What do college applications, gardens and cooking have in common?

As I've progressed through my post-college years, I find myself seeking out activities, work and relationships in which I am witness to or a participant in growth of the blossoming sort. Undergraduate admissions work was the first such find, and it has been a nearly-constant in my life since I was involved in the student admissions council in college. I think I recognized really early on that college was the place that allowed me to start fresh, just as me. In every way, Northwestern was a stark opposition to my south Louisiana high school which, overall, I disliked despite being successful there. As a high school freshman, I don't think I had the personal confidence to just be me. I made straight As because that helped me maintain a "good student" identity; I worked hard to make the dance line because it was comprised of a bunch of cool, fun girls who made popularity and all the associated social stuff seem easy; I had a great boyfriend. But none of it ever felt simple or terribly comfortable, and when I got to college, I realized what people had meant when they stressed enrolling in a school that's a great fit for you, academically, socially and so forth. I was me from Day 5 (after I got over horrible nerves) and never looked back. The classes kicked my ass- I was SO far behind my peers who'd attended wonderfully strong, preparatory high schools. I had to learn how to think and analyze and it was a truly arduous process. But along the way, I found my true intellectual passions and I started coming into my own as a student. I like working in college admissions because I get to meet so many kids as they approach the watershed event that one's undergraduate years can be. I read so many essays about kids who hate high school, or who love it, who are yearning for bigger and newer experiences, or who simply want a place in which they'll be accepted and comfortable. I read about kids who are gay and bullied for it, students who have done the most incredible research despite their youthfulness, young men and women who have overcome the most enormous odds and are on the horizon of great lives. It's humbling, and it's exciting. I know what a critically important time my 4 years at Northwestern were for me, how much I learned about myself and the world, and I truly love ushering applicants in or on hopefully similarly excellent paths.

Likewise, gardening is about the hope of success. Patience, nurture, a bit of luck; with those elements, you might just get something wonderful or you might learn what doesn't work. I have definitely had some spectacular failures outside, but with the practice that comes with each passing year of patient trial-and-error, I'm becoming familiar with what works, what I might expect. To be sure, my predilection for perennials helps with the success rate (and is definitely more cost-effective), but I also like that each season, you know something will emerge although you aren't sure quite when or where. Each day right now, I go out and kneel close the ground, looking closely for any small change. Lately, I find something nearly every time. While I wasn't paying attention, the bulbs multiplied, the root systems strengthened themselves, the earth worms worked their magic.

I think, too, I love to cook because of the wonder of what might come to fruition. Kneading, whisking, waiting, watching...the simplest of ingredients can come together to make the most marvelous of tastes. Fresh bread, luxuriant chocolate, homemade pasta, the richness of truffles. When you've made something before, you can anticipate joyfully, the smell, the taste, leftovers, sharing. If you're experimenting anew, a new favorite might be discovered.

In all of these things, nurturing leads to growth; what results is a treat, a reward for effort, time, hope.