If I were to define my 20th year in one word, I’d say perspective. With 26 flights (not including connections in between destinations), I have seen more of the world in this past year than I have in my entire life. From dazzling US cities like New Orleans and New York to spectacular European travels in Norway, Sweden (kind of), the Netherlands, and Italy to the welcoming pueblos in the mountains of Costa Rica, I have been able to view the world from a different lens. Although I’ve spent much time sightseeing, I have also managed to share a meal in the home of a native in almost every country and city that I have been to. I’m definitely far from being a travel expert, but my countless hours spent passing time in airports, waiting in seemingly endless lines, and sitting tens of thousands of feet in the air have allowed me to let go a little bit more. I have learned that some things cannot be changed and although planning is the key to stress free travels, there are times when you just have to let life take you where it will. Don’t get me wrong – I might hate it, but I have grown to accept what I cannot control (well, I’ve tried at least…)
Beyond travel, my 20th year has brought me the most effective professional development I’ve experienced thus far. I think I have started to shift my viewpoint of the world from that of a child’s eye to an adult’s mindset. I don’t mean that I am fully an adult yet, but I have invested much of the past year in becoming one. Through Dance Marathon, I’ve grown into a thoughtful leader and found a passion to really make a tangible difference in the world. I was challenged to take on a role that I never thought I could handle and I exceeded a goal I didn’t think was possible with the help of my VUDM family – a group of people I never could’ve survived the year without. I bought my first suit and went through my first set of professional interviews that involved hours of studying cases and perfecting answers to a series of behavioral questions that I would never even be asked. I made my first of many trips to the Vanderbilt Career Center, suffered multiple “midlife crises”, and finally found a career path that I really think I will enjoy (for now). I’ve sat through rush hour traffic on my drive to and from my city office and switched my sleep schedule from 1:00am to 9:00am to 10:00pm to 6:00am. I grocery shop and do laundry on Sundays and value Saturday mornings like never before. I have gained the fresh perspective of a newly working woman – but I know the coming years will unveil much more than I can even fathom today.
On a much darker note, I have seen violence and grief from a new angle. Ugly words like terrorism and hate crimes and suicide and cancer have brought on a new meaning to me as I have seen my bubble at Vanderbilt burst and the world at large crumble with a series of tragedies that I didn’t think happened to everyday people. Sitting in the Dallas airport last Thursday, I watched pictures of streets just miles from my physical location move like a scene from a foreign occurrence worlds away. I have seen that my world isn’t as comforting and safe as I thought it was. I have gained a greater desire to live everyday with purpose and treasure every moment with everyone I know because I don’t know when the next unthinkable event will materialize.
With this new understanding of tragedy, I have also seen a greater sense of strength and love. I have watched a campus come together at the wake of multiple unforeseen deaths, a country unite through many tragedies, and the world join forces against evil. With every question of how the world can be so dark, I am answered with an action that glows with such light. From my 11-month-old nephew’s smile to my friends’ loyalty to my family’s love to my boyfriend’s willingness to date cross-continentally, the people in my life amaze me with their undeniable goodness. They give me the encouragement to dream big and jump into the adventures that filled this past year with such joy.
With two decades under my belt, I realize I am younger than much of the world. I am no adult yet, but 20 marks the end of childhood. You’re no longer a teenager, no longer subject to the same stereotypes that plague 13-year-old middle schoolers and 18-year-old college freshmen. My 20th year in this world has brought me an entirely new perspective of so much. As I go into this next stage of life, I can only imagine how new viewpoints will continue to reshape my world. May the next decade of career building, marriage, and maybe even motherhood (wow, that is SCARY) be as great as high school proms, college parties, and summer adventures.