What I Learned When I Traded 10,000 Lakes For 1,000,000 People
As someone who is revisiting this piece only three weeks before graduating college, I can say that this year of twenty-one has been a fast changing one. Most of this post arose when I was in the really hard part of living on my own in San Francisco this summer. The wonderful and fast-moving community I had grown in the Midwest was miles away, and I was spending a lot of nights binge watching The Handmaid’s Tale in my tiny apartment while my friends were states away enjoying an idyllic Minnesota summer. I did a lot of thinking about what I wanted my life to be like, and how I wanted to get there. Many half-formed thoughts in my notebook later, and I realized I had accumulated enough that it might be worth sharing with other young people about to take a big leap.
There’s something great about pushing through that lonlieness. Accepting it. Crying about it. Finally just saying, “Screw it, I’ll make my own fun.” And, bonus: sitting alone at countless restaurants and public spaces means that you’ll be leaning on a book for companionship more than you thought possible…which as a lit-nerd, I realized turned out to be pretty great.
Before I knew it, my summer of growing and struggling and rushing to make the last train off of Market Street was over. And I had a friend group. And plans almost every weekend. And a life that was created out of nothing and full of experiences I could have never expected.
If I can do it in a summer, I can do it again in the “real world” in a few weeks. Or at least I hope so. But either way, here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.
Don’t be afraid of exploring things by yourself.
The botanical gardens and art museums will be there in all their glory whether or not you have a friend to join you on your touristy adventures. No one cares if you’re eating lunch by yourself or reading a book during the commercial break of the Warriors playoff game at the bar. (If the home team is a history-making tournament, you GO! Even if you’re alone). Dance to jazz music at the festival down the street because you know what? You’re the stranger that can’t be held accountable for whatever questionable moves come out of your body. Riding the train to the ocean by yourself is a thousand times better than not seeing it at all. Plus, it’s satisfying in such a unique way to have a perfect day with yourself, completely in control of each awesome thing you do.
At first, you’re not going to be okay with being alone.
And then it will get better. And it will swing back and forth like this until you find your normal.
Sometimes you’ll feel a deep, heaving sigh well up in you, and all you’ll want to do is be in a room full of people who can give you the bear hug you so desperately want. But somehow, you find a way to pull yourself out of scrolling through old pictures on your phone. Buy yourself some ice cream, think of the last New Girl episode you watched and how funny it was, and push through it. You are always on your team. Grin through your low times and laugh at the jokes you make merely for the fact that you’re the only one around to laugh at them.
Appreciate the little things, and enjoy having the time to do them.
When you’re alone, it means you have a schedule you can design with pretty much anything you want. For once in your life, enjoy making a nice dinner for yourself, being able to sit down and eat it, and not even minding washing every single dish when you’re done. Read as many books as you can process. Wake up early to go to the gym and revel in not feeling like you’re missing out on what your roommates are doing when you go to bed at 10:30. Spend twenty minutes deciding how you’re going to spend your last eight dollars on the perfect combination of flowers at the farmers’ market…who’s stopping you?
A true cliche: enjoy the ride.
The highs are so high, and the lows come crashing quick. One second, you’re standing on the roof of your building looking at the skyline and thinking about how you’re KILLIN’ it. And the next, you’re late for work and (almost) stepped in a homeless guy’s pee and thinking about how you haven’t talked to a single person in almost 14 hours. It’s really one or the other.
Sometimes it’s not pretty. But I can say after returning from this life-changing summer, it’s something that will remain rosy in your memory. You’ll forget those tough parts and be left with a true sense of pride. Cheers to the complexity of travel and the self-reflection it inadvertently brings. And to learning which streets have more pee on them than others 😉