I’ve just hit the one year mark since graduation, so I thought I’d reflect on the past year - the good, the bad, and the ugly. Or more accurately, the good, the bad, and the boring. I was nervous about a gap year when I realized mid way through senior year that I would probably not be able to go directly into my dream job, and I would have to wait a year before attending graduate school. Despite initial reservations, a gap year was a great experience, and an opportunity to sort through my own interests and life goals.
No month is quite the same
What was interesting about my gap year from a was that there would be periods of time, typically around a month or so, where there would be a special sort of defining project. Anything from portfolio work, graduate applications, room redesign, or music. For the first few months, I practiced piano regularly, whereas more recently, and instead have spent a lot of time writing (but not necessarily posting) blog posts. I would be really into an activity for a few weeks, and then it would drop off the radar completely. It’s still a little mysterious to me.
If I had to choose one aspect that defined my gap year, aside from copious amounts of sleep, it has been dance class. I typically have class 4-5 times a week, and it’s one of the things I look forward to the most.
The bad and boring
If my gap year was without dance but otherwise identical, my gap year probably would have been mediocre at best.Part of the reason is the days without dance class lack structure. Sundays were my least favorite day because my family rarely had plans and there was no class. I would sometimes spend the day binge watch TV or spend way too much time on the computer and felt like a frustrated blob of lard by the end of the day.
Eventually I found a yoga class that got me out and about for part of the afternoon and helped me feel more productive the rest of the day.
If I were to give advice for a gap year it would be:
Have a regular activity to do several times a week, ie. a class - ideally something that has a social component. Dance was a great way to meet new people while pursuing a hobby.
Have additional (constructive) hobbies - something you can do daily. A gap year is great to catch up on favorite activities that have fallen on the wayside. For me, it was reading, and I used my gap year to learn about fields I wanted to know more about but never studied in school, such as psychology, culture, and education. Another hobby that came and went through various points in the year was practicing piano.
Learn a new skill. I worked on my culinary skills through trying new recipes. I wanted to learn something that would be important for the rest of my life, and cooking fit the bill.
Have mini projects. My mini projects were all over the place. Sometimes they would be school or job related, sometimes they would be projects I’d wanted to do for a long time but never got around to, like redoing my room. Some projects were planned, some were more impulsive - based off of something I read or had seen. Some projects are weekly - like trying a new recipes once a week.
Work accordingly for future plans. In my case, it meant making sure I did all the necessary research for graduate school (finding schools, talking with professors and students), completing requirements, and turning everything in on time. As much as I’ve enjoyed my gap year, I am also looking forward to going back to school (in part because the program looks awesome).
Try new things! Try new products, or different fitness classes, new foods, anything. I found a love for French soap and Japanese green tea by (impulsively) picking them up from the store.
Take care of yourself. Health is always important, and a gap year is no exception. Decent sleep schedules, (tasty) healthy food, and exercise are some of the basics for enjoying a gap year.
Travel (expenses permitting). Especially if it’s to see or be with friends/family. My favorite trips were the ones that were about spending time with friends, rather than doing a bunch of touristy activities (although that can be fun too). But maybe that’s just me.
If something’s not working, figure out why. Sometimes there are days or weeks that just feel sluggish and unproductive. Figure out what to do differently to get out of a slump.
Go outside! For a little bit, everyday. It’s an instant mood boost. There’s a park near my house so I usually make a few laps before coming back inside.
If I were to redo my gap year, I wouldn’t change much, but here are some things I might’ve done differently (and can work toward in the next few months):
Be more social. I don’t have very many friends that live near me, but I definitely could have reached out more to old acquaintances.
Take more classes/lessons. Something a little different from ballet - like piano lessons, gymnastics, or ballroom dance were all things I considered at one point. I wanted to do them but always made little excuses not to.
Find a source of income. Possibly tutoring, or it could be working at an ice cream parlor. It would have been nice to have my own money to spend on certain things. (All the money from previous jobs is tucked away in a retirement account.)
Try an actual schedule. I kept writing down schedules, and never ended up following them. I think it’s worth trying one for a few days to see if I can get in more of the activities that happen sporadically, like drawing or journaling.
The most surprising aspect of my gap year:
I felt I did more critical thinking in my gap year than I ever did in school.
That shouldn’t make sense, should it? But that’s exactly what happened. When I had the chance to pursue my own interests without any artificial motivation like grades, my time learning about subjects was much more thoughtful. Instead of “I have to get through x number of pages and make sure I memorize x,y, and z for the exam” I took notes because what I read was of intriguing, and I wrote about things because I wanted to share what I read, not to make sure I got 10 points for writing a blog post.
Would I recommend a gap year?
YES. But keep in mind, my family was largely supportive of my decision. I didn’t hear much in the way of “what are you doing with your life/you need to go get a job right now /you can’t live here forever” which could have made my gap year very stressful.