By the end of my junior year of college I thought I had it all figured out. I would go graduate school, get my Ph.D., teach sociology with a focus on gender, and ride off into the sunset. The end.
In theory this seemed like a good arrangement so I started planning. Taking the GRE, researching schools, talking to professors, making lists, and checking them twice – the whole nine yards. In the very back of my mind I was uncertain, but I can be a very indecisive person about the most mundane things so I ignored it.
The closer I got to attaining my goal the more uncertain I felt. I was starting to hear back from graduate programs. Many were rejections but in the end I was left with three great options. Professors, friends, fellow classmates and family members were congratulating me on my success – they seemed more excited than I did.
The uncertainty grew louder.
I could not figure out where my growing doubt was coming from. I was getting what I wanted…. But here in lied the problem, I wanted it for the wrong reasons. I wanted it because it was what I was supposed to do. What was my alternative? I thought taking a year off is what people who had no idea what they wanted did. But then it dawned on me, what if a year off sounded appealing because I was not sure what I wanted.
I had found my answer but I was afraid to say it out loud, to make it real, to spread the word.
I was nervous to tell my professors, although they had sensed my hesitation by this point. With each person I told I felt more secure in my decision. It had been decided; I would float on after graduation into a year off from school and go from there.
Floating through my gap year brought me great opportunities I would not have had without taking time away from school.
In my community I started volunteering with the local Violence Prevention Center (VPC). The experience I gained through this helped me to find direction for my future.
To connect more to the community I did a project called, “Cook County Needs Feminism Because”, collecting answers from dozens of local community members. The results were amazing. Through the VPC I presented my project at an annual event, meeting even more Cook County feminists.
I was also able to travel to Florida to see my dad, step-mom, and stepbrother. They moved south two years ago and I miss them everyday. Having the time to see them was very needed.
Later in the year I was lucky enough to journey to the Dominican Republic. One of my best friends is doing amazing things working as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican (check out her adventures here!) For three weeks I was able to stay with her and do some traveling. It was one of those trips that already looking back I think, wow I needed to do that, I learned and experienced so much.
After getting home from this trip I jumped into co-teaching a class about healthy relationships to the local high school, again through the VPC. It was so fun to interact with younger people on the topics of dating and relationships, and to gain experience in teaching a program.
Finally, the last big plus of my year off was working. Starting to save money and prepare for the next year made me feel more at ease about moving back out on my own.
My adventures aside, I used this time to really think about what I wanted, not just for school or a career but for my life, for my body, mind and soul. I made connections to dozens of people about their jobs and the schooling it took to get them there.
I reached out to people I would have never talked to before, just to see how they got to this spot in their life. I talked to people about work life balance, and staying healthy in jobs that can take an emotional toll. I read about self-care, started using less chemicals on my body, finding natural alternatives, made sure to keep my body fit.
I learned about how all of these aspects of life, mental health, physical health, work life, social life, are connected to what to pursue for school and a career. Before I was unable to see them as a web, instead seeing them as separate pillars in my life.
All of my new connections led me to a program at Saint Cloud State University in Minnesota. At a friends suggestion I looked into a random program I had never heard of but after learning about the Masters in Social Responsibility I knew this is what I needed. Upon getting accepted into the program I applied and got a job in the Women’s Center on campus. I will work in the Gender Violence Prevention Program, a perfect fit for my interests. And that is the path I am on.
Before I wanted to go back to school because it is what I thought I should do. Now I am going back because I WANT to. The difference between those two paths is crucial.
Luckily for me I have amazing parents that supported my decision as well. I moved back to my hometown and was able to mooch off my mom and step-dad for the year, without that my gap year would not have been possible. I know that not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to take a year to figure their own life out. I am grateful that I was privileged enough to have the support to do so.
Now I know this does not work for everyone but if you are uncertain about what to do after college and are able to take a year off I HIGHLY recommend it. Take a step back and find a path that you’re passionate about. And don’t worry if during you’re year off you are sitting at home with your parents watching The Voice wondering what the hell am I doing? That is totally normal and perfectly fine.
Thank you to everyone in my life who has got me here. I hope to pay all the love and kindness I have received forward by slowly changing the world.
How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world – Anne Frank