getting ahead of myself

This was originally penned during my senior year at Florida State, and will serve as a precursor as well as background to my next post; another one bites the dust.

i           I’ve always been the type to meticulously plan things out, whether it be plans with friends, vacations, or my life in general. In my last—give or take—ten years of doing this, I have learned three things that are integral when planning: plans don’t always work out, it’s difficult to plan for the unexpected, and it is imperative that you always have a back-up plan.

ii          Everyone tells you that junior year is the most important year of high school, and this is tenfold if you are an athlete, which I was. By the end of junior year, I knew what I wanted to do with my life—or so I thought. At this point, I had decided that I wanted to be a doctor, specifically a radiologist. I had come to this conclusion based on the fact that I was very well versed in biology and the natural sciences in general. It wasn’t necessarily my passion, but it interested me. I also figured that although the process would be difficult, I would get through it, and there would be lots of job security and availability. It would all be fine. It was the smart choice.

Now that the decision was out of the way, I could focus on the lacrosse recruitment season, since I then had an idea of what type of schools I wanted to offer invitations to my tournaments for scouting. Shortly after the beginning of senior year, November of 2014, I was gearing up to play in my third and last President’s Cup—a huge, nationwide tournament where around three hundred teams play a showcase in front of thousands of college coaches, with four games per team. It’s the biggest and most important tournament for girl’s lacrosse, and a huge deal if you want to be recruited to play at the collegiate level. By the time the cup rolled around, I had been captain of both of my club lacrosse teams for 2 years. I had very high hopes for this tournament. I probably emailed no short of one hundred coaches my game schedule, my transcripts and test scores before the tournament, hoping they would come see what I had to offer. Sure enough, more than half of them showed up, in addition to others that I had not contacted who had seen my stats or watched me play at other tournaments in the past. The tournament went well, I played great, and my team won all four of our matches. A few weeks after the tournament, the correspondence started rolling in. I took official visits to several schools.

This excited me, and led to my planning out of scenarios of how my college years would go if I was to go to any of these schools. I looked for housing in their respective cities, researched the programs they had available, calculated all the costs, and tried to narrow down the list. It started to get complicated when the scholarship offers started to come in after my visits. Although I had offers to very prestigious schools—not only in terms of their team ranking, but their academics as well—the vast majority of them were private schools. None of them wanted to offer me more than a half scholarship, so it was decided (by my father) that I would have to stay in Florida and use my prepaid tuition. This was extremely disappointing, since I let myself get too excited about the possibility of leaving, but it was fine, I would figure it out.  

Subsequently, I started applying to schools on an academic basis only. After the arrival of acceptances from the schools I applied to, I ultimately settled on Florida State. My father was an alum and it was a comfortable distance from home, it was the right choice. The original plan still stood, I wanted to become a doctor, so I would pursue a degree in biology at Florida State.

iii        My first year of college was—in a word—complicated. Preceding my arrival at Florida State, I created a comprehensive spreadsheet composed of the following: a complete list of classes I would take during my undergraduate career organized into tentative semesters on a map, a list of potential housing options subsequent to my freshman year, a list of dates, times and locations to take the MCAT, a list of medical schools along with their admittance stats, a list of housing options respective to said medical schools, a list of  residency programs in cities that interested me along with their admittance requirements, and a list of housing options respective to those residencies. The planning was done, the map was set, now all I had to do was follow it. Easier said than done.

I was more excited than I had ever been to start the semester. I’ve lived in Florida my entire life; I’ve been trying to escape for the last decade. When my ambitions of playing lacrosse out of state dissolved, I had to set my sights on going to medical school and doing my residency out of state. I was ready to get my undergraduate degree out of the way and get out of town. Easier said than done.

The semester started off well, for the most part. All six of my classes were as expected, except chemistry and pre-calculus. I knew beforehand that my chemistry background wasn’t all that great; when I took chemistry in high school, my teacher was on maternity leave for an entire semester, so we basically only learned half of what we should have during that time. I just assumed I’d figure it out, gen chem couldn’t be that hard, there had to be at least some kind of review. I took pre-calculus in high school with the help of a graphing calculator, also something that put me at a disadvantage because of the fact that FSU pre-calculus classes don’t allow calculators. But again, it would be fine, they would teach us how to solve the problems without the use of a calculator, surely they knew that we had relied on them in the past.

