One year ago, I was a high school senior. One year ago, I spent countless sleepless nights, sitting on my bed, attempting to visualize my life in a new school and a new program. Anybody who’s been through high school would know senior year was difficult. For me, it was difficult to live with the idea that every small assignment and test would affect my overall average, which in the end would help me get into post-secondary, and affect whether or not I’d obtain a scholarship. Getting good marks in the last year of high school meant securing a good stepping stone for post-secondary. And that in itself, was daunting.
But the thing that daunted me the most at that time wasn’t keeping up with my marks. It was the future program my grades would lead me to. I had a general idea of what I wanted to do and how I was going to get to where I wanted to be, but it didn’t stop me from not feeling ready. Somewhere deep down, I had a feeling the program I was leaning towards wasn’t going to be a good fit. I’ve always been a person that focused extremely hard on their academics, but still tried to balance school with extracurriculars and a social life. In turn, making time for sleep was kept in the backburner. Taking time for myself was near non-existent. In my senior year, I barely watched movies or read books for fun, I barely took dance classes out of free will, and I felt myself slowly slipping away.
One year ago, my mental health took a nosedive. The discussions about my future from every aspect of my social life (friends, family, coworkers, acquaintances), finally got to me. It was December, school applications were due, and I realized something was wrong: not only did I despise the idea of heading into post-secondary, I dreaded every conversation and thought of it. I had gone from being indifferent about going to post-secondary after graduating high school to not wanting anything to do with school – especially being in the place I was in at the moment. I felt lost. (I even wrote about it at the time. Read: ‘Lost’)
I knew things didn’t feel right. No person should feel that unprepared to dive into the next chapter of their life. I wanted to be excited for the next chapter, to finally turn the next page, but instead I wanted to crawl under my blankets and never come out. What was my solution? I chose to take a year away from school. Fast-forward one year later, 3 months into my gap year, and I am positive this is one of the most sensible things I’ve ever done for myself in life thus far.
Here are 5 reasons that led me to this decision. To anybody who is in senior year and considering a gap year, here are some points to think about:
1. Feeling uncertain about your choices
You might be thinking, “But Winnie, nobody knows what they’re doing.” And to that, you’re probably right. But if you know you have the option of picking between several programs, but your intuition tells you those programs are not something you’d enjoy educating yourself about in the long run, why follow through? If you have family members who insist you follow through on a career, but you know it’s not what you truly want, why follow through? There’s money on the line, and the most valuable: your time. Instead of going through with a program you know you won’t enjoy for the next four years of school, wouldn’t you rather take your time, research on things you are passionate about on your own accord, and only apply for a program when you’re certain you feel ready to learn about?
2. Education should be something you want
Let me say that again. Education should be something you want, not another thing you feel obligated to complete to check off in your to-do list. If you don’t feel passionate about the program you’re thinking about getting into, then find one you do feel excited about. Chances are, if you can’t find a program you want to be in, you might not have dug deep enough. Explore your own inspirations and motivations. Take the time to learn about yourself through doing more of what you love. If in the moment learning through a school curriculum is too much for you, maybe it’s time to take a breather. Taking a gap year doesn’t mean stopping all of your learning experiences – you’re still going to continue learning, just not through school for some time.
In my personal experience, I had dedicated so much of my life prioritizing school, I had forgotten about myself and the things I felt passionate about. I barely prioritized the things that made me happy, the things that fuelled my inspiration. I prioritized school for so long, I didn’t want it anymore. That’s when I knew I needed time away from it so that I can eventually feel like I wanted it and truly appreciate the privilege of being able to be part of a school system.
3. Doing your own thing is OK
Maybe taking a gap year might mean to you ‘falling behind’ your friends: when you start post-secondary, they will be in the second year of their program. But why should that matter? It doesn’t guarantee they’ll graduate before you. They can change programs any moment and start at square one again. Life isn’t a competition of who obtains a financially stable life the fastest. Everyone works at their own pace; comparing yourself to other people’s achievements is useless. If everyone’s on their own lane, then what’s the rush on your success? Focus on yourself and what YOU want. If you feel uncertain and unprepared, listen to your gut. You know yourself best. It’s okay to want different things from your peers. Doing your own thing and what satisfies you is not only okay, but is perfectly normal. Besides, life should never feel like a competition when you’re around those who accept you for who you are.
4. More time = more self-discipline
Having a year off of school would mean for once, there will be no assignment deadlines on your back, no classes you would be obligated to go to, and no set alarm to wake up to every morning. Having newfound freedom means making new choices: what goals will you accomplish for the day? How will you keep yourself on your toes? Since you won’t be committed to any classes for a full year, it means you can commit your time to things most important to you. Will you spend most of the week in bed, or will you challenge yourself out of your comfort zone each and every passing day? Will you choose to binge watch the newest show on Netflix, or will you push yourself to be someone your past self would be proud of?
If you had goals you wanted to reach before, but was never able to put your full effort into it because school was in the way, this is your chance to achieve those goals.
We are creatures of habit. Once you no longer have any obligations to school projects, “not having time”, more than ever, becomes the worst excuse you can use. Make time for the things you want, because when you take a gap year, you will certainly have the time. You will have the ability to create your own schedule and deadlines for goals. It’s up to you to prioritize your responsibilities, and creating better and new habits for yourself means practicing self-discipline. If you can end the gap year with a better set of habits, you are only setting yourself up for success when you DO have assignment deadlines to follow.
When you take a year off of school, you have a lot of time to be on your own. If you’ve never liked spending time alone, this is your time to learn to enjoy your own company. When you spend time for your own benefit, you learn about your likes and dislikes. You can then advance in your hobbies. And in the end, your hobbies can guide you to the right program. Remember my first point about feeling uncertain? Or the second point about not wanting school? When you discover what you truly enjoy learning about, it’ll help you feel certain about a program you might have never though about before. You might enjoy your newfound hobby so much, you may actually feel a need to advance your acquired skills and knowledge in that field through school!
Personally, I thought for years that I would eventually end up with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. It never felt like it would be a perfect fit for me, but it was a subject I was somewhat interested in. But being away from school, over time I realized a different program sounded much more fitting for me. Had I not taken a gap year, I probably would have rushed into the psychology program, possibly not even finishing it in the end. Taking the time to learn about what motivates and satisfies me guided me to choosing a program that truly felt appropriate.
With all that being said, sometimes you have to take a chance on trying out post-secondary before realizing it’s not for you. School isn’t for everyone, after all. And don’t let anybody fool you: there are ways to still be successful and happy without needing to go through school.
School certainly isn’t easy. I know many people fancy the idea of taking an easy way out for a little while. I know some people don’t enjoy the idea of being in school, yet it doesn’t bother them enough to change their current circumstance. But a gap year does not necessarily entail an easy road. It will only be an easy year if you let it be. I’m not saying everyone should be taking a year away from school, but there really is a lot to gain out of taking one. Especially if you have self-fulfilling goals to achieve in mind. Take this post with a grain of salt, though: these words are coming from someone who felt a gap year was personally necessary, and is currently reaping the benefits from being out of the school system.
Thanks for reading, and if you know someone who may need this, feel free to give this post a share!
Till next time,