Illustration by Alyssa Etoile.

Illustration by Alyssa Etoile.

I was always so nervous about choosing the right kind of adventure for myself in high school: The “right kind” being one that impressed other people, and maybe even inspired them. I wanted to feel validated, and I wanted my life to be validated. Group studying at the library or running around Target with my friends was truly exciting to me. But later, I’d put myself down for enjoying these actually-fun activities because they weren’t fascinating enough. I was insecure that what I was doing with my time was boring and insignificant, and that I’d be labeled the same.

I spent hours upon hours scrolling through people’s social media profiles—especially internet-famous people and popular kids at my school—picking out the differences between their lives and mine. Seeing photographs of people hiking abroad, getting fucked up at parties, or just looking gorgeous convinced me that I had to have adventures like the ones they deemed worthy of Instagram.

When I had time to look back on my own day, what surfaced in my mind were images that had made other girls’ lives look so much more exciting and beautiful—and that had made me feel envious and unimportant. I believed I just wasn’t able to capture the moments from my life as perfectly as they did. No one else would know what a great time I had, and no one would be impressed or inspired. It felt pretty awful to have a grand old time with my friends (and equally often by myself) to only end up thinking that any attempts to make myself seem happy and relevant weren’t good enough.

Moving to college in a new state, and getting some distance from my high school, gave me a fresh set of eyes on this idea of being “adventurous.” If I’d been doing anything wrong, it was basing my idea of adventure entirely off of other people’s representation of theirs.

One of my most-favorite recent adventures started with a text from my friend, asking me if I wanted to go to Troye Sivan’s concert that night. Best of all, we’d be going for free. Two and a half hours later, I was on the train headed to the show. Back in high school, I would have NEVER done that. I probably would have immediately said no, allowing myself to assume my mother wouldn’t let me go and that I’d have a lot of homework to do instead. That night was probably better than a lot of nights then. But that’s not to demean the happiness I got from doing things like hanging out at big-box retail stores with my friends, even if they weren’t as “wild” as dropping everything to go see a band. If I let myself think that way, then I’d basically be telling myself that I was never happy in the past—and a lot of times I was!

Today, adventure means doing anything that will make me happy and give me a sense of precariousness. Making last-minute decisions and impulsively going out with friends makes me feel daring. It does make my life more exciting. But you can’t standardize something like adventure, even for yourself: It depends on where you are right now—mentally, physically, emotionally—and how you define adventure accordingly. I just have to embrace it for what it is in the moment, and believe that it’s special because it’s just for me.

Someday, I’d like to do something as breathtakingly adventurous as hiking to the top of a beautiful mountain in South America (and taking a kick-ass photo of it, too), but I can’t because I’m at college, smack-dab in the Midwest. And although I like hiking, I’m not too good on the fitness aspect of it and a mountain would be a lot for me. High school-me would probably tell myself I shouldn’t bother seeking adventure if it doesn’t even begin to compare to other peoples’, but present-me knows that I can choose my own.

I’m already planning my spring break for next year. I know I want to go abroad, and Ireland is on my list, but so is Austria, and so is Thailand, and so is Morocco. It’s not like I’ve booked a ticket yet, but the fact that I told myself I’m going to travel abroad next year is adventurous enough. I’ve also got Polaroid pictures, notes taken on my iPhone, unexplainable photographs on my Camera Roll, and lots of memories so far in college. Maybe I’ll look back in 10 years and think, Really, Upasna? You thought that was fun? But it won’t really matter, because it’s making me happy now. ♦