To Gap Year or Not To Gap Year: As Someone Who Did It, I Say DO IT
Even though any dictionary would define being an adult as 18+, I beg to differ. Adulthood is not based on a number. It’s a state of mind. Specifically, one that forms with independence — financial, emotional, and otherwise.
While I can’t speak for everybody, one thing I know for sure is the huge amount of stress I felt after finishing university. I had spent 4 years of my life writing assignments, smoking weed, and listening to Chet Faker, Baker, and everything in between. I majored in Political Science and Public Policy from an elite university in India. My mother had spent a bomb on my education and there was nothing to show for it except for a 20,000-word dissertation on lack of German nationalism.
It was May of 2019 and I had received one job offer as a policy analyst at a think tank. Yeah…that wasn’t going to pay the bills. The fact that I couldn't be any less excited about the job didn’t help either. Political Science was kinda fun in university — you had the cool professors you could smoke ciggies with outside campus. You could discuss Marxism while sitting with a bunch of dudes who wore loose pants and carried bags made of hemp on their shoulders. You could act all self-righteous and blame capitalism for everything while your parents paid the bills.
And now? A 40-hour workweek in a cramped little office that paid 20,000 INR per month. That’s less than 300 USD, and while the cost of living in India is a lot lower than America or most European countries, I could hardly make rent with this kind of money.
It’s not a good feeling to learn that you may need to be financially dependent on your parents for years after graduating just because you chose not to do medicine, law, or engineering. Even then, in India, most new grads are paid peanuts. We’re just supposed to be eternally grateful for any opportunity that comes our way and work to the max. during our “unpaid” internships. I say “unpaid” because it’s basically exploitation.
Perhaps the only thing that gave me solace (in a twisted kind of way) was the fact that not many of my batchmates were doing any better than me. But I am not a sadist, and while attempting to bandage my own broken dreams with other people’s misery may have worked for a while (72 hours), it wasn’t a viable “solution” to what was clearly a dash of existential crisis mixed with heaps of stress that comes with being “new” to adulthood — all exploding out of the blender of life a more confused smoothie than this sentence.
I’m grateful to have a supporting family. One of my uncles — a retired army officer — owns a tiny cottage in the hills some 7 hours from Delhi. My Nani (that’s maternal grandma in Hindi), her dog, my uncle, his girlfriend, and I decided to head there to beat the summer heat of Delhi.
I spent a week hiking with my uncle, running around with my dog, and eating all the delicious food Nani and the girlfriend made. I would meditate near a stream of water during sundown and spend hours on my laptop post-lunch looking for something that may reignite the fire in me.
That’s when I happened to come across an opportunity to teach in Spain. I didn't have a TEFL certification and wasn’t from a “native English speaking” country (in quotes because English is my first language). My chances were slim to none, or so I thought. I applied to some 20 to 30 schools during my time at the cottage.
It was really cool/unexpected when I started hearing back from them. I’d sent in my 10,000-word report on community service that entailed teaching a bunch of kids at an NGO back in 2017. Schools were impressed. They wanted me. Interviews were set up over Skype and by the end of June, I had myself my first job — a teaching gig in the northwest of Spain. The visa process took about 2 months, and then I was on my merry way to Spain faster than you can say gazpacho.
The real transformation happened here. I’m still in Spain — home-bound at the moment. I have been teaching, freelance writing, and learning Spanish. I intuitively knew after university that I needed to take time off. Majority of my batchmates were jumping headfirst into the first job they were offered or flying across continents to do their Masters (many of whom were willing to pay 50K+ USD in tuition out of confusion rather than passion). Now, I am not saying they were all clueless or bound by sucky fate. 90 Percent of them were. I know this because I’ve spoken to them. Most of them actually. Maybe some 10 out of our batch of 105 (in my college, not university) got the opportunity to do what they loved. The rest were taking on offers out of fear. It’s not as simple as saying it was the fear of society or failing their parents which led to this. My guess is, and I have been there so I can say this with relative authority, is the fear of failing themselves.
We are all in such a hurry to get on with our lives. We cannot wait to be adults! Make our choices, be contributing members to society, make a difference, or simply buy ourselves a new car.
But I say — pause.
We have time on our side and that time doesn't need to be milked 24/7/365, regardless of what Gary V may say. If we need to call time out, then we deserve too. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you are in a position (financially) to take a break, do it.
I did. I knew I needed it. Despite everyone telling me to take that job.
In school, we were told to work hard to get into a good uni. At University, we were told to work hard to get a good job. It doesn’ end — this cycle.
This is THE best time to take a break. You’ll be told otherwise — people will tell you to take a break after you got your career sorted. But in reality, once you jump into your career career, taking time out will only become more difficult. Of course, if you’re on the path that’s right for you, you wouldn't need “time out” per se.
Taking time out was the right thing for me because I’d felt this need to connect with myself. I knew I needed to make a decision that was equal parts informed as it was intuitive. In order for me to do so, I needed to be far away from the stress, and I needed to experience new things. I cannot speak for anyone else, but I know what helps me gain perspective: being in unfamiliar environments. It really gets in the engine running!
I took a gap year and it’s changed my life. Every decision I make about my career (and life, in general) from here on out wouldn't be dictated by societal expectations, or worse, my expectations about who I should be. Now, I don't come from a place of expectations. There is no mentally walking down the corridor like Harvey Spector with Stayin’ Alive playing in the background. No need to come across a certain way in life. No living life for what other people would think of my choices.
Taking time out allowed me to do this. So be brutally honest with yourself: do you need to take time out? If you do, please do.