Recently, I read “In Fervent Support of the ‘Gap Year,’” a mother’s reflection on her daughter’s choice to defer college for one year. Initially apprehensive, she now has extreme gratitude for how that experience prepared her daughter for the rigors of college and adulthood. This story strongly resonated with my own decision to take a gap year and the benefits I experienced. When I first declared I wanted to take a year before entering college, I didn’t entirely know where the impulse had come from. Sure, the thought of spending a winter skiing in Colorado and then backpacking through India sounded awesome; who wouldn’t want to have these adventures? Yet there was something deeper, which I couldn’t quite articulate at the time, that prompted me to go against the norm and take a year to explore different passions, step back from the stress of school, and grow into the person that I did not yet know I was capable of becoming.
Like so many young people today, high school was really hard for me. I put a lot of stress on myself to succeed academically. More significant, however, was the fact that I lacked the self-confidence to express my true self. I always made decisions based on what I thought I should do and what people would think of me, rather than what would truly make me happy. Looking back, the desire to take a gap year was, in many ways, an assertion of my independence and taking the risk to step away from following the herd.
Luckily, my dad, who had traveled around the world during his early twenties, saw the invaluable benefits of my idea. His only caveats: I would need to support myself and I needed to be enrolled in college for the following year. So, I packed my bags in the summer of 2001 and moved to Steamboat. I soon found a job as a nanny during the days and waitressed at a sushi restaurant during the night. I audited a yoga class at the local community college and joined the ski team. I challenged myself to journal regularly and started ticking off some of the classic western novels. In the spring, I embarked on a five-week course in India with NOLS, where I finally felt that I had found my true calling. Reinvigorated, I entered college open-minded, self-directed, and motivated. I embraced my college experience wholeheartedly, getting involved in many extracurricular student organizations, designing my own major in International Sustainable Development, and forming authentic life-long friendships.
Rarely does a single decision dramatically shape the trajectory of one’s life. However, I looking back almost fifteen years, I see how my decision to take a gap year was a defining moment in my life. I didn’t realize the profound impact it would have at the time – how could I? But by giving myself the space to explore who I was in a different context and gain independence, I was able to start the process of truly knowing myself and leading a life of meaning and purpose.