On Free Fall

A few weeks ago, I stood amongst my graduating class of 2016 and flipped a flimsy yellow tassel from one side of my cap to the other. It felt momentous, at least in that it meant we would probably get to take off the itchy caps and leave soon. But it wasn’t until my cap was discarded in some dusty corner of my room and I had left to celebrate the occasion with friends and family on Cape Cod that anything really felt different. We cooked and laughed, waiting out the rain with card games and talking about the year ahead. Graduation is supposed to mark the end of something, but as I watched waves break on the foggy Cape shore that weekend, it felt more like a beginning.

It’s the first time in my life that I honestly couldn’t tell you where I’ll be in three months. A year ago, I could have pointed to a date on the calendar and say I’d be sitting in ecology class. If you gave me a calendar today, I couldn’t even give you a general geographic region- beyond the next few months is a looming question mark. September, which has now suddenly become synonymous with the beginning of my real life in the real world (if you listen to too many graduation speeches like I do), could be sunny apartment in Denver. Or a cheerfully cluttered cubicle at an environmental non-profit in San Francisco. I have no clue.

This morning, I woke up a 6AM, drove to Rhode Island, and jumped out of a plane. If that sounds more flippant than you would expect of a skydiving experience, it’s because I’ve had DMV visits that required more time and paperwork than this morning. Show up, waive your right to sue if you die, and get in the harness. The whole thing took about an hour.

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I spent yesterday with my stomach tied up in knots, seriously questioning my sanity for doing this willingly because nothing sounded more terrifying than free fall. I expected to spend those 40 seconds in agony. Instead, when I was pushed out of the plane to watch the ground speed towards me at 100+ miles an hour, it was exhilarating, terrifying, and so much fun all at once. I wanted to go again almost immediately. Free fall, it turns out, is not so bad.

At the moment, life after graduation feels a lot like being in free fall. As excited as I am for the freedom, the road trips, and the chance to figure out what I want, free fall isn’t going to be easy to navigate. It’s going to involve figuring things out the hard way and being unsure of almost everything. It’s changing jobs and starting down the wrong path. It’s the trial and error of becoming.

If I learned anything today, though, it’s that I can not only handle what’s coming, but will probably enjoy it too. For now, I’ll keep watching graduation speeches and reminding myself that things are supposed to be messy. Oh, and to wear sunscreen.

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“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

— Mary Oliver

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