The Soul Year: Confronting Expectations, Redefining Success, and Laughing in Failure’s Face

Hello everyone! It’s been a hot minute.

I’m intentionally taking a step back from my blog right now, to refocus my life on what’s truly important and what I want this space to look like moving forward.

That being said, I’ve been talking to other young twenty-somethings from around the world over the past few months, and I’ve made some maybe-conclusions (???) about a few things.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m taking a break from college right now, for at least a year. Before I made this decision, I spoke with professors, classmates, friends, family members, and other mentors for guidance. Many cautioned against taking a year (or more) off, warning that I wouldn’t return. That I wouldn’t “reach my potential”. That I wouldn’t be happy.

Ultimately, however, the decision was mine alone, and I knew it was necessary.

Calling this a “gap year” doesn’t really seem right, so I’m opting to call it a soul year. A year (or more) where I can truly listen to my heart, without feeling like everything I do should be resume-worthy, grad-school-application-worthy, or interview-worthy.  Instead, I just want my life to feel worthy. 

Finding a new home can be difficult. It doesn't have to be.

There are so many expectations placed upon us at such a young age. Our lives are essentially laid out for us from birth: SchoolCollegeJobMarriageKidsDeath. With some other stuff in there, maybe.

Instead, I just want my life to feel worthy. 

I thought about taking a year off before I began college. I thought about it again after my freshman year. After my sophomore year of college, I knew I had to just take the leap and do it.

I was drained.

Annoyed.

Tired.

Wrestling with feelings of unworthiness, sadness, and failure.

As someone who always performed well academically, I was incredibly weighed down by expectations of greatness. I placed expectations on myself that were influenced by society and adults I admired, both of which spoke goodness and failure into my life.

I wrestled with questions like Does an accomplishment matter if it isn’t grand enough for my resume? If I can’t write a twenty-page research paper about it with twelve APA sources and six points to prove my argument? and The major I’ve chosen won’t result in a high paycheck…. is there still a point in majoring in it if it’s not impressive? It got to a point where I was constantly comparing my accomplishments to others’. I was deeply unhappy at school, and I felt as though I could never do enough.

I was deeply unhappy at school, and I felt as though I could never do enough.

On the flip side, if I took some time off, it’s statistically unlikely that I would return to school. This meant that I was signing up for a lower salary, less scholarship money when I did return, graduating later than my peers, and being labeled as a “college dropout”.

Both sides seemed dreadfully undesirable.

Eventually, I knew I had to make a decision. I chose by mentally placing myself in both arenas. The first: remaining a full-time social work student, overwhelmed by comparison and questions. The second: working full-time, traveling, and making intentional time for the pursuit of new hobbies and self-development.

The choice became clear.

I am choosing to make this year about personal development. I want to stare the questions, the comparisons, the doubts that constantly plague my mind right in the face. I want to develop new hobbies and invest time in the things I already know I love. I want to learn to let go of both material and emotional baggage. I want to be comfortable in the uncomfortable.

I want to be comfortable in the uncomfortable.

Then came a bigger question: how will I define personal success, if not through academic accomplishments?

My entire life has been categorized and defined by awards, scholarships, roles in theatre, titles in after-school clubs, and report cards. How would I feel successful without such a definitive measurement of it?

I’m still figuring out the answer to this question.

Here’s what I have learned so far, though, and a bit of advice for those who also feel stuck.

We all have expectations, both internal and external.

It’s not wrong to have expectations. I think they’re a good thing, actually. Another word for this is goals, which we all know I’m a huge fan of (hehehe). Before I went to India in August, I made a list of goals for this fall that I wanted to work toward. I refined the list when I returned, and added a list of hobbies I wanted to pursue, some personal development questions I wanted to answer, and a sort of bucket list for these few months.

The key is to recognize when expectations become unhealthy. I expected myself to graduate with a degree in International Studies from the University of Denver in the spring of 2019, and y’all, that is not what happened (PTL, amiright?). When I transferred and was still unhappy, I realized that perhaps it was not solely the school environment that I was uncomfortable with. So, I adjusted my personal expectations, and I’m ignoring societal expectations, for now.

