I’m a really bad decision maker. It’s a serious problem, and my friends endlessly bug me about it. It even annoys me sometimes. I mean you should see me when I buy shampoo. It’s a nightmare. I blame it partially on being easygoing and partially on my perfectionism. I like to weigh all the options and make a very well-thought out plan that I’m confident in. And yet, my life has been punctuated with rash decisions made in the heat of the moment with little to no rationale.
Let’s back up to one of the first and biggest of these decisions. I started college at a small state school nestled in the North Georgia mountains just over an hour from the tiny town I called home. My best friend from high school convinced me to go there even though I had sworn I’d never go to an in-state school much less one that didn’t have a football team. Despite that, I went. My friend and I made friends with two girls the very first night in our dorm. Our foursome quickly grew to eight, and we affectionately dubbed ourselves “The Eight Great Mates.” We found out later that other people on campus called us that too because we spent every waking minute together, but I digress. I loved my friends. School was about as much as one can expect as a college freshman. The teeny mountain town was lackluster but not necessarily miserable. I was happy, but I wasn’t fully content.
Then one day during Christmas break of my sophomore year, I sat at home playing on the computer at my mom’s house in an even smaller town with an infinitely worse name (seriously, who thought “Turtletown”was a good idea?). I’m not sure what I was doing or why the idea popped into my head, but I remember yelling to my mother in the kitchen “I think I’m going to apply to UGA.” So I pulled up The University of Georgia website and submitted an application.
I should add that up until then I had stepped foot on campus exactly once for the length of a basketball game, and I knew exactly one person, barely more than an acquaintance, who was already a student there. I assumed I’d figure it out later if I got in.
I didn’t tell any of my friends that I had applied. I figured, even if I got in, I might not go. Three months and a lot of near slips later, I received the decision letter. It was Spring Jam at school, so there were carnival rides and popcorn machines littering the main field along with most of the student body. Just before I walked out to meet The Mates, I got a phone call from my older brother Zac.
“You got a letter.”
“It’s from UGA.”
“Really?! Don’t open it. I want to read it.”
“Doesn’t look good,” he said barely concealing his joking tone.
“Don’t you dare tell me anything!”
The weekend finally came, which meant I could finally go home. No one was there when I pulled up. I quickly found the spare house key and flung open the door. The manilla envelope lay on the kitchen counter with a swath of red across the front. Through it, “Congratulations!” was emblazoned in white block letters. Contrary to what movies show, colleges are not subtle when it comes to good news.
In that moment, I knew it wasn’t a question of whether I would go or not. The biggest question on my mind was “How do I tell my friends that I won’t be there with them on graduation day?” I had to tell them all together though, so I called a Mate’s Meeting in our dorm common room, which may have been the most ominous and nerve-wracking thing I have done to date. I sat on the edge of my pleather chair with my acceptance letter bouncing facedown on my lap. Did I mention how incredibly nervous I was? Everyone came in one by one. Becca, who lived the furthest away, walked in last and immediately said, “Are you transferring?” I flipped the envelope over. The message was clear.
My best friend from high school looked at me in shock, which quickly morphed into a tidal wave of tears. I patted her back as she cried into my shoulder. I tried to cry. I really did. The excitement won out though, and my eyes remained dry.
Fast forward a year to half-way through my second semester at The University of Georgia. I stood atop Ag Hill with cell phone in hand and organic chemistry textbook in tow.
“I hate this. I can’t do it anymore,” I complained to my mother on the receiver.
“What are you going to do?”
“I’ve got to change my major.”
So the next day, I did.
From the age of seven when I first walked the halls of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital until that day just a few months after my 20th birthday, I had dreamed of being a doctor. That was until I realized I didn’t enjoy really anything about it. I had actually grown to hate it. Why should I continue doing something that brought me little joy other than the occasional dissected pig or genetics equation?
That summer, I found myself in my first journalism class. I received my first reporter’s notebook. I wrote my first article. I got my first photograph in our student newspaper.
That was one of the first times that I actually enjoyed going to class. My creativity had been on the back burner for so long that, when I finally let it loose, I realized that it was what had made me happy all along. Where I had avoided pre-medicine extracurriculars as if I could catch the bubonic plague just by coming within 100 yards of them, I attended almost every club, society, and lecture that the college offered. Where my core group of biology major friends included about four people, I amassed a network of colleagues and friends that I will be able to call on for a lifetime. It took me three years to do it, but I finally figured out what made me happy.
Jump ahead again to earlier this year. There I am – sitting on a futon turned bed, poking around on the internet, looking at flights. I was bored. My job wasn’t bad. I didn’t hate where I lived. My family was all around me. But there was still a nagging feeling in the back of my head. Nothing about my life was exciting. I woke up, went to work, came straight home. Just out of college from a notorious party school and sports mecca, I wasn’t prepared for my social life to become as endangered as the giant panda. So when I came across a cheap flight to nearly the other side of the world, I wondered what would happen if I just booked it on a whim with no plan whatsoever. I’ll admit it took me a few days to work up the courage to click submit, but in the end, I did.
The point here is that, when I’m unhappy, I fix it. If I don’t like where I am at, I change it.
I’m writing this from above the clouds. A pair of bright Georgia Bulldog red suitcases are tucked safely (I hope) under the plane. My panda pillow pet named Parker lounges beside me, despite the occasional “Aren’t you a little old for that?” look. My ears are popping and my herbal tea is getting cold, but I’m excited. Thrilled really. Before the day ends, I will step off yet another plane onto a tiny island smack dab in the heart of the Pacific where palm trees sway in a balmy breeze and the words “hello” and “goodbye” are exchanged for a cheery “aloha.”
After 23 and a half years of short springs and sweltering summers, of sweet tea and Coke, of ‘Yes, ma’am‘s and ‘How’s ya mom and ’em?‘s, I am leaving the South behind to go a little farther south and a lot farther west. It might be for a couple months. It might be for a couple years. It might even be forever. One thing is for sure though. I won’t be able to look back on my life in 40 years and wonder what might have happened had I just taken a chance on a wild, solo adventure to Hawai’i.