Oh, the gap year—shrouded in mystery for many students. When I first began entertaining the idea of taking a year off after high school graduation, I was preoccupied with finding the perfect travel program. I attended gap year fairs and spent copious amounts of time chattering about the places I would go. Then my gap year came. Even though my plan was to work in the fall and travel in the spring, the first few months of my gap year hit me like a ton of bricks. Somehow, either by an act of disregard or subconscious fear, I hadn’t made any plans for the beginning of my year. So I began my year struggling through disheartening nostalgia and uncertainty, not because I wasn’t busy, but because I wasn’t mindful about the moment in time that I was experiencing.
Here are two reasons that should persuade potential students to embrace the entirety of the gap year, not just the exciting parts advertised in travel magazines.
You need to rest
The first reason to take a gap year is to rest. Many gap years are advertised as the perfect time to travel and experience different cultures or to grab an introductory internship. And they certainly are, but unless you are very financially stable, it seems unlikely that you will be able to spend an entire year in a different country or state. So what do you do before you hop aboard a plane to self-improvement? You will probably stay in your hometown to work or take a handful of classes just to keep busy.
Yes, a gap year does include sleeping more than you’ve been able to in the past four years, but that’s not where it ends. Your open schedule will make room for an important epiphany. With our dizzying schedules of orchestra practice, lacrosse, volunteering, AP classes or dual enrollment, church involvement, etc., many students may believe that busyness is synonymous to worth. As high school students, we wore our raggedness as a badge of pride. In the minutes before class began, we swapped stories of lives swamped with a myriad of activities and felt our own importance well up inside of us. Many high school students sit with an enormous amount of stress that they may not know how to combat, especially in their senior year—and that stress does not simply disappear upon graduation. A gap year is the perfect time to combat that harmful thought process by investing in significant physical and mental rest.
You want to create space for emotional growth
The second investment you can make is setting up your gap year as a time to deal with growing older. Adulthood isn’t something that is bestowed upon you; it is achieved. Many of us put in the effort to look physically mature, but the act of emotionally growing is something that must be worked on as well. What's more, many of us don't know or practice healthy coping mechanisms to manage our emotions, especially in stressful times.
The lull in your gap year is the perfect opportunity to do so. You can take time to reflect on your high school relationships, or try to dedicate yourself to the difficult and selfless task of properly communicating with your friends who have moved away. Perhaps you could take up some wellness counseling or just schedule a time to be reflective. Working on yourself is an exhausting task, but taking your childish habits and unhealthy coping mechanisms into this new stage of life is a mistake that you are in complete control of remedying.
For some reason, most Americans sincerely believe that self-improvement is centered in a spatial displacement from our current location. Enlightenment is not found in the valleys of some exotic land but in the willingness of the brain and soul to work together. The realization that I have come to is that we must make a concentrated effort to examine ourselves and work toward becoming the young adults we wish to be.
During your gap year, realize that your journey does not begin at the airport or in some faraway land; it begins when you commit to self-improvement, growth, and mindful preparation for what lies ahead.
Need some gap year inspiration? Check out these 3 Adventurous Gap Year Programs to Consider!