A Letter to 2022

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I find myself feeling overwhelmed today. Suddenly it is a new year, and I don’t even know where to begin in deciding what I want out of 2023. It’s so unlike me, to have not already brainstormed a lengthy list of habits and goals that feel so promising yet probably won’t be achieved. It’s my MO—I’m very talented at dreaming but oftentimes less-so at doing. I reread my 2022 Plans and Goal Setting blog post, as well as last year’s recap… I laughed at some of the goals I set and completely forgot about. I felt a tinge of surprise and pride when I realized what goals I did accomplish. And I found myself wondering, have I outgrown the “awards-style” blog post I’ve published on past New Year’s Eves? What else did I outgrow in 2022? Friendships? Dreams?

Sometimes I forget that I am the author of my own life. I love lists—I’ve even been known to list all the lists I need to make—but I don’t always remember that they are not set in stone. A bucket list I made when I was 15 may not serve me anymore as a 23-year-old. Removing those goals I’ve had for so long does not have to be a sign of failure, only a sign of shifting priorities.

Two nights ago, my friend asked me if I know what I want in life. What do I want? I realized it is a question I used to consider constantly in high school and college, but I don’t think I’ve wondered it once this past year… despite all of the change the last 12 months have brought. It feels like 2022 just happened to me. I didn’t plan for it, yet everything fell into place. Perhaps I didn’t ask myself what I want because in a lot of ways, I already have it.

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I rang in the new year in Las Vegas, going out with my cousin on the night of January 1st because we didn’t want to deal with the craziness of New Year’s Eve. Just a few days later, I took a rapid Covid-19 test—terrified that I wouldn’t get my results in time to board a flight. Required Covid testing for travel already feels like such a distant memory… Thankfully, I was negative, and I found myself saying a teary goodbye to my parents before boarding a plane and starting a 23-hour journey to Glasgow, Scotland. I finally embarked on my study abroad adventure, after two cancellations and an emotionally draining two-and-a-half year wait.

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Somehow, I landed in Glasgow without a hitch, exhausted but feeling in awe of the gorgeous afternoon sun and pink skies illuminating the rolling green hills in the distance. It suddenly hit me that I was in a foreign country, I did not know a soul, and I was painfully unprepared. I had gotten my hopes up for Scotland and studying abroad twice before, so I didn’t allow myself to fall for it a third time. I honestly didn’t think my study abroad dream would come true until I found my feet touching the Scottish soil, with no cash to tip my cab driver, no plans, and no idea what the semester would bring. It was intimidating, but I had wide eyes for Glasgow that far outweighed any fear.

I wasted no time and went exploring my first full day in the country, greeted by one of many rainstorms that I came to appreciate as Glasgow’s personality. I also found myself questioning whether I really chose an English-speaking country, as I struggled to understand the thick Scottish accents and slang. I forced myself to go to a pub that first night, thinking I might meet people, but I quickly regretted my decision as I realized the pub I chose was mostly full of old men. Right as I was planning to leave, I got invited into a discussion that turned into a night-long adventure with strangers I could barely understand. I picked their brains about the best places in Glasgow, their thoughts on Brexit, famous Scotsmen, and everything in between. My first taste of the famed Glaswegian friendliness.

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Any doubts I had melted away that night. If I could fit in with a group of strangers twice my age, I could do this whole “study abroad” thing. It took a while, but thankfully the friends came… I met people from all over the world, learned about their customs, listened to the symphony of their accents, and my eyes were opened to worlds other than the U.S. We played quidditch. We learned to Scottish dance. We screamed at the top of our lungs to ABBA. We drank tea, so much tea. I learned way too many facts about Taylor Swift, tried to convince myself to like whisky, made panels of stained glass—oh, and I dyed my hair purple.

In some ways, the postponement of my semester abroad turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I already finished all my graduation requirements, so I got to enjoy electives about Scottish culture and history instead of being stressed about grades. I also didn’t have to wonder what I was missing back at the University of Denver because all my friends had already left or graduated. There was only Scotland.

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And boy, did I see her. I always imagined my study abroad experience to involve traveling to a different country in Europe every weekend—that’s how Americans always make it out to be. It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that that would not be my reality, due to a combination of Covid regulations, cost, etc. But my very dear friend taught me a new perspective. She said to me, “You Americans always want to come to Europe and see every country but the one you chose to study in.” This shifted my perceptions of what it means to study abroad, and I made it a priority to see as much of Scotland—and the UK—as possible.

Three trips to Edinburgh, two trips to Glencoe, exploring the Glenfinnan Viaduct and Loch Shiel, wandering Dunnottar Castle and the East Coast, a weekend at the Isle of Skye, Falkirk and Stirling and Inverness… and that’s just to name the places in Scotland. My parents visited for my three-week long spring break and we toured London, Bath, Stonehenge, Manchester, and North Wales. I visited England’s Lake District with friends and finally kissed the Blarney Stone in Ireland, a moment 16 years in the making.

