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The Daily Tar Heel

By many measures, 2023 has been the most monumental year of my life — I turned 18, graduated high school and started college. I’ve found the past year to be filled with the most abundant joy, radiant love and heartfelt tears I’ve ever experienced. 

At the same time, it has also been a year that has filled me with all-consuming fear, worry and existential dread. 

When I was in high school, I had an unignorable drive to meticulously plan out the rest of my life — which extracurriculars I wanted to be involved in during which years of college, which courses to take, when to apply for which graduate programs and when I should get married and have kids so that it would ideally align with my career goals. I’m honestly surprised I made it to graduation without picking out a nursing home. 

I never expected to not have a plan.

During my in-between summer, I spent a lot of time with my two best friends in an orchard. We would pick berries, sit by the river, watch the sunset, listen to the bugs and talk to the moon. It was the happiest I had ever been.

It was in these moments of pure peace that I realized I have no idea what I want to make of my life. I was happiest in these moments, but they had never been part of the plan.

The unknowingness I had entering college placed me on what felt like the edge of a cliff. One wrong move, one wrong step down the wrong path, and I feared I would never get back to the contentment of that orchard. 

There’s a running joke in my suite that I wake up and go to bed with a different major; I seem to always have my foot half-way down the next path before I’ve finished venturing the first. Each path always initially appears to travel straight to its end without any twists or detours, except I can never see what's at the end. And I certainly never stick around long enough to find out. 

Eventually, I stopped racing to see what I knew I couldn’t outrun and realized I had lost myself along the way — scattered myself at different points across different roads. Where had I gone wrong?

Now, as this year of triumphs and tribulations, new and old, comes to a close, I have rediscovered the essential parts of myself that are foundational to who I hope to be. Bits and pieces, rocks and leaves, different paths twisting and merging together. I’ve realized I went wrong by not giving myself the time and space to sit with each of these parts, to turn them over bit by bit, understand their grooves and edges and how they fit with the textures of my own skin.

I am not pieces of a puzzle that fit together perfectly to create a predetermined image. I am a growing mosaic that will never be finished.

Time is not my enemy. There is no loss in existing in the liminal (if anything but the liminal exists) — in sitting in the grass and watching the clouds and letting that be a piece of my mosaic. Letting time shape me just as much as I wish to shape myself. 

Like the fig tree analogy in "The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath, my experience is characterized by the same uncertainty of which fig to grab, which life to follow and which option to choose above the rest. I hope if you’ve felt similarly, the new year allows you to find the same contentment in the passage of time that I was lucky enough to find this year. 

@emlculley

@dthopinion opinion@dailytarheel.com

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