Why a Gap Year is the Best Decision I’ve Ever Made.

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I took a Gap Year after college (before jumping into the “real world”) and it was, truly, the best decision I’ve made (next to adopting my cat and downloading the Uber app).

Traveling, for me, isn’t just for meeting people and taking cool pictures. It is preventative medicine for closed-mindedness and bigotry, and wholly challenges me to function at my greatest capacity as a heart-centered, human-oriented modern young adult.

Gap year students who choose to pursue higher education after traveling oftentimes become campus leaders and star students. Gap Year students who choose to pursue work or service after traveling oftentimes become intelligent and thoughtful advocates for change. Most Gap Year students return as strong, proactive, and civically engaged community members.

If you are considering taking a Gap Year, the advantages are yours to be written (and will ultimately span a list longer than a cartoon decree). Beyond your unique set of advantages connected to your personal gap year goals, here are some common perks you will enjoy.

Honesty With Yourself & Others

It’s okay if you’re not ready to run off to university (or an apprenticeship, or a manager-track job at a local chain). Maybe you don’t know what to study, maybe you don’t know where to go, maybe you aren’t sure about the price tag. College is a big decision, and not the best fit for every type of student.

Opting out of the norm takes courage; it’s an exercise in self-awareness and being true to yourself (which is easier said than done). It can sometimes mean disappointing your parents, or adding confusing elements to polite dinner conversation when your extended family is in town. It means rejecting the flow that your friends and classmates are likely pursuing.

Choosing to do a Gap Year after high school demonstrates maturity and honesty.

Find Your Path

There is value in system, but that doesn’t mean it is right for you. Have you been spoon-fed your need to go to university someday ever since you passed Algebra? Was it ever presented to you as an option, or was it always an expectation?

College rocks, and it can be an extremely rewarding and valuable experience. That said, if you don’t have a personal interest going to school beyond the fact that you know it’ll make your family (and friends, and grandma, and by extension, society) happy, then that is a pretty clear sign you aren’t meant to follow the norm.

Just because it is a good path for Sam, Sally, and Susie doesn’t mean it is a good path for YOU – don’t fall victim to societal expectations or pressures as you design your future.

Take the Reins

Having the confidence to make decisions that benefit the course of your life directly takes a lot of work. But you’ll be better for it, and each subsequent decision will feel like a major victory (one you can take all of the credit for).

As the cartoonist of Calvin and Hobbes so profoundly put:

­­­“Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive… You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.”

Take the reins of your life in your own hands. Live your own life instead of someone else’s. You will gain independence, self-sufficiency, and clarity towards your purpose as you take time “off” for a Gap Year.

Adventure, Travel, & Foreign Cultures – Oh My!

Life abroad is one giant hairball of fun. Travel is an incredibly powerful tool for reflection; oftentimes, the insights you gather will happen so subtly and smoothly that you won’t even always realize the lessons you learn simply by living in, observing, and working alongside people from another culture.

These tiny pearls of wisdom will be delivered in the most unusual circumstances: brief conversations on your walk to your volunteer project with a local child, or witnessing the interaction between father/son. Maybe you’ll learn from observing westernization in otherwise foreign places, white water rafting the Nile, or feeling overwhelmed with gratitude for the earth’s natural beauty. You never know which life lesson will be served up next.

Find Your Tribe

Another oft-overlooked and under-appreciated perk of taking a Gap Year is the community of individuals who will be introduced to and cross paths with over the course of your travels. Not only will you witness a network of people who live their lives differently, you will also find camaraderie with men and women from your own culture who are likewise skeptical of the beaten path.

Having mentors to inspire you to do things differently is a huge advantage for gap year students; creating a community of like-minded individuals a key element to avoid relapsing into a less conscious, unintentional lifestyle.

The Gift of Time

The biggest benefit of taking a gap year is having time “off” to flesh out your identity free of the influence of your typical environs. You will be free of distractions from every day responsibilities, conversations, and expectations to instead get a pretty strong sense of self.

When was the last time you asked yourself what you value? What you believe in? Where these truths come from, and how they will manifest in your life?

Knowing your inner workings can be intimidating, silence can be scary, and self-awareness can seem unattainable. But with the right frame of mind and surroundings to match, you will feel comfortable in your own skin (and with your own brain) (and with your own heart) before no time.

Now that you know your goals…

Chart Your Course… Your Way

Again: just because others have followed a certain way to attain a shared goal doesn’t mean you have to. Create an action plan that allows for accountability with plenty of self-love and patience.

The benefits of a Gap Year often look different for each individual braving the journey; however, one underlying outcome remains: individuals return with more awareness of themselves, others, and communities near and far.

Did you take a Gap Year? What were the advantages for you?

Photo Credit: Chris Lawton

Article contributed by Megan Lee

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