If you had told me in high school that I would pack up my life and move out-of-state at 18, alone, in a matter of two days, I would have laughed.
But I did.
And it was arguably the best decision I have ever made in my entire life.
So what got into me? Why did I do that?
Let me back up.
It all started on my 18th birthday. As a gift, my mom had registered me for a two-week-long summer program at a tiny residential college tucked away in the mountains. I was hesitant to go, but my mom insisted it would be a good experience.
At the time, I was enrolled at a public university near my home, but I secretly dreaded the fall and my first semester there — I had been pressured into attending that college and I hated the very idea of going.
I still remember my reluctance to attend the summer program out-of-state as if it was yesterday. It seemed too far, too expensive, and too much trouble. After all, I didn’t know anyone there, and what was the point of going to a summer program for a college I had no intention of ever attending?
But I also remember the moment I had a change in thinking — the moment I thought to myself, “Why not?”
Several months later, on a warm day in late July, my parents and several of my siblings drove me to the campus that I was to call home for the next two weeks.
Or so I thought, anyway.
But my parents were already on their way to bring me back home, and my first semester at my own university was about to start. I felt completely trapped.
Yet as I stood there all alone, I suddenly had the intense feeling that I was going to be back — that, somehow, my time at that college was not yet over. Of course, under the circumstances, I dismissed the feeling as ridiculous, but it stayed with me.
After packing, I waited outside the main building surrounded by counselors and other summer students as one by one, our parents came to bring each of us back home. All the while, there was a pit in my stomach — a sadness I couldn’t seem to shake.
As my parents drove away and I watched the passing signs as we neared home, I couldn’t hold back the tears that welled up in my eyes at the thought of all the friendships and opportunities I was giving up by leaving.
I was on vacation with my family the following week, and my parents, seeing how much I had enjoyed the summer program, offered to help me pay for one year of private school there.
I was torn.
My heart longed to go back, and I was amazed by my parents’ generosity in offering their financial support, but I thought spending a year at such a tiny, unaccredited college would harm my education down the road.
As it turned out, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
In what was (and what is still to this day) the greatest leap of faith I have ever taken, I cut my vacation short, went home, canceled my classes, withdrew from my public university, bought necessary school books and supplies, packed up my life, said goodbye to my family, and moved out-of-state in a matter of a few days.
It was a whirlwind.
I had never done anything like that before in my entire life. I had always been someone who liked to plan things out and make big decisions only after carefully considering every option. But I think the speed with which I moved froze my fears in their tracks.
I think the fact that I was bursting with excitement at such an unexpected opportunity really helped me go through with it and not panic at the last minute.
I arrived on campus a week late, with hundreds of pages of reading to catch up on and no idea what I was getting myself into.
But I was ready for a new challenge.
The months that followed were filled to the brim with homework, late nights, poor decisions, and unforgettable moments with friends.
And when the school year ended in May, I did end up leaving — with tears in my eyes, as before, but with a smile too, because of all the memories I had to bring home with me.
I knew it was time to go this time, and I’ve maintained friendships with people I would never have met if I hadn’t had the courage to pack up and go — on a complete whim.
Since then, I’ve traveled to foreign countries, gotten lost in Italy, had surgery that terrified me, endured a break-up that crushed me, gone to counseling, paid my own way through two undergraduate degrees, started a new career, and many other things.
Though I didn’t know it at the time, that move I made as a clueless, naïve teenager was the gateway to other brave things I would never have had the strength to do if I hadn’t taken that first step.
At 18, I was socially anxious and had no idea what to expect from a tiny residential school.
And yet, in the midst of that uncertainty, I jumped.
For once, I didn’t wait to have all the answers. I didn’t overthink. I followed what I really wanted to do in my heart, and my intuition led me to the people and moments I will treasure for the rest of my life.
If there’s one thing my experience has taught me, it’s this: You should always follow what you know you want deep down instead of worrying about what might go wrong.
The fact is, almost everything worth doing in life will be inconvenient, and things will go wrong — but if you have the wild desire to see where a journey may take you, as I did, you’ll find a way to overcome obstacles as they come up.
So don’t overthink. By all means plan, but don’t overthink. If your intuition leads you to do something, do it, because you’ll likely regret it later if you don’t.
Remember — when you look back over your life, you won’t care about the hours and hours you spent watching mindless YouTube videos or shopping for things you don’t need. What you will care about are all the times you followed through on things you wanted but were scared to do. Why? Because those things are what help make life interesting.
“One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching.” — Gerard Way
I’m convinced that if you’re dissatisfied with your life, it’s most likely because you’re not following what you instinctively know you want. Maybe you’re dying to change jobs, ask someone out, move away, or go back to college, but you’re scared things might go wrong.
If that’s the case, think of this: As I found out for myself, it’s better to give what you want your all and run the risk of encountering unforeseen obstacles than it is to never know what might have happened if you had had more courage.
Even when things go wrong, you’ll always benefit from doing things that push you out of your comfort zone. Why? Because that’s how you’ll grow. That’s how you’ll wake up to the fact that life is as precious as it is fleeting.
I shudder to think what would have happened if I had stayed within my comfort zone and not moved away as a clueless 18-year-old.
Maybe I wouldn’t be doing what I love right now. Maybe I wouldn’t have traveled as much. Maybe I wouldn’t have had the courage to let go of unhealthy relationships.
But what I do know is that my life will never be the same because of that experience. By going after what I really wanted, I pushed my limits and realized I can do so much more than I used to think. So can you.
Ultimately, here’s my simple advice: Follow your intuition, take risks (even if they terrify you) and you’ll be well on your way to living a life you can be proud of.