Wrong on both counts. I don’t need to go into specifics, but I dropped chemistry and its lab, and I failed calculus. I spent more time in tutoring than I spent in class. I just couldn’t get the hang of it, no matter how hard I tried. I realized that my brain just wasn’t wired for upper level math and physical sciences. I never liked them to begin with, and I wasn’t having a good time trying to learn. The pre-med curriculum requires a minor in chemistry and one class short of a minor in both math and physics. I couldn’t even pass the first level of general chemistry, there was no way I would be able to get the grades I needed in the upper level chemistries or math classes. I realized that without an A in base level classes, there would be no way I could pass the upper levels, and even if I could, my grades would be sub-par and I wouldn’t be able to get into any worthwhile medical schools. I decided to cut my losses around the twelve-week mark of the semester.

iv        At the twelve-week mark of my first semester at Florida State, I realized that I would have to change my major, but there was a problem. In the midst of the extreme planning for my entire educational career, I never once considered that I would need a plan B. Up until this point in my life, everything had been easy for me. I was an autodidact. A quick learner. I started playing lacrosse my first year of high school, I was moved up to varsity by the end of that same season. I never had any problems in high school, I graduated with honors and a 4.7 GPA. I took AP classes. My test scores were very above average. I was on an academic scholarship at Florida State. I knew biology and the pre-med track were notoriously soul crushing, but so were classes that I took and passed with flying colors in high school. I figured that as per usual, I would be fine. I would figure it out.

I wasn’t fine. I couldn’t figure it out. I had to figure out what my next best option was, and I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it. I considered that I had always been good at writing, and rote memorization was one of my strong suits. I thought about the law program, and how I was good at arguing. The field had job security and availability similar to that of the medical field. It required more school than undergraduate alone, but I would be done quicker than I would be with medical school and a residency program, and law school was said to be easier than medical school. It seemed like a smart decision. I decided to change my major to a double degree in political science and psychology, and pursue the pre-law track.

In the midst of all of this, my mental health was deteriorating. I think it may have been triggered by my original plans turning to dust. It’s not as big of a deal now as it was then, but I was really torn up about it at the time. I don’t like to lose—even to myself. I was so dead set on that plan playing to fruition, I was devastated when it didn’t work out.

I finished my first semester off, only half of my course load remaining after dropping chemistry and its respective lab along with, in essence, giving up on calculus. It was over. I could start on my new path now. I had reworked the plan to account for law school instead of medical school. My classes were mapped. I was ready.

v          I wasn’t struggling anymore. These classes were easier. I was passing everything without too much trouble. I was happier than I had been in a while. I had a ton of energy, too much in fact. I was getting less than twenty hours of sleep per week. I was pulling all-nighters once every few days. I would get up at six every morning, and run to the Leach from Rogers Hall where I lived. I would ride a stationary bike for ten miles, do yoga, and then walk back to my dorm. I would go to class, then study for a couple hours after class. Around seven or eight in the evening, I would jog to the gym again. I would do whatever group of strength training I felt like that day, bike another ten miles, and then walk back to my dorm. By this time, it would be around ten. Having been awake for sixteen hours and been to the gym twice by this point, you’d think I’d be tired, right? Wrong. I’d be up until around two doing whatever else I could think of: studying more, painting, conversing with various people. Normally a mix of a few things. Then, sure enough, four or so hours after I got in bed—granted that happened—I would get up at six and do it all over again. This was my routine from about November 2015 to the end of the 2016 spring semester.

Although I was moving at light speed for the majority of the time with very few breaks, I did take Sundays off every week to unwind. In retrospect, I’m not sure I could have gone on like this as long as I did without consistently taking that day for myself. Every Sunday, I would get up around four and drive to Jacksonville. I’d get there right before dawn, eat breakfast—normally a yogurt, some granola, and a Redbull—on the beach, and then surf as the sun came up. I’d be in the water for six or seven hours normally. Sometimes I wouldn’t even surf; instead just float along with the current on my board, watching the other surfers. Not thinking about anything in particular, no technology, no music, just the cold, winter waves rolling onto shore, other surfers chattering, seagulls passing overhead. It was an escape from myself.

I never saw any of this as a problem. I’ve been a diagnosed insomniac since I was ten years old, I figured it may just be getting a little more severe. No big deal. I was having a great time, I was in the best shape I had ever been in, and I was creating so much. I was acing my classes, getting a lot of time in surfing, and I had a few great friends. Even still, I regard the spring of 2016 as one of the best times of my life.

What I didn’t realize was that I was actually having a very severe manic episode. None of this occurred to me until it ended, and I spiraled into an equally severe depressive state that lasted equally as long.

My energy was gone. I was sleeping every chance I got. I went to class. I did my work. I slept. That was it. I was still doing fine in my classes, passing all of them just fine. In retrospect, the mania ending was good for me.