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Among the hecticness and excitement of so much travel, I finally wrote and finished my undergraduate thesis over the course of a month and a half—it explores Georgia’s 2006 sex offender law and how it had serious implications for all sentencing in the state. Simultaneously, I found myself unexpectedly applying for a job in Denver and working my way through the interview process, at one point taking a phone interview at 9pm in a hotel room in Inverness. I wasn’t sure if I would return to the Mile High City when I left it in the fall of the previous year, but being abroad made me realize just how much I missed Denver. I was beyond surprised to actually land the evaluation specialist position, and suddenly I had a start date of June 27th, even though I already accepted that I would graduate college without a job lined up.

At the beginning of May, after an incredible four months in Scotland, I packed my things and said goodbye. I spent my final night in the city returning to that pub from my first evening in Glasgow, once again meeting incredible strangers that I somehow felt sad to leave, even though I had just met them. As hard as it was to close this chapter of my life, I also felt incredibly satisfied with my time abroad and ready to return to the States—I accomplished and saw absolutely everything I wanted to in the UK.

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I returned to Las Vegas and crash landed into a weekend of festivities to celebrate my brother’s wedding. There was a bridal shower, a bachelorette party, a rehearsal dinner… I saw friends and family I hadn’t seen in years, and I rushed to take my last online final exam for one of my University of Glasgow classes before helping to set up a party the night before the wedding. The ceremony was absolutely beautiful, and we welcomed a new member into our family with open arms.

I thought life would finally slow down, but it was exactly the opposite. I did a quick trip to Denver to start my apartment search, and then I made my way to the East Coast—primarily for a wedding in Rhode Island, but I killed two birds with one stone by visiting my friend in Boston, too, since I was already in the area. After that, I went home to Boise for a week and stuffed my life into boxes. I had packed for college so many times before, but it was hard to accept that I was moving out permanently this time.

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Suddenly I found myself back in the Mile High City, walking across the stage at graduation in Magness Arena at the University of Denver—the same spot I had attended the freshman orientation pep rally four years prior. How fast time flies.

It was a somewhat anticlimactic ending to my college career. I had finished all my graduation requirements in the fall of 2021, completed an incredible semester abroad where I did virtually no schoolwork, and then traveled around the U.S. for a month before returning to DU to finally walk across the stage. It wasn’t quite the cathartic feeling of turning in your last final right before the start of summer, but it was a celebration nonetheless. I felt so grateful to be surrounded by family and friends. I started college with no idea what I wanted to study, and I left with two majors and two minors—it’s safe to say I succeeded in exploring everything I was interested in.

And all that happened in the span of six months.

Suddenly everything shifted as I began my post-grad life. I always imagined having a little bit of summer between my college graduation and starting my first real job, but instead I had two weeks—a stressful two weeks, with a very frustrating apartment search and lots of self-doubt about starting my new position. But before I knew it, I was commuting to work every day, living on my own, and trying to adjust back to a full day’s schedule. I was constantly learning something new and slowly starting to understand what evaluation research really is.

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The summer passed in a flash. I started dating my boyfriend and made a few more trips, first camping in Minneapolis with my brother and sister-in-law, then a weekend in Breckenridge with the boy, and finally a week in Las Vegas to celebrate my grandpa’s 90th birthday. Those hot summer nights quickly melted into autumn, and my boyfriend and I found ourselves trying to cram in as many fall dates as possible (including a fun Van Gogh and Starry Night Halloween costume).

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I celebrated my 23rd birthday in November with a bang—attending the Bridgerton Ball, going to Denver Fashion Week, and completing another weekend trip with my parents to Colorado Springs. Later in the month, I spent my first major holiday away from home, staying with my boyfriend’s family in Las Vegas for Thanksgiving. Despite all the other huge changes this year, spending a holiday with a significant other felt like one of the biggest milestones of adulthood.

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December was shockingly the longest month of the year. The boy and I made a trip to Nashville for his company’s holiday party, and in doing so I crossed off my third new state in 2022. Soon after, I went home to Boise for two weeks to spend Christmas with my family. And last night, all my glamorous New Year’s Eve dreams finally came true. I’ve never gone out for the holiday before, but my boyfriend and I got dressed up and attended a formal party, counting down to the new year with hundreds of our closest friends, complete with the perfect NYE kiss at midnight—just like the movies.

I can’t believe everything that happened in 2022. I can’t believe it’s already over. And, most importantly, I can’t believe I haven’t processed any of it until now. I didn’t know where today’s post would lead when I started writing, but I’m realizing it turned into an opportunity to appreciate just how momentous 2022 really was for me. How grateful am I for such an unforgettable year.

So, what do I want from 2023? I’m still considering that question, but digesting all the change and growth of the last year was a necessary first step. When I think back to my high school self, I always imagined my post-grad 20s spent traveling, going on picturesque dates after work, crossing items off my color-coded bucket list, and finally finding excuses to wear the fancy dresses in my closet. So far, I think it has exceeded my expectations.

You know that scene in the movie Tangled, where Rapunzel is about to see the floating lanterns for the first time and is struck with a sudden melancholy? Afraid of what happens after her life-long dream finally comes true? I think I’m experiencing a little bit of that today. Per Flynn Rider’s instruction, now I have to spend some time finding new dreams…

With that, cheers to 2022—its blessings, challenges, lessons learned. And here’s to the new year—I can’t expect it to be nearly as exciting a ride, but I am hungry for whatever adventures await.

 

Miles of smiles,

Grace

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