Be gentle with yourself.

I was brokenhearted when I realized by big dream of living in Denver was not going to be realized. I was confused when I transferred and still hated school. I was in love when I traveled, and that’s all I knew. I’ve fallen in love with many more things over the past few months, and I’m still falling.

I think the most jarring thing about this whole process was realizing that the plan I’d made for myself a little over two years ago was so, completely, wholly wrong. And it’s taken me a long, long, long time to come to terms with this. At first, I bullied myself into staying in school, because I felt as though I wouldn’t be successful without a degree. After a while, I learned that having a mean spirit won’t get you anywhere either. Recognize when you are pushing yourself too hard.

Follow your heart.

Fam, I’m not trying to be cliche. At all. But had I stuck with my original plan, I would be dreadfully unhappy.

So, instead, I listened to my heart. I spoke to my soul. I responded to the whispers from the universe. I now work in the customer service industry, which I love. I get to meet new people and have interesting conversations and talk all day at work and honestly, the energy from other people fuels my happiness more than the energy from textbooks.

I am endlessly thankful for the opportunities I am provided every day to improve myself, even if I am uncomfortable and stretched and awkward in the process. There isn’t really a way to do this thing smoothly, is there? (If you know how, hmu pls.)

And finally, the biggest thing I’ve learned: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Literally, everyone is comparing their accomplishments to everyone else’s. There are SO. MANY. PEOPLE. who are unhappily running through life at a million-mile-an-hour pace because that’s how we operate here in America.

Breathe.

Love.

Find joy in small moments.

We’re all having this crazy experience of life together, and we need to support each other. Know that there are other paths and opportunities for you, if you allow them to come into your life. Hear this: You will never be alone in any of this. Your heart will not lead you astray–let’s listen in together.

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India (finally).

I LEAVE FOR INDIA ONE WEEK FROM TODAY.

Well, I leave for Chicago one week from today. Then I leave for India from Chicago a week from Saturday. So, let me correct myself:

MY JOURNEY TO INDIA BEGINS ONE WEEK FROM TODAY.

I N D I A

I feel like everyone is asking me Are you excited for India?? right now, so let me answer this (and some other FAQs) for y’all in this post.

I COULD NOT BE MORE EXCITED.

The second most common question I’m asked is How are you going? For those who don’t know, I am travelling to India with a volunteer organization based in New Zealand called International Volunteer Headquarters (IVHQ). IVHQ is an amazing organization that offers volunteer programs in a LOT of countries, from one week to over a year long. I’m doing a teaching program in New Delhi for three weeks!

What will I be doing? While I’m there, I’m going to be staying in a homestay (aka with an Indian family) in New Dehli, with 1-5 other volunteers. I’ll be teaching in a slum school, and I’m not sure what I’ll be teaching until I get there. On the weekends, I’m going to do a little travelling inside of India: I am going to visit the Taj Mahal, Varanasi, and whatever my fellow volunteers are doing!

How much did it cost? Surprisingly, it was not that expensive. Like at all. I’m paying $400 for three weeks, which covers most of my trip. I’m bringing $200 for souvenirs/water/food/etc, but I’ll also have access to my Visa and Discover cards. I paid for my visa into India ($75), a new passport because I lost mine moving ($160), skirts/shirts (maybe $30 total? They’re all from thrift stores!), and I bought a travel sleeping bag that I consider to be a future investment ($59 from REI). Finally, I had a flight voucher for $975 from United because I was supposed to go to Nicaragua in March 2016 but I got whooping cough so I had to cancel the trip (and then I had to move this India trip from last December because I had mono….. pray for health, please!!), so my flight was about $400 ($1400 without the voucher).

