Confession: I miss being in school. I genuinely miss the routine of going to class, finishing homework, and studying for tests. I miss the stress of having a challenging class and the sense of accomplishment in getting a good grade on an assignment. Watching my friends study for final exams and prepare for class presentations is bittersweet for me: it makes me realize that I’m excited to return to school (although I’m sure this excitement will die once classes actually start) but also that my gap year is coming to an end. Although I still have the summer to spend time with loved ones and (hopefully) go on some adventures, I’m also preparing to move to college in the fall. I’m going to be reentering the world of school after a year off while also readjusting to living on my own for the first time. So instead of focusing on how unprepared I feel and how much stuff I need to buy for my dorm and how long I have to register for classes and ahhhhhhh – I’m choosing to take some time to reflect on the past few months.
Here’s a summary of what I learned from taking a gap year:
- I learned how to budget and save money. Being financially responsible is a habit you can never start too early. In high school, I was motivated to work hard and get good grades because I knew it would increase my chances of getting scholarships which would then give me more freedom in choosing which college I wanted to attend. My hard work resulted in me receiving a full ride scholarship to my top choice college, which is honestly a bigger blessing than I could have ever imagined. As for personal expenses, I’ve worked steadily since last summer and made a point to spend less and save more, all for the purpose of being as prepared and financially independent in college as possible.
- I learned how to take better care of myself. I’ve always been someone who likes to have a lot going on; I feel most fulfilled when I have a balance of school, work, and personal projects. There was a month or two of my gap year before I was working that I had waaaaay too much downtime for my liking. It made me realize that I had been using school and work as distractions to avoid addressing some personal issues that have been around since high school. Realizing this was a difficult and humbling experience: I felt incredibly lost, uneasy, unmotivated, and unhappy. I opened up to my family about what I was feeling and told them I needed help which resulted in me beginning therapy on a weekly basis. Getting the help I had needed for a long time was, more than anything, a huge relief. While being honest about what I was feeling was terrifying and sometimes embarrassing, I know I’m in a much better place now than I was last year.
- I learned to be more flexible. I entered my gap year with no concrete plans, only a desire to spend time with loved ones and go on a few adventures. I ended up accomplishing much more than I expected, from hiking the entire Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail and taking my first solo-backpacking trip to exploring the mountains of Colorado and getting tattoos with my family. I have so many beautiful memories from this past year, and many of them were unexpected or unplanned. On a more difficult note, I had many plans fall apart over the course of the year: my plans for college changed for reasons beyond my control almost every couple of months, and unexpected family medical emergencies led me to cancel a potential thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. However, every frustration and change in plans helped me realize the importance of remaining flexible and trusting that God is in control of my life. As long as I focus on the things that are really important in life, everything else will be taken care of.
- I learned what kind of person I actually am. Towards the end of my time in high school, I began to envision the type of future I would have: I pictured myself being a loner and finding a job that required constant travel so I wouldn’t need to depend on anyone else. I’ve always been independent and that quality still remains, but over the course of my gap year, I’ve learned to appreciate the beauty and importance of having relationships with others. While I still value my alone time, I now also prioritize my relationships with loved ones, and I’ve come to recognize their importance in my life.
Although there have been a lot of difficult times throughout these past few months, I believe taking a gap year was the right decision for me. Every difficult lesson in the past year has better equipped me to tackle the future and, most importantly, I got to spend time making fantastic memories with my friends and family. I wish I could say I spent 6 months backpacking through Europe or road tripping across the U.S., but I trust I will make the time for those adventures in the future. I’m still proud of everything I did over my gap year, and I’m looking forward to my last summer before college. And to everyone trying to make it through finals week: next year, I’ll be struggling right alongside you.