my body was planted in a cramped lecture hall desk, my mind was miles away. I couldn’t stop thinking about all the possibilities out there in the world. I wanted to consider them all, especially any option that allowed me to be back overseas, in a foreign environment again. I love being out of place, immersed in a culture that is completely alien to me. I love hearing words spoken that contain sounds that don’t exist in the English language. I love experiencing a lifestyle that seems a universe apart from my own upbringing. It’s more intoxicating than a bottle of three-euro Chianti wine if you ask me.
Around January, I began a series of late-night research rendezvous with my confidante. Just Google and me. The two of us. Searching for answers. It was quite romantic.
For a while, I was dead set on being an au pair for a while after graduating. A few weeks later, I was going to teach English abroad. After a heated debate with my parents, I had renounced that idea, deciding instead to spend the summer traveling and begin working in the U.S. in the fall. The next week I was back on the phone with an advisor from the English teaching program, peppering her with more questions that had been marinating in my brain. I was giving everyone around me – my parents, my friends, the poor advisor I’d never met, and even myself, no, especially myself – a headache. The kind you have the morning after downing a whole bottle of three-euro Chianti wine.
In short, I was a mess.
One day I was sitting in my guidance counselor’s office, armed with a legal pad full of bullet points, each one representing a potential path for my future. She put me on the spot, asking me something or other about taking the next step towards a decision.
“I don’t know if I’m ready,” I said.
“When do you think you’ll be ready? You might never be ready.”
I blinked. She smiled.
She had me there. So there was only one thing to do and that was to do anything. I would never feel ready so I just had to take a step.
But I didn’t know which way to go.
I took a baby step. I booked a one-way ticket back to Florence and got a stellar deal on a month’s stay in a tiny Airbnb.
I felt guilty about this decision, but deep down, I knew it was exactly what I needed. I had a little bit of savings and a whole lot of curiosity about what I wanted out of life. I wanted to do something completely for myself.
My friends asked, “You want to go alone? As in, by yourself?”
My parents asked, “Are you sure you don’t want to go with a friend or two, Megs?”
That was the most important part. I needed to be alone and far away. I wanted time to think without the influence of others. I wanted to be in the place I couldn’t stop thinking about, and see how it really felt to be there all by myself.
Now you’re probably thinking: poor girl. She couldn’t decide what to do with her life so she took a month long vacation in Italy, even though people didn’t want her too.
That’s totally fair.
That’s also totally not my point.
I did something I wanted to do, that I was fortunate enough to be able to do, even though everyone told me it was a bad idea.
The opinions of the people around me gnawed at me, made me question myself, fed my self-doubt. But I decided to follow my instincts. To go with my gut. To give myself permission to travel and think. All alone.
In spite of the protests of the people closest to me. In spite of the unconventional decision to go by myself. In spite of my fear that the general public’s reaction would play to the tune of, “what a spoiled brat.”
It’s hard to go against the wishes of people closest to you. It’s also hard to make big decisions. But it’s easy to doubt yourself and it’s easy to stay in one place.
It’s okay to make decisions that don’t make sense to other people as long as they make sense to you.
In fact, that’s kind of your responsibility as an individual.
But what do I know? I’m just a recent grad.
A recent grad that is very, very glad she didn’t cancel her reservation.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that I’m here. As in, I’m writing this from Florence. I don’t have a bottle of three-euro Chianti wine in my mini fridge. It was three forty. I really splurged.
What can I say? It was an instinct.
image via Laura Claypool