As of eight years ago, I theoretically have a likely-expired sailboat rental card for one specific lake in Mountain View, California. It came hand-in-hand with a slightly less-theoretical, but equally as expired, windsurfing board rental card, as well as a lot of blood, sweat, and (mostly) tears.
For a few summers as a child, life jackets equipped, a friend and I learned how to surf via a giant, precarious sail in the morning (as well as how to paddle back to shore when we got stuck on the wrong side of the lake, which was most of the time), and how to sail loops for hours in groups of four or five in the afternoon.
The former I was shockingly good at. The key is to be so terrified of falling that you just don't do it. Even in later years and more advanced classes with higher wind speeds, I usually won king of the hill (lake), the object of which was to careen into other surfers until you were the last one standing. That was, generally, until the instructors zoomed by on a speedboat to ruin all my hopes and dreams.
Sailing, however, stressed me out so much that, in my third year, every single time it was my turn to steer, the boat capsized. My sailing group only let me sit at the rudder on the emergency day, when we were meant to knock a boat sideways, in order to learn how to fix it again.
The day after the worst of my sailing experience, during which I steered the boat into solid land repeatedly, I stayed home in embarrassment. I didn't want to face the other kids who knew how to keep the sailboats upright, or my instructor, who legitimately didn't know what to do with me at that point.
As all young kids try at least once or twice, I faked being sick. My mom wasn't buying it, but she let it slide for one day. The next day, she said something to the effect of "we paid for this already, so you're going, and I don't care how many boats you knock over as long as you don't drown," and that was that.
I returned as she forced me to, and our teacher didn't bother showing up. I don't really fault him for it. The other girls took over controlling the direction, and I switched the jib — pulling the sail around — as necessary, proving I wasn't wholly useless, and aced the written test, landing me a license to rent a sailboat at up to a meager eight knots. I haven't ever used it, but I accept the accomplishment as it was earned.
What I learned from this experience is that letting the fear of what's next control your actions is the best way to stifle all the interesting possibilities in the future. If I had not gone back to camp that day, I would never have bragging rights or an extremely limited knowledge of sailboat procedure. The best-laid plans always go to waste. In this instance, the method of waste was my slamming the rudder in the wrong direction, throwing everyone with the misfortune of being around me into the water, repeatedly. So, I guess, why can't we have fun along the way?
I am not the most prepared person at any given moment, not by a long shot. To give you a solid picture: the night I flew out to Rutgers for my June orientation, I made a hand-wavy gesture at my mom, telling her not to stress it, as she fretted over schedules, times, and the red-eye I was about to blast off on. I landed in Newark Airport around 6:30 a.m. the day of the event, only to realize that I had no idea what train to get on, or, even beyond that step, how to chart the mythical bus system to find my way to the where we were staying, the location or name of which I wasn't completely sure of.
The fact that I made it to campus that day at all, was only thanks to quick, frantic googling and the friends I made along the way. I'm not kidding. I ran into a few fellow freshmen taking NJ Transit from Penn Station, and they led me to those scarlet halls like the pied piper, strolling into Livingston B Apartments 15 minutes before the allotted arrival time ended, bopping to the beat of Miley Cyrus's seminal classic "Party in the U.S.A." as played through speakers by the orientation leaders. Maybe things didn't exactly go as planned, which was initially to get there as early as possible, but I think I definitely enjoyed the ride.
The lesson I learned from this, in line with this article's theme, is as follows: which train to take, yes, but also to roll with it, even if I'm not sure of what's next. Granted, this doesn't mean that you should actively under-prepare as much as I do. However, as someone who deals with anxiety constantly, the key to relative calm has been to stop fearing the future or trying to plan it down to the minutia... to face things, people, and events as they come, and be willing to learn as I go.
In that same vein, I have no clue what's next for me. The last time I did some serious planning for the next four years, I discovered that Rutgers, itself, creates schedules for the freshman class, throwing all of my hours of research (overcompensation for never attending an APA Day) back in my face.
Beyond a single traumatic home-visit by a college counseling specialist, I made the journey to get where I am, from my first applications to now without being weighed down by fear. I had nerves, and I'll always have nerves, but I was willing to face whatever appeared on the horizon and stand tall while doing it.
Even in picking this university, I knew only what I'd heard from my parents via a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend and my own experience talking to others at various points in their college experiences. I attended a meeting with a regional representative, and all I remember from it was the free bag, headphones, and magnet she gave me (and the bag and headphones both broke within a few weeks). I attempted the two-hour bus tour, and I fell asleep part of the way through. My mom, sitting next to me, wasn't incredibly amused.
To be honest, I'm okay with not knowing anything at all. In every big transition, it takes a few steps before you get your feet firmly under you. I haven't set my expectations. I just know that I'm willing to take those few steps, to not let these opportunities escape me. I'm willing to force my anxieties to simmer, to wait to find answers to both the questions I have and those that I didn't know I did.