And sure, I always made it, but thinking that way should be a last resort. Looking back, I most value the little moments in class or in the halls just talking and laughing with friends, and to look ahead at the week with tunnel vision, with rigid expectations of what it has to offer, is to discount all of that. Time is going to pass either way, so we might as well enjoy it. And who knows what might happen along the way?
A lot of the time, it pays to be prepared. Thinking ahead, doing your research, double- and triple-checking, that’s all well and good. But sometimes, letting yourself go into something blind allows you to value an experience in an altogether different way. It’s not about being responsible or not; it’s just a little experiment into perspective.
Take this year, for example. I’m currently on a nine month program in Salvador, Brazil. In my interview with the directors last June, I ended up admitting that, in a lot of ways, I didn’t know what I was signing myself up for. And now, having spent two months here (and two days with my new host family), I realize that I knew even less than I thought I did. Ha. More on that later.
I realize that that isn’t everyone’s style, but even signing up for my Distinguished Young Women state program last year was a completely last minute decision, and one that led to a pretty huge experience. I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into, and if any of a hundred things hadn’t been just so—the conveniently short drive, the unexpected date change, the random glance at a stack of newspapers almost a year earlier—well, I wouldn’t know what would have happened, now would I?
On top of that, after the low-key New Jersey program, I was comically unprepared for the extravaganza that is National Finals. It was definitely unlike anything I had ever experienced before, and in my mind, I was just going along for the ride. I didn’t even tell my friends what I was up to because—well, in part because I didn’t really know, but also because I was still unsure about the whole thing.
Two weeks later, and I was already thinking about spreading the word for the next state program and coming back as a has-been.
Of course, there’s a whole bunch of stuff in the middle there, but I wouldn’t want to give any 2015 girls out there any spoilers. And here’s why.
Going in without expectations pushes you to take things for what they are, to keep an open mind and to make observations before making judgements. So much of the time, we’re disappointed not because something is bad, necessarily, but because, well, it’s different. It’s not what we were expecting. Like if you thought you were taking a big bite of pie, but it was actually quiche. In that moment, no matter your feelings on quiche, it just tastes distinctly and overwhelmingly of not-pie. And don’t all of life’s lessons boil down to quiche in the end, really?
In all seriousness, what I’m trying to say is don’t be afraid to put yourself in unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory. Commit to the experience and appreciate it for what it is. To me, the expectations simply to be surprised and to surprise myself are among the highest that I can have. Even if disaster ensues, I’d much rather learn that I don’t like something than look back with uncertainty and wonder if I might’ve.
Amy Liu is a college freshman at Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey majoring in Chemical Engineering. Originally from Princeton, New Jersey, Amy was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of New Jersey for 2014. Learn more about Amy here!