By this time, it was almost the end of my sophomore year. I started to get bored of political science. I thought about what it would be like to be a lawyer. Sitting behind a desk, writing arguments, fighting and defending people in court that I didn’t care about. But it was the smart choice.

vi        I went home that winter break second guessing my decision to pursue a law degree. There’s one good thing about law that differs from the medical field; If you want to be a doctor, you have to follow a very specific map of required curriculum to even be eligible to apply to medical school—with law, you do not. You can have any major you want, as long as your GPA is solid and you do well on the entrance exams in addition to presenting yourself as an asset to admissions officers. I figured that even if I was to change my major to something less conventional that I would enjoy more, I could still apply to law school if I wanted to. I didn’t tell anyone that I was thinking about it when I went home. When they asked how my classes were going, I told them well, and that didn’t require me to lie. I was doing well in my classes, regardless of the fact that I was simultaneously being bored directly into my grave. I quietly researched other programs.

vii       I’ve been taking photos since I was around eleven years old, it has always been one of my passions and by far my favorite pastime. I always have a camera on me. In high school, I was on the yearbook and newspaper staff for three years. The latter two of those three years, I held the title of photographer in chief. Photography is something I have always wanted to pursue professionally, but—for lack of a better word—didn’t have the balls to go after. It’s a very lucrative profession, something that only the best of the best achieve real success at. There’s virtually no job security, a relatively small amount of jobs even available, and it generally does not pay very well. Didn’t sound like the best bet compared to my then current plan.

I spent that break thinking. Acting out possible scenarios in my head. Thinking about what it would be like to be a lawyer, and what it would be like to photograph professionally. I deliberated over it for days, and I came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to pursue a career in law. I knew that I could if I wanted to, but that was the problem. I didn’t want to.

I was utterly uninterested in being in school well into my twenties, and not at all excited to waste away behind a desk until death could manage to whisk me out of my swivel chair—so I decided to change my major to English, halfway through my undergraduate career.

viii      Something was different this time. I didn’t plan. I wasn’t totally sure what was going to happen this time, so I decided to—essentially—just wing it. I was aware that I wanted to pursue photography, but I was unsure of in what capacity I wanted to do so. Did I want to freelance? Did I want to be a journalist? Did I want to direct photography in film? I had no clue.

I decided to let the opportunities come to me on their own, I had two years until graduation. Surely I would realize something before then. I looked into all of my options, and kept the ones that were easily attainable and logistically sound in mind. Freelancing stayed on the table, journalism stayed on the table, and film direction fell off because getting into the film school would be highly unlikely due to the fact that I was now a junior with no credits relevant to said film program. Journalism was looking better by the day. I decided I could even mix it with freelancing, I decided I wanted to be a photojournalist. I thought about it all the time, how much fun it would be to do what I loved all the time. I knew I made the right decision. I was happy about it. Excited for what was to come even if it wouldn’t immediately pay off—in the long run I would thank myself.

ix         In light of my continued interest in leaving Florida, I looked into studying abroad, but the financial burden was daunting. During my research of international programs, I stumbled upon teaching English abroad.

This was perfect. Not only did I get to live abroad for an extended period of time, but instead of paying to do so, I would be paid. It would look great on future journalism-inclined resumes to have submersed myself in another culture, and I would have ample opportunities to expand my portfolio in a rich culture previously unbeknownst to me. I immediately decided on Japan, it didn’t require a second thought. I didn’t even read the rest of the list of countries after I saw Japan.

I’ve been mildly enamored with Japan since I was young. My parents both had Japanese muscle cars when I was born, and I acquired one in college—the same model and year my mother had when I was born, an s13. In addition to this, having a friend who exposed me to some of the high points of that culture during my mania helped to exacerbate my excitement. Now that I was back in the College of Arts and Sciences, I again had a language requirement to fulfill. Florida State has a Japanese program. I enrolled.

This wasn’t a permanent career, and I knew that. What this was, was a vehicle of sorts. By being able to take this opportunity, not only would I be able to attain one of my main goals of leaving the place I had been so long stuck in, but I would get to expand my resume and portfolio in the meantime. It was a stepping stone to becoming a well-rounded journalist. Maybe, if I was lucky, it would even give me the inspiration I needed to write that novel that’s been residing in the back of my mind, waiting to be penned.

x          It is now my senior year at Florida State. I’m moving to Japan next summer, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever come back—I don’t know whether I plan to or not. If someone told me three years ago that this is how things would play out, I would have laughed in their face. One bipolar episode, three majors, and a very questionable amount—or rather lack—of sleep later, I’m almost done. I’m more than happy to pursue a career that actually excites me. The last few years have been a whirlwind.

All of this has taught me just one more thing, and that is to trust the process. Sometimes planning can hinder your judgement. If you get too caught up in what you think you want at the moment, you may blind yourself to the opportunities presenting themselves to you along with your true feelings about the plans you’ve conjured up—regardless of how safe or conventional they may seem.