A little girl in a big world.
I’ve always loved the notion of exploration — of discovering your limits that are only really bound by your fears.
As a child, exploring looked like venturing to different corners of parks and playgrounds to trying out different outdoor activities with my sister in our backyard. With time, this slowly progressed into a love for exploring new creative outlets as a young teen.
In high school, this exploration took the form of discovering new interests, to which I found myself devoting endless hours. I fell in love with theatre, with the thrill and bubbling nervousness before stepping on stage, with the all-eyes-on-me feeling as the lights cast a shadow on the audience, making me feel like I was the only person in the world with the actors and with the stage we called our home for the past month. Exploring the ins, outs and everywhere in-betweens of theatre excited me — especially doing it alongside some of my best friends.
There were moments during this time, though, when exploration felt dreadful rather than rewarding. In having to research colleges, apply for scholarships, and study books and texts from cover to cover, life felt like an exploration that had no end goal in sight. I was no longer exploring parks to find a spot to hide, nor was I exploring an interest because it sparked happiness inside me. Instead, the older I got, the less exciting exploration became. It no longer sparked that youthful excitement, but rather it entailed notes of seriousness as exploring became more of a responsibility. It felt like an endless ocean — I was trying to find the shore, but I could never seem to get a breath of air. I was pursuing journey after journey as they all meshed together into an overwhelming bubble that I desperately wanted to pop.
Starting college helped me forget about this dread. Catapulting me straight into the world of exploring a new campus and my always-changing career interests, I also began navigating my way through friendships and relationships I hoped to foster and nurture for the rest of my life. I found my way through classes, dining halls and various clubs and organizations, learning something new every day about the new environment I was in.
But despite so many explorations, there was still so much of the unknown remaining. My explorations of various career interests led me to dead ends, and my endeavors in friendships often left me feeling envious of seemingly happy friend groups I wanted so badly to be part of. And in times when the auto-pilot switch had been on for too long and discovery was constant, that never-ending stimulation and search for new experiences started to feel like a volcanic build-up ready to erupt in the form of a breakdown.
When that happens, the only place I want to be is home. Home where I don’t have to put on a brave act and pretend that I’m okay every minute of every hour of every day. Where I am not pressured to explore at a pace other than at my own. Where I can feel warmth in the blanket of what I know will be there when I get home, like the aroma of my mom’s food, the tender hugs from my dad every time I want one and the softness of my grandma’s skin as she holds my hand. When that volcano is about to erupt, I know I can find safety at home, the place I can retreat to revive my depleting energy as a calm aura flows through my home. College is filled with unfamiliarity, but home is a place where I can find anything I need and be who I want to be. Home is filled with knowns, like the sound of my dad’s footsteps as he walks down the stairs or my mom entering my room as she softly opens the door. These knowns that make me feel like I’m not lost in the ocean, but rather, like I’m treading water.
When reflecting, I realize that, for so many years, I was drawn to exploration because of my need for change every so often. Being that I could never commit to any activity or hobby for a very long time, I had to explore to fill a resulting void of boredom. But because of that, I couldn’t find a balance between over-exerting myself and taking a step back to understand; that I should soak up everything I’ve discovered before trying to take on more, to not pressure myself into exploration because of that little voice in the back of my head comparing me to the successes and lives of people around me.
Though when I do decide to explore, I strive to remember that everything will pan out even if there is no end goal in sight. After all, it’s the process of exploration where I grow the most as a person: maturing, learning and finding new joys such as the theatre class that taught me to love the stage. I work to strike a balance by not over-scheduling myself and by finding my own comfort in the people around me during these explorations.
And in times that it gets hard, I know there is comfort in the home and comfort in the known, waiting for me to take a breath before I keep swimming toward the shore.
MiC Columnist Hannah Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.