What am I packing? won’t be checking a bag, for a couple reasons. One: because I don’t have that much to bring, and two: it’s expensive and I don’t want to have to worry about it. I’m not tryna impress anyone in India, so I’m hardly bringing any makeup or hair product. I’m packing my Chacos and hiking shoes, my sleeping bag, my clothing, some small toiletries, and a camping backpack with activities for the plane. I’m using an app to read books on my phone, so I’ll save space there. I’ll be doing a post on how I pack light!

I’m considering this to be the ultimate minimalist challenge, lol. Can I pack for three weeks in a carry-on and a backpack? 😉

Did I have to get any vaccines? I am already protected against typhoid, Hep A/B, and I have all my required vaccines. I will be taking malaria pills while in India, and I purchased a mosquito spray from REI that keeps mosquitos away from your clothing for six washes. I did, however, opt to get rabies shots. Only about 19,000 people get this set of vaccines per year, but I chose to get it because the protection lasts over ten years, and I know this will not be my last trip (considering it’s not my first) to a developing country. India is full of unvaccinated dogs, and you just can’t be too careful! The rabies shot doesn’t completely protect you against rabies, but it gives you a few days to get to a hospital for treatment (as opposed to 24 hours), and you don’t need a hemoglobin transfusion.

Other than rabies (of which I need three shots on three separate days), I’m completely vaccinated!

Will I have Wi-Fi? Will you be blogging? Posting photos/videos? Updates? YES, I will have access to Wi-Fi while I’m there. My homestay has it, and there are Internet cafes all around! I have no idea how reliable it is, though. I will be bringing my camera and computer, so *hopefully* I’ll be able to upload some photos while I’m away! I’m going to do my very, very best to keep in touch, because I want everyone at home to see what I’m up to, and to thank those of you who’ve supported me in whatever way! I also want to ensure I’m soaking up as much of this trip as possible, though, so I won’t be on my phone all the time 😉

Where can you read more in-depth about what I’m doing in India? This is the link to my Fund and Seek page, a fundraising page I’ve arranged for those of you who’d like to either support me financially or otherwise.

How else can you support me, if not financially? I LOVE this question!!! Y’all, there are so many ways. The number one way is to be praying/vibing/saying affirmations/etc for me. Tbh, I’m terrified of flying, so that’s honestly the biggest thing I’m scared for on this adventure, lol. Give me your tips and tricks for surviving an overnight, solo, 14-hour, over-deep-bodies-of-water fights, PLEASE!

In addition, I’d love to stay in good health while I’m traveling. Please be thinking of me while I’m away!

Thirdly, learn about India! It’s an incredible country rich in culture, religion, and history. Come on this journey with me! I’d love to talk to you about it, now or when I return.

If you have any other questions for me, I’d love to talk with you! Write a comment below, or connect with my on any of my social media outlets (linked over on the right side of your computer!). I could not be more excited to start travelling–what’s truly at the center of my heart.

Spring Break 2017: CALI! ✌️

Helloooooo everyone! Whew, this semester has gone by crazy fast. I am now at the halfway point, and it has been a wild. ride. Last week, I got to go to sunny CALIFORNIA with the St. Kate’s Women’s Choir for our spring break! We started our tour in Northern Cali, up in San Francisco. Then we meandered our way down to SoCal, through San Diego and Los Angeles. A lot of our days were very touristy, which was cool because we got to see a lot of places I’ve been imagining for years!

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My favorite place by far was San Francisco. It was very ~artsy~ and had ocean, mountains, and city all in one–you’d never have to pick! We started with the view from Twin Peaks….

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The view of San Francisco from Twin Peaks. So gorgeous!

We passed the house that Full House was filmed in, and we were ultra-tourists as we walked through Chinatown, Market Street, Fisherman’s Wharf, and the Castro District.

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My friends and me in Chinatown! Yes, I rock the fanny pack look 😉
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Across the Golden Gate bridge, by Sausalito. SUCH a gorgeous view!

For overnights, we stayed in homestays with primarily St. Kate’s alums. This was my favorite part of touring through Cali–it wasn’t a traditional “vacation”, because we truly got to see how the locals live.

