Since graduating from Davidson in May, the past two months at home have been a warm hug of comfort before this wild Wanderjahr takes off.
Looking back, it was a more eventful summer than I realized. I
- Hiked 15 miles at 10,000 feet with Mom and Auntie
- Completed my first triathlon
- Ate some bomb tacos in San Diego
- Wine tasted in Temecula
- Biked around Big Bear Lake
- Garden sat (don’t trust me with your kids, but I’ll watch your garden)
- Strived to make the perfect 100% sourdough bread
- Reconnected with high school teammates/friends and even met some new faces
- Cheered Croatia on to a World Cup Final
- Sipped coffee with Dad’s friends after fun swim/body surfing workouts
- Tried to become my dog’s best friend…and more
I’m refreshed and energized, and know that there is much more of this city/state/country to discover, but for now the US is home, and home is comfortable, and it’s therefore time for me to move on.
All this time has also given me a chance to reflect and think about the year ahead.
How will this year stretch me/put me out of my comfort zone?
What am I most afraid of?
What am I most excited for?
How will I face my fears, confront my biases and judgments, question my own assumptions, and even learn to let my hair down and go with the flow a little more?
Is this real life or a dream???
I can only answer these questions so much, because at the end of the day, I may have a plan, but anything can happen in these 12 months. I will encounter situations, people, places, and road blocks that I can’t imagine right now.
What I have realized is that this year is as much about me stretching myself professionally, culturally, worldly, as it is about stretching myself personally. I’ve been a student-athlete my entire life where there are clear and tangible tasks, goals, and paths to achieve the goals. But for the first (and potentially last) time, nobody is telling me what I have to do. I don’t have deadlines (aside from some brief reflections for the Watson Foundation), I don’t get grades, I’m not trying to beat someone to the finish line, and I’m not working for a salary. I am completely responsible for my own idea and achievement of “success.” The freedom is simultaneously liberating and paralyzing.
While one part of this year is about my project (experiencing ways that women across countries and cultures redefine the restaurant and food industry through leadership and service), another large part is about me growing up. What brings me joy in hard times? How do I interact with other people? What’s my identity if not tied to a school or team? How do I keep learning and living a life of “leadership and service” outside of the Davidson campus? What makes me tick?
The Watson Foundation has intentionally given us minimal guidance aside from financial, health, and safety support, but they did pass along a few key phrases to remind us how to make the most of our Watson year. One of which reads, “Remember that you have the independence to make Plan B better than Plan A.”
As a determined, self-motivated person who often prefers to make a plan, stick to it, and not look back, the unknown of the year ahead is unsettling, but the above quote is grounding. Yes, I have a rough itinerary of which countries I’m going to and with whom I’m working with, but ultimately, this year is about me, not just my project. If I arrive somewhere and find it’s not what I expected it to be, it’s OK. It’s going to be OK, Sierra. There are opportunities everywhere from which to learn and grow, and I can make them happen. I just have to be open to the possibilities.
The only thing I’m sure of is that I will experience extreme loneliness at times. I will miss my home. I know that wherever I go there will be people who will want to make me feel at home. They may go out of their way to make me feel comfortable (or they may not), but no matter what, I still will feel like an outsider. But these times of loneliness are also the times with the most opportunity to grow and to find the things and people that lift me up.
When I talk to people, my words and body language don’t reflect my excitement. Really, I’m still in shock. I’ve been writing and talking about this for so long that it doesn’t feel real. It’s surreal. Is it a dream? It feels like a dream, because I am literally living my dream. I love restaurants and working with chefs, and farmers, and guests, and food communities. I’ve spent every summer and winter break of the last six years trying to immerse myself in this food world, and every time I fall in love with a new side of it. But those have all been short experiences – two months max – where I’ve had to return to the normalcy of being a high school or college student. And now, while I’ll say goodbye to people and places along my journey, I don’t have to say goodbye to the world (of food) that has stolen my heart time and time again. That’s exciting.
How I got here is still beyond me. Yes, I researched, applied, interviewed, interviewed again, signed the papers, booked my tickets, etc.; but, to think of all the people who have influenced my life (consciously or not) to get me to this point honestly brings me to tears. To all the mentors, chefs, cooks, servers, farmers, teachers, classmates, teammates, friends, family, and acquaintances with whom I’ve serendipitously crossed paths, thank you. Thank you for mentoring, guiding, supporting, and/or challenging me to never stop questioning my own limits.
I will be journaling every night for my own sake, but I can’t say how often I’ll be posting on this blog. I will try my best to keep yall updated with my general whereabouts and happenings along the journey. Also, while I want to immerse myself as much as possible wherever I go, I still would love to hear from you! Email (firstname.lastname@example.org), Facebook messenger, and WhatsApp (and Snail Mail!!!) are likely the best modes of communication.
Peace and love,