Every morning during my 4 years in high school, I woke up and ate the same thing. Two slices of peanut butter and banana toast with a cup of mint tea to go along. And every once in a while if I felt a little adventurous I would change the flavor of the tea to something like lemon ginger. You know, because that’s definitely what would change whether or not I got an A on my test that day. For me, that breakfast was safe. It was comfortable. I knew it tasted good and there was no room for error. It became routine. If I woke up one morning and saw that we were out of bananas, it would throw off my entire day.
For my entire life, I’ve always needed that security of knowing how my day would go and what I’d be doing at every point within it. When something didn’t go the way I thought it would, I would get anxious. I needed control in my life, and I found that through the routine.
So when my family proposed to me the idea of taking a gap year – or actually, let me rephrase that: when my family proposed to me the idea of putting my entire life on pause, moving across the world for a year to live with a group of kids I’d never met on a program I’d never even heard of, to live in Jerusalem, a city I thought I had nothing to do in except learn about history, my answer was a swift “no”. If I couldn’t handle not having PB Toast for breakfast, how was I supposed to handle the infinite unknowns that come with living by yourself across the world?
It took months of convincing from my siblings to get me to agree. Every night at the dinner table they would bring it up and tell me how much they regretted not taking a gap year. Additionally, a huge factor in my decision was the fact that I didn’t want COVID to ruin my freshman year college experience. And my sister also may have reminded me that by going on the gap year I’d turn 21 before everyone else in my grade in university, and that was an appealing thought. With all that in mind, I had finally made the decision to come to Israel.
When I arrived in Israel, I tried to create a routine as fast as I could. And I was pretty successful in that. Every morning I would wake up and eat 2 slices of toast and eggs for breakfast. After that, I would walk to Big Idea with Spiz, where we would hold the most basic conversations because he barely spoke English. I’d ask him something along the lines of “did you finish your homework?” and he would respond with “What does homework mean?” and then would proceed to ask me for $5,000 so he could invest it into Bitcoin for me. After Big Idea, we always had some sort of program activity, and then I’d end the day with a game with my friends.
In my mind, my routine was a direct link to positive experiences. My thought process was: “if I enjoy what I’m doing, why would I change it?” And anytime a new experience came along that I enjoyed, I would just add it in. However, the issues came when things wouldn’t go according to plan. If something went even slightly wrong it would ruin my day. And it didn’t take long before something went wrong. I remember very early on in the program, I was supposed to meet my cousins in the Kineret. The plan was to get there in the afternoon in time for a barbecue, stay the night and drive back at the end of the next day. I left for the central bus station in Jerusalem at around 11:30 AM. It’s about a 20-minute bus ride. I was so excited and distracted that I wasn’t paying much attention to directions. I had sat on the bus for about 25 minutes before I thought to myself that something might be wrong. I felt like by that point I should have reached my stop. So I checked my phone and realized that I had taken the wrong bus, and gone 25 minutes in the wrong direction. I started to panic but I thought: “It’s still ok, it’s a good thing I left early because I might still be able to make it in time to reach my bus.” I waited for the next bus and it just didn’t show up. At this point, my only hope was to take a taxi. So I got in a taxi and saw that the ETA on the taxi’s Waze was 5 minutes before my bus was supposed to leave. “I can make it,” I said to myself. Halfway through the ride, the driver pulled over. I asked him what he was doing, and he told me: “I have to pee.” It’s safe to say I ended up missing my bus. I had to wait an hour for the next one. By the time I got to the Kineret, I had missed the barbecue entirely. Instead, I was given leftovers and had a chance to watch the sunset with my cousins while I ate. It was a beautiful sunset, the food was great and I had family all around me: it was a perfect moment. But I wasn’t relaxed. In fact, I was so annoyed that I had missed the original barbecue that I wasn’t able to enjoy this moment at all. I had tried so hard to keep control over that situation that it actually hurt me more than it helped me. I realized I needed to let go, and I knew it wouldn’t be easy.
So I started working on it. I let go of my routine a bit and made more spontaneous plans. I started saying yes to everything I was invited to, even if it might’ve affected whatever plans I may have had for the rest of the day. And if something didn’t go according to plan, I started making a conscious effort to embrace it. I was learning to flow, or as it’s said in Hebrew, “Lizrom.”
Here’s an example. Fast forward a few weeks and I’m spending the weekend in Tel Aviv with 2 friends, Zach Green and Spiz. We were staying in Spitz’s grandfather’s apartment. On Friday night, Zach and I went out and Spiz stayed in because he keeps Shabbat. During the course of the night, Zach and I got split up, and I ended up arriving back at the apartment about 20 minutes after he did. But during those 20 minutes, he had fallen asleep. And as I was standing outside the building, at 4 in the morning, I realized that I didn’t know the code to get in. So I called Zach. No response. I called him 5 or 6 more times. Nothing. I tried ringing into the apartment and even calling the landlord whose number was on the door (side note, I actually mistyped that number and accidentally called a lawyer who was very angry that I woke him up).
Throughout all this though, I managed to keep a smile on my face and laugh at the situation. I asked myself: “How would being stressed right now help me solve this situation?” My answer was that it wouldn’t. So I just kept smiling, because I decided that I’d rather be going through that experience in a good mood. Eventually, I got a hold of my cousin who lives in Hod Hasharon. I took a taxi to get there and he let me into the house in the middle of the night. We ended up having a really nice talk and the next morning I got to eat breakfast with my family. The old version of me would have been frustrated that he’s not spending time with his friends and that he didn’t sleep in the place he planned to and that his whole weekend isn’t what he wanted it to be. But that wasn’t me anymore; I had started to learn how to let go of that control. I was really able to embrace the situation and appreciate all the good things that came from it. Had I not gotten stuck, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to spend time with my family the next morning, and I wouldn’t have gotten a free breakfast. I began to realize that when you let go a bit and aim your focus only on the things you can control, life becomes easier. Things start to turn out in your favor, and you open yourself up to appreciate new experiences. Most of the best experiences from my time here are the ones that I didn’t plan out.
Throughout this year, I’ve managed to turn one of my biggest weaknesses into one of my biggest sources of strength and resilience. I’ve learned to cope with not having that control, and that’s helped me live my life in a much more enjoyable way. Things always end up working out, so I just do what I can and smile through the rest. Life is better like that.
So now, as I’m here with all of you finishing up this year and preparing for the next period of my life, I can look at it with excitement. Because even if I don’t know exactly what my life will be like or what my routine will be, I’m not afraid of it anymore.
So now, when I step out into the kitchen in the morning and I see that there are no more bananas or that we don’t have peanut butter, well that’s ok with me.