I’m 15 years old, and I’m sitting in my eye doctor’s office, learning how to put contact lenses into my eyes for the very first time. I’m practicing, yet I’m failing. My kind, patient eye practitioner says, “give it a drink” every time I fail, in reference to me soaking the contact lens with contact solution in order to make the process easier for my dry eyes. I chuckle. With every failure, I’m met with this same piece of advice. I try once more to place the lens into my eye, and once again, I fail. “Don’t worry, these things take time,” he says.
Now I’m 16 years old, and I’m learning how to drive. I find myself in driver’s ed. My instructor is well into his 80s, having taught this course for over 50 years. We’re sitting in his car, and I’m in the driver’s seat. “Relax your arms,” he says. “Hold the steering wheel like it’s a fork and knife,” he repeats for what feels like the millionth time. I’ve done this weekly drive with him for months now, and we do the same loop around the neighborhood every week. I’m admittedly starting to get bored, and I feel like this is pointless. Another student in the car asks if we can go on the highway. “Not yet, one step at a time,” our instructor responds.
I’m not 15 or 16 anymore. Today, I’m 21 years old, and I’m a senior in college. As such, I’m constantly thinking about the future, whether I intend to or not. I think about what’s to come after graduation, which quickly leads me down a spiral of endless thoughts and what-ifs. Jobs, gap years and medical school applications are all concepts permeating my mind, and I sometimes feel lost in a sea of the unknown. I don’t know where I’ll be a year from now, and that freaks me out.
As this semester nears its end, I am reminiscing on every aspect of college, clinging onto every day and trying to enjoy every minute. It’s strange, because while this is my last fall semester here at Hopkins, it’s also only my second fall semester here, since my freshman fall was virtual during the pandemic, and because I studied abroad during my junior fall. A part of me feels like college just started, so it’s hard to accept that the time has flown by and that I need to prepare for what’s next.
As I look ahead, I sometimes struggle to see clearly — both in the literal and metaphorical sense, though my literal vision has now been corrected by contact lenses (which I did, eventually, learn how to wear). In the metaphorical sense, I find myself constantly attempting to race to the finish line, anxious to complete every impending task without recognizing the hard work that it takes to get there.
It’s in these moments that I forget that everything in life takes time, and nothing is achieved in one day. Whether I’m experiencing feelings of sadness, fear, grief or anxiety, I’ve learned that it’s important to meet myself where I’m at. It takes time to process emotions, and it’s unfair to assume that I can instantly resolve any problem without taking the proper time to adjust to a situation or experience.
Nowadays, I wake up every morning and I put in my contact lenses in under a minute — without giving it a second thought. I don’t think about the multiple failed attempts it took over the years, how difficult it was to train my finger to touch my eye or how uncomfortable the lenses were during my first few weeks wearing them.
And yes, Driver’s Ed was tedious, but it taught me to instill confidence in myself on the road. When I finally got to my first highway, I was nervous to merge and change lanes, but I realized that success does not happen overnight. Practice is necessary, and I recognize that every time I’m on the road, it’s an opportunity to grow as a driver. I have been driving for five years now, and I frequently drive back and forth from Hopkins to my home in New York. As I traverse highways, bridges and tunnels, I don’t question the years it took for me to get to this point. And as I continue driving, experience builds my confidence.
Even when I can’t see clearly, as is the case when I look ahead to the future, I try to look forward optimistically. My grandma used to always say, “Everything that matters will work itself out, the rest are details.”
The future is vast and can be overwhelming, and there’s lots of things that I don’t have the answers to. What I do know is that I can take it day by day, savoring the experiences around me and enjoying it all with my friends and family.
Gabriel Lesser is a senior from Westchester, N.Y. studying Neuroscience and Romance Languages. His column explores his memories, along with his current reflections and the lessons that he has learned.