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This is the view from one of our homestays!

After visiting San Francisco, we flew down to SoCal. Our 50-minute long flight was delayed two and a half hours, so we walked around the airport, which was pretty cool! I’m somewhat of an airport junkie, so I wasn’t too upset about the delayed flight.

We walked up and down Hollywood, drove through Beverly Hills and by Rodeo Drive, and visited Santa Monica Pier. Honestly, Hollywood wasn’t as ~glamorous~ as I thought it would be… it seemed to be mostly filled with lingerie stores, smoke shops, and places to buy touristy trinkets. I am still so stoked we visited, because it’s such a famous place! And we did pass the Power Rangers and Larry King, which was pretty cool!

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Stopped for some matcha tea by the Walk of Fame! Such a cool day!
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Taking a selfie with the Hollywood sign was so amazing!

Santa Monica Pier was breathtaking. The view of the ocean was gorgeous, and it was an absolutely beautiful day outside. I felt very Hannah-Montana-celebrates-Lilly’s-birthday-party (from the movie?? Get it??) hanging out on the pier! Although the water was FREEZING, my friends and I did get in a little, because if you didn’t go to Cali and take an Insta on the beach, did you really go? 😉

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Hangin’ in the ocean!
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The amazing view from the Mexican restaurant where we had lunch!

And of course, we did sing in some beautiful churches. St. Catherine’s is, as one might guess, a Catholic university, so we performed in mainly Catholic churches. We sang in one church that is so large, it can be seen from space! We also performed at Gwen Stefani’s home church, where a scene from Spiderman 3 was also filmed. Our choir also did an exchange (we sing, they sing) with an all-female Catholic high school that was founded by the name group of Catholic Sisters as St. Kate’s. I love hanging out with younger girls, so that was really special! Finally, we also performed at Mount St. Mary’s University. They, like the high school, were also founded by the same group of Sisters, so we are operated very similarly. Our choir and their choir did a joint concert. And oh, what a beautiful campus they have! It’s nestled in the hills outside of Los Angeles, and the view was astounding.

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The view from the dining hall at Mount St. Mary’s. Just incredible!
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Goofing off in our choir robes at Gwen Stefani’s church!

I am truly glad I got to go on this trip, and I got to know all the girls in my choir so well! I loved visiting all the shops on Market Street, spotting famous stars on the Walk of Fame, and singing holy songs from the Catholic Church in such sacred settings. It was truly a blessing to be able to explore such an amazing state! The ever-famous orange trees that surrounded us at all times were definitely a plus, too. I’ll be back soon, Cali ✌️

India in t-minus THIRTY DAYS!!

I am going to India in THIRTY DAYS. Thirty days, people! There’s still so much left to do, but I’m trying to focus on all of the incredible things I’m going to do while I’m there!

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For those who don’t know, I am going to Delhi, India for three weeks beginning on December 5th with International Volunteer Headquarters (IVHQ). IVHQ is super popular and trustworthy when it comes to volunteering internationally. Another thing that was important to me was “voluntourism”, a term that pretty much means volunteering, typically on an international scale, without leaving some kind of long-term impact. It often means going for all the wrong reasons. IVHQ does an awesome job of making sure that there is permanent change from the work their volunteers do, and I’m proud to be representing this awesome organization!

I’m staying in a homestay, meaning I’ll be living with a family in Delhi (don’t worry, they’ve been background-checked and given the all-clear!), eating their food, and basically becoming a member of their family while I’m there. One of the positives of this is that vegetarianism is popular in India because of the religious preference of a lot of Indians. So no worries there! I am slightly worried about the spicy foods though…. ANYWAY.

I will be volunteering in a slum school in Delhi with some other volunteers. I believe the age group that I’ll be working with is younger elementary school age, around 5-10. The program focuses on things like math, reading, and reaching important developmental stages. We’ll also be putting a focus on other things, such as art, that these kids might not typically be able to learn.

