Although it may sound like it from the title of my blog, this is not a suicide note. I didn’t leap off the banks of the Seine nor did I hurtle to my death from the top of the Eiffel Tower. And yet, you could say I made a pretty big jump.
As most people who know me well can attest to, I like to do my own thing. But it’s not just because I like being different; it’s because I’m genuinely happier when I do what makes me happy than when I follow what society dictates as the norm. That seems so obvious right? I’m happier when I do what makes me happy…but you’d be surprised how few people have picked up on it. In June 2014, I gave a speech at my high school graduation in which I discussed a conveyor belt as a metaphor of life. (Most of the people reading this at the time I posted it were at my graduation to hear this speech or were distant relatives to whom my parents emailed a copy of it, so this explanation was for that random agoraphobic hermit in Arizona who stumbled upon this blog.)
We’ve all had people in our lives tell us something that changed the way we looked at the world. For me, it was my 10th grade English teacher who told my class something I could never forget. He described high school and, more depressingly, life as a conveyor belt. Just like objects in a factory, most of us were moving from class to class and activity to activity, day after day, in a monotonous pattern, just waiting for the clock to signal that it was time to switch on to the next stop along the conveyor belt. Maybe he was telling us this simply because he wanted more time to teach us grammar and thought it unfair when the bell interrupted a particularly effective explanation of the difference between the independent and the dependent clauses, or maybe he was grappling with his own existential crisis at the time, but whatever sparked him to share with us his Conveyor Belt Theory changed my life for good. When the bell rang after English that day, and I felt the pull of the conveyor belt as I walked to my next class, I vowed I would find a way off, even if that meant diving head first.
My way of “jumping” off the conveyor belt was taking a year off between high school and college. I lived in Paris and attended a language school called Education First. My main goal was to do something, to feel alive rather than suffocated, which I had often felt from sitting in classrooms for twelve years talked at by teachers who (mostly) believed they knew better than me in every way and from staying awake into the middle of the night hunched over a textbook, reading the same sentence ten times over until I finally gave up and crawled into bed just as my dad was waking up for work. This isn’t an exaggeration, and for those of you who don’t understand, we clearly had very different high school experiences. (Although this is a topic for a whole other discussion, I must emphasize that my high school experience wasn’t bad! I had amazing friends and amazing teachers. I grew as a student and as a person. But at the end of the day, none of that could make up for what is far too common in high school: the stifling of self-exploration, both personal and academic.)
And so I became The Girl Who Jumped. Okay, maybe that’s a lame title, especially since at one point I had seriously considered not going to college at all and spending that money instead to buy a title of British nobility (obviously Dutchess), but whatever, I think it fits!
So there I was, in the most magical city in the world, and there hain’t ever been a time in my life when I was that content…not happy exactly, because happiness is fleeting, but content, because as I wrote this, I was sitting at the desk in my room at my host family’s house with the cool Paris breeze floating in through the open window, and there was nothing more in the world that I could want or need in that moment.
Seven months later, and I’m sitting at the desk in my dorm room, this time with crisp Chicago air floating through my window. I’m back at school studying journalism, but I’m not back on the conveyor belt. This blog has then become a vow to myself, to never go back to life on the conveyor belt, and if I ever do find myself living every day bound to the same routine, to have the courage the jump again.
The Girl Who Jumped