As I inch closer and closer to the 1-year anniversary of me graduating high school, one thing has become abundantly clear: the June 2021 version of me is completely different from who I am now…well, sort of. When I graduated last year, I was a scared, freshly 18-year-old girl, who didn’t know if making the decision to not follow my peers directly to college was the right one. My biggest fear was being alone and lost. With another 365 days around the sun, I’ve been gifted with more laughs, more cries, and even more memories that will stay with me for a lifetime. But, one of hardest things for me to come to terms with over the last year was learning to like spending time with myself.
During high school (and much of my academic career) I was never alone. There was always something to participate in or someone to talk to. Yes, of course I had moments where I was technically by myself, but with my racing mind, the vast majority of those thoughts were consumed by schoolwork or extracurriculars or how I could build my resume for college. I rarely thought aimlessly. However, all of that changed during my gap year.
Sitting alone in my apartment in Florence knowing no one, all I could do was reflect. What I realized was that I had no idea who I was, let alone how to like myself when everything else was wiped away. Who was I without school and a predetermined schedule or parents to guide me along the way? I didn’t know how or where to begin liking myself because I didn’t feel like a person. All I was left with was this stranger that even after 18 years I still couldn’t recognize. It was a maddening awareness but simultaneously freeing. Instead of letting myself fall deeper and deeper into my black hole of a realization, I chose to change and familiarize myself with this new person. I spent months wandering Italian streets alone, inside my own head attempting to gain some knowledge about my newfound acquaintance. Being alone taught me that I love spending excessive amounts of time in museums, helping others that rely on me, and listening to chirping of birds in the morning. Sometimes, I’d spend hours just staring at 500-year-old paintings or ancient buildings, reading the plaques on the sides, and imagining the people who walked my same steps several millennia before. I roamed gardens and allowed myself to get lost because I finally trusted myself. Greatest of all, I discovered a deeper love of languages and talking to others. The stranger that followed alongside me with each step I took soon became an old friend. Knowing myself unlocked a part of me that genuinely wanted to share that with others. My conversations became deeper and connections became stronger because I could truthfully share what I learned with those I encountered along the way, as well as appreciate everything I learned from them.
At the end of the day, the saying is a saying for a reason, and you really are only left with yourself for the rest of your life. Therefore, you have to make a conscious effort to get to know who you are before it’s too late. I’ll admit I still have so much to grow and learn, especially about myself, but it’s more than I can say about the girl who walked across that stage a year ago. I’m still alone and lost but that’s okay. I’m not scared anymore. Now, I’m a freshly 19-year-old girl, who knows for a fact that making the decision to not follow my peers directly to college was the right one.