Friday, April 15, 2016

Find Your Answer

Last year my family spent the Thanksgiving holiday in Hawaii. While waiting for our flight back home, I sat next to a girl who looked about my age. We got talking. She told me she was twenty one years old and flying to Salt Lake, where she would then move onto Idaho and spend Christmas with her family before coming home.
"If your family lives in Idaho, what brought you out here?" 
I assumed it was college. Isn't that the only thing that brings new adults anywhere? But then, she might have moved out to be near a boyfriend or extended family. So I thought I ought to ask.
"I moved here after I graduated high school."
She shrugged. "It seemed like a good idea."
"Are you in school?"
"I'll do college eventually, but not right now."
"So you have a job?"
"Yeah, I'm a waitress." 
"Wait, you graduated high school, moved to Hawaii, and got a waitress job?"
"Sure. Why not?"
I couldn't decide if I should be jealous or horrified. That wasn't a checklist item on the to-do list all my friends were laying out. Graduate, little job, college, graduate again, big job, family-Hawaii just didn't fit in there. "It seemed like a good idea." And so she moved to Hawaii. Maybe she had some deeper reason she just didn't want to share with a stranger in an airport. But I'm going to take her at her word. 
Most twenty one year olds have some waitress type job anyway. If you're going to do it, why not do it in Hawaii? Sure, the cost of living is high, but you're in Hawaii. The beach makes up for it. Is that really such a bad way to spend three years of your life? You'll have plenty more to spend on boring things.
It's finals week at my university. Some tests are held in the classroom, but most are in the testing center. You stand in line, recite your professor and class name at the front, watch the printer spit your test out, and take it in a room with hundreds of people. Maybe someone in that crowd of hundreds is in your class, but you won't know it even if they are there. You wait for the first available seat, swoop down before anybody else can take it, and don't move for an hour or two. 
A Person of the Internet once told me that being a new adult is like taking a test, planning on cheating, and then realizing in horror that everyone has a different test. I've never cheated on an exam before, but I keep coming back to that analogy whenever I have a test there. 

I used to have my entire life lined up like a row of dominoes. I'm a planner-it's just my nature. In September of my junior year I got bored during a fire drill, so I made a mental map of what I was doing every night in November. This fall semester I spent hours upon hours on a school website called MyMAP (Major Academic Plan) outlining the classes I'd take for the next seven semesters. I knew I couldn't make one master plan that could account for all the variables, so I made dozens. I took into account different minors I might declare, languages I might learn, and study abroads I might go on. I found out which classes were only offered certain years or semesters and which ones could only be taken in companionship with other classes. When I didn't feel like paying attention in class, I'd list class acronyms down the margins where normal people doodle. Some of these plans were on whiteboards or phone notes I deleted a few days later. Others were mapped out on MyMAP years ahead of schedule. Some of my friends were still wandering around campus with no idea what they were doing with their lives, but I knew where I was going and exactly how I'd get there. 
Then all my dominoes came crashing down. 
I had a setback two months ago. The wounds are still to raw for me to publish a post about it, so all I'll say here is that I lost a lot of dreams. With them came all the structure of my life. Not having a plan scared me, and the initial event sapped me of a lot of self esteem, so I've spent most of the last two months doing nothing. I stopped blogging, abandoned the novel I was writing, and lacked the motivation to eat most days. I ate just enough to avoid migraines and tried to blame my hunger on stomach pains caused by bad posture. There were times I thought I was on the verge of dropping out of school, but I mustered the strength to get my homework done, even when I couldn't do anything else. Now, assuming I make it through finals week, I'll have a B or better in each class. 
It's hard to put one foot ahead of the other when you don't know where you're headed. I don't know what I'm doing winter semester of 2018 anymore. I don't even know what I'm doing this coming semester. Last Schedule Day, I went through Plans A, B, C, D, and E, emailed professors and talked to advisers about classes that suited my needs, and coordinated classes with a friend. I had all my Plan F classes open in separate tabs the day before and registered for all of them by 12:03 AM on Schedule Day. 
This time? I waited for Schedule Day. I clicked a class I absolutely need to take. I clicked another class I absolutely need to take. "What else did I want again? Uh, psychology. And a dance class. No, I'll take this dance class instead. Now I need to take this religion class to grad-nope, screw this, I'm signing up for floral design." 
I closed out before I could see what I'd done and checked back on the carnage a week later. Apparently the only two classes I need are at the same time. Back to the drawing board. I'm not sure what I'll end up doing, but I'm keeping that floral design class. Screw you, life. I like flowers. 
The problem with life isn't that it tests you. It isn't that everyone else has a different test. It's that life is an open response test, not multiple choice. You have to work harder to find your answer and there are different functional answers for different people. 
I have five friends who've had clinical depression throw a wrench into their educational goals. One is on medical leave for the tail end of her senior year but is keeping college in her sights. One won't walk with her graduating class and is going on a service trip to Africa instead of trying school again so soon. One withdrew from college after her first semester. One decided against college altogether.
Then there's this girl:

I snapped this selfie with my friends Nathan and Britney when we went out for ice cream after our scholarship interviews. We were so full of hope, all of us in the lineup to receive full rides to any school in the state of Utah. Only Britney advanced to the next level and ultimately none of us got the money we'd hoped for. Britney and I were waiting on our acceptance or rejection letters from BYU. One night in late January I got the email. Before I even had a chance to celebrate, I sprinted upstairs to grab my charging phone and tell Britney.
But she'd texted me first. Check your email! :) And later: I'll have to cancel our double date for this weekend. My brother died. 
We both got admitted to BYU. That was everything we'd hoped for. Before. We'd planned on being roommates, but Britney took stock of her life after her brother's death in a freak accident and decided she'd rather go to a different school. Utah Valley University is only one town over from BYU, so being roommates is still geographically feasible, but I think I've been replaced. And I couldn't be happier for her.

They get married next month. Britney never would've predicted her senior year of high school that she'd meet and marry her husband by age nineteen and a half. She wouldn't have met him at all if she'd followed me to school. But life has a way of throwing curveballs.
There are different right answers for different people. I spent all of senior year badgering one of my depressed friends to get her butt in college. Now I see that wouldn't have been the right path for her. Not yet, at least. Some people need to take time away from school. Some people need to get married at nineteen. Some people need to drop everything and move to Hawaii. So long as you're happy, healthy, achieving your own goals, and benefiting loved ones, you can live a good life. You'll find your way, and no rush. There's no need to sing all the verses of your song at the same time.
Your answer is out there.
 Go find it. 

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