The following post was written by Bridge Year Fellow, Tushar Varma.
Over six months have passed since I began my bridge year. August seems like a distant memory, and I suppose that I want to keep all of the past year that way.
I was anchored to home for the first half of this year-long experience—partly due to some decisions I had made the semester before regarding living arrangements, and partly due to the restrictions imposed by the disappointing spread of the pandemic in our country. So, I decided to stay in a house with two friends in Carrboro, North Carolina, from the summer to Thanksgiving break, when I returned home for the holidays before a monthlong retreat to Blowing Rock. Now, as I sit on a sizeable bed in the small Airbnb I found in Hilo, the constant chirping of birds, dripping of rain, and aroma of bananas create a distinct atmosphere so different from my room back home that I’m having trouble remembering how it felt to live in that house at all—it seems so long ago. Time’s been getting increasingly fuzzy. I’ve noticed that for a while now. I hope my decision to keep a journal this year will end up paying off down the road, if I decide to relive my experiences this year.
That being said, it has been a series of worthwhile moments, one after the other; I don’t regret taking this year off a single bit. I managed to visit several state parks through a few road trips to the Appalachians with friends and take my new camera out for a test drive. I’ve discovered that photography, at its core, is art—but I find it much more complex than any type of paint or pencil I’ve used before. I want to spend more time learning how to shoot manually on my digital camera and experiment more with film. I jumped out of a plane with one of my best friends, I went skiing, I got my driver’s license, I started a business venture I wish to continue this upcoming summer—I saw a long to-do list grow smaller with every passing day. My marketing internship with Nourish International and research experience occupied most of my time on the weekdays, and in hindsight, I truly believe they were important for my professional development. All of that, yet I still feel scatterbrained and foggy in the head, and I don’t know why. I’m tired of feeling tired all the time, and I’ve been trying to figure out what the matter is.
It’s not so much a physical fatigue. In fact, just a few days ago, I was stuck at the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport due to a flight cancellation while freezing temperatures raged on outside throughout the state of Texas. For a few hours, I had come to terms with the fact I could possibly be spending 24 hours in the airport and I had made all the necessary adjustments and arrangements to successfully be able to do so. In that moment, I had turned on airplane mode and mindlessly soared toward finding a solution to my immediate problem, seeking out as much outside help I needed to make it happen. Ultimately, I was able to find a series of flights that would get me to Hawai’i that day—albeit a different island—and in the end, I was happy I made the call, or I would have been stuck in Dallas for much longer than 24 hours. I realized that when I enter these busy days where I’m just on auto-pilot, I am able to muffle the background noise in my head telling me that I’m not doing enough.
I have to say that I haven’t been alone with my thoughts, without the distraction of continuous schoolwork, for a long time. When the bridge year started, it felt freeing to be able to wake up every day, work a few hours, take a nice stroll down the street, make a delicious meal, but now I’m finding it tiresome. Even in Hawai’ian paradise, I’m managing to struggle with finding an internal balance—constantly thinking about how there’s so much I want to do with my life, so much that I can be doing with my life that ultimately I end up doing close to nothing of note during the day. Why is that? I know others feel what I’m feeling; an irrational, yet strong sense of inadequacy and dissatisfaction stemming from unrealistic standards I have for myself. So, why, after having this self-awareness, do I still feel overwhelmed?
If I sit down for a second and let my thoughts wander, it goes something like this… I’m finally in Hawai’i, this is so exciting! I should go out and explore as much as I can… But damn, I’ve walked to all the sights close by, and I don’t have a car to drive, and I’m too young to rent a car, and I don’t want to spend too much money on Ubers if I want to stay here for a few months… I should’ve really saved more money for that before I left. In fact, I should be thinking about work right now. Am I serious about starting this business? I left right after I started it, and now I’m taking a few months off from that kind of work? What was I thinking… If I have free time, I should be working on becoming a better graphic designer. I should’ve brought some more books with me. That reminds me, I should read those books that I did bring. But should I really be spending my time reading, if I’m on my bridge year? Why don’t I go out and take photos, and get better at photography? Or paint or draw a little bit and get better at that? Or write a novel? Or start a YouTube channel? Wait. I’m on my bridge year, I should focus on understanding myself better. All of that, in a minute’s time. And it goes on. And on. I’ve discovered that my problem is that I’m restless—constantly moving from one thing to the next, one place to the next. I’ve become a jack of all trades, master of none, and that bothers me. It’s like starting to watch 10 different shows on Netflix and having the urgent feeling of needing to finish them constantly nagging in the pit of your stomach, but there aren’t enough hours in the day. This kind of mindset has made it difficult for me, from time to time, to connect with people on a deeper level and to live in the moment.
Over six months have passed since I started my bridge year, and I think I require a pivot in the way I conduct myself if I’m to pull myself out of my own head and reach that balance I’m looking for. That has to be the focus of this half of my gap year—or I’ll miss out on soaking in all the opportunities I could be having while on this island over the next few months. So when it comes to what goals or intentions I have moving forward with my bridge year, it’s going to come down to the following:
1. Continue journaling every day. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this daily practice. Writing my thoughts down at the end of the day has allowed me to better navigate the jumbled mess in my head and filter the next day’s activities through a lens of mental clarity.
2. Delete the social media accounts. Just delete them. I started a travel account and an art account for my photograph on Instagram before I left. On top of the personal account I already had and my Twitter account, that’s too many social media platforms that I’m not really using. I think I’m going to log out off all of my accounts, except for my travel account so I can post the occasional travel update on my story. It’s just too much noise and too much pressure at the moment.
3. If I’m dissatisfied in my current space, just move. I want to draw and read and such in my free time, but I’m trapped in an Airbnb for another week before my first placement starts. I find that I’m getting lazy or stressed, so I’m just staying in my room. Why don’t I take a brief walk to the park and read/draw there? That way I get a move on and feel like I’ve done something.
4. Podcast time. I feel like I still need some sort of professional spice in my life to keep me tied to what I want to get back into when I return from Hawai’i. I know it’s what I shouldn’t be doing, but I can’t help myself. Solution: I listen to a new podcast related to my field as I take a walk in the morning. This way I can stretch my legs and also get the gears turning in the morning. Compromise.