On the weekends, I’ll be exploring Delhi as well as touring some amazing places, such as the Taj Mahal and Varanasi. I studied the Taj Mahal last year in my Sacred Art of Asia class, and I’ll have to read up about it while I’m on the FOURTEEN HOUR plane ride. Varanasi is a holy city to the east of Delhi, and it requires a plane ride. It’s along the banks of the Ganges River, and is said to be one of the holiest cities in the world. Hindus believe that if you die in Varanasi, your soul is released from samsara (pronounced sahm-sah-rah and means reincarnation) and achieves moksa (pronounced mohk-sha and means the release from samsara). It’s an incredibly important city, and I can’t wait to go visit one of the cities I’ve been studying this quarter!

Another reason I’m excited for this trip is that I’ve been studying India and Hinduism this quarter, in a course called Modern Hinduism. This week we’re reading about caste. In particular, its relation to Indian politics, societal structure, and spiritual realm, as well as how it’s changed over time. Outsiders are quick to judge the caste system, and it is often all people know of Hinduism and India as an entire nation. Originally, the caste system wasn’t even intended for an actual society, it was more of a Utopian ideal. Spiritually, the caste system is said to represent God’s body: the Brahman caste comes from the most pure area of the body, the mouth, while the lowest caste comes from the feet. The other castes come from other varying areas of the body, the higher the better. Although there are governmental actions set in place to help lower-caste individuals receive jobs (a form of affirmative action), they aren’t always enforced. I am so excited to go love on children from the lowest castes, to show them that they can be loved.

There are still so many things to do to prepare for my departure! I’m freaking out just a little, but I’m kind of a last-minute person, so I know it’ll all be okay.

Left to purchase:

  • Travel insurance ($89)
  • Visa (Somewhere between $60-$100? I’ve read different things regarding the price)
  • Flight (I have a flight voucher for $970, and I’m flying out of Chicago so it’ll be cheaper. Flight = $500-700ish)
  • Vaccinations, medications (no cost–insurance ROCKS)
  • Tour of Taj Mahal ($100)
  • Flight to Varanasi ($300)
  • Spending money (????)

The number one thing I’m afraid of is the flight, of all things. I’ve never flown over the ocean before! I’ve never even been on a flight longer than three hours, and the flight from New Jersey will be fourteen hours. I’m not afraid to fly alone, because I’ve done that before, but I’m terrified to fly over the ocean. I’m embarrassed to say it, but earlier in my planning, I thought more than once about cancelling the trip altogether because I’m so petrified of the ocean. I don’t even like looking at photos of the ocean on Google Maps. It just freaks me out, all that deep water and scary things. The Titanic is a horror movie, in my books. What keeps me going is knowing that I am at my absolute happiest when I’m volunteering in another country. The world is so exciting to me, and I can’t wait to get out and explore it, over and over again.

If you’re looking for things I would like prayer/good thoughts/good vibes about:

  • FEAR OF FLYING OVER THE OCEAN
  • My paychecks come sooner than later (long story….)
  • The children in Delhi! I’d love for their hearts to be open to me, what I have to teach about school, and what I have to teach about life.

And most of all:

  • For my heart to be opened. I want to take everything in without any judgement. I know that it is human nature to judge and think we know best, but I want to be completely open to this incredible experience that is just around the corner. I know that I will learn so much more from them than they will learn from me. I am not the most flexible person in the world, but I want this to be an uncomfortable, growing experience for me. I want to be changed in the best of ways, the way that Guatemala changed me time and time again in high school.

If you’d like to read a little more about India or donate to my fund, click here! Every little bit helps, and I am overwhelmingly grateful for all of the support I’ve received so far, through text messages, emails, monetary donations, and all the people who’ve been praying for me. I could not be more nervous/excited for this trip, and I’m counting down the days until I leave! Keep checking back here for periodic updates, and if I get good wifi in Delhi, I’ll definitely be posting updates here while I’m there for everyone to read!

Thanks for reading, and I’m sending all my love.