In May, I made a commitment to myself to be stronger and more focused. I decided to take a Gap Year after my undergraduate studies and I have yet to regret it.
The hardest part so far on this journey was making the commitment while most of my friends and family members told me how big my “mistake” was. I personally felt a lot of pressure from my family to “just get [my education] out the way.” As a minority, I feel that adversity is so present in our everyday lives that many adults (well more adulty adults) believe that furthering your education is the only way to overcome those barriers in the U.S.A. You may have heard of the phrase “You must work twice as hard to get half of what they have.” However, I believe that the model of “education is the only way to ensure your success in life” is out of date. While I do believe that education is important and I am one of the biggest nerds, I know that I will need more to survive in this ever-changing world.
In the process of making my decision, I noticed that the possible thoughts and opinions of others (family, friends, mentees, and strangers) were the only thing holding me back. I did not want to be labelled as a failure and I wanted to be extraordinary in their eyes. The problem here was that I didn’t know what kind of career I wanted or what I was passionate about. So like all bright college students, I consulted Google. Unfortunately, all of these searches led to the same answer: You are the only person who can answer these questions about your life. And I absolutely HATED this dead end, because I felt as if I didn’t know myself well enough and I did not trust my own judgement to make the “right” call.
I had gotten use to making decisions based on what would look good for my image, rather than what I truly cared for. Eventually, I had to come to terms with the fact that no one is a better expert on me or my experience than I. During my senior year in undergrad, I conducted research on the self-definition of young African American women, in an attempt to answer some of these questions for myself. This research led to a cathartic phase in which I made a decision to start over. I began removing toxic people and external influences from my life. I became more selfish with my time and wishes. I started dating myself and getting to know what womanhood looks like for myself. I would sit with myself in silence to reflect on my thoughts, actions, and plans. Although tough and really awkward in the beginning, it became easier and forced me to be more honest with myself. Before this reformation stage, I had to break all preconceived notions of who I was and could be which was vital in my decision to pursue my Gap Year.
I had begun this journey to self love and actualization. During this process, I challenged myself to be vulnerable and realized that my strength lied in the fact that I acknowledged I was not strong enough to go directly into graduate school. For me, I needed me time AND LOTS OF IT. I deserved it, because I had given too much of myself to the world for the first twenty years of my life and left little to nothing for myself.
The rebuilding period and most of this Gap Year experience has taught me the importance of prioritizing things in life. At the time, my happiness was at the top of the list. The idea of transitioning into a graduate program and maybe even a doctoral program at this time in my life made me physically sick and emotionally exhausted. Which is why it is also important to listen to your instincts when making tough decisions. This moment of pause made me realize that my holistic health was more important to me than what my family, friends, and total strangers would think of my decision. I never questioned my ability to be a rock star in graduate school. I worried that I did not have the right mindset, focus, or reasons for enrolling myself. My thoughts about myself, my direction, and my majors changed so drastically over the past four years, that I knew I needed more time to make sure my mind, body, and soul were ready for more academic torture. I also wanted this time to be the first time I wanted the study and achieve things that were not for others or motivated by others.
I watched a TED Talk from Sarah Knight a while back and she spoke about “Fuck Buck” currency. I think of this speech almost everyday by asking myself how much I personally care for someone or something. Basically, how many fucks am I willing to give to this thing? How much is it worth to me and my happiness? And as I prioritize or make these day to day decisions, I have to keep my “why” in mind. What do I value? What is my mission statement? So the question of how many fucks I give also has to align with my passions. However, I doubt that I would have been able to answer any of these questions if I had not begun dating myself.
Although I did not receive much support for taking my year of me time, I have yet to regret my decision. People will say that “it is not a good idea”, “you will never go back to school”, “you are wasting your time”, and “you are trying to find yourself, when all you need to do is find it another degree.” Every now and then you will have one person who sees potential in you and finds value in this process. The trick is to not let negative opinions bother you because they are subjective to that person’s experience. As I said before, I am the only one who can make this decision for myself. It is my life and hell, I get to write it without a co-author in pencil, rather than pen. I know myself well enough now to know that eventually I will go back but it will be with the right program to project me to the right place. Also, there isn’t a rush! These universities will be here and continue making money from other students. I think that some people don’t see the value in getting to know themselves and they think that if you are not making your six figures or binging coffee while crying in the corner of a library that you are wasting time. I have been on my gap year journey now for about five months and I do not feel that any time has been wasted. I have learned about dating men instead of boys, how to adult, and so much more about what career choices might be better for me. I actually spend time doing things that excite me and that help me learn more about myself and others.
One professor told me “Do your part and let God do the rest.” No matter your religion, this was the best advice I could have received in the moment of deciding whether or not to apply to jobs or schools or traveling positions. The truth is the things you want must be welcomed in and if it is meant for you, then it will come in.
In making my decision to start this Gap Year Journey, I have learned that I am stronger than I could have ever imagined. I have learned that I truly am an old soul who is the biggest hippie. I also learned that now matter what happens I have enough grit to stay on my grind and because of that I will be fine. I learned these things when landing amazing paid internships and jobs that allowed me to wear joggers and hoodies in the office place. This learning matters because I have gained more confidence in myself and learned more about myself. This learning matters because I am beginning to love myself and love my freedom. This learning matters because I can finally be vulnerable, open, and honest and have no regrets. In light of this learning, I will be sharing my insights on more topics related to this journey every Thursday night. I will also continue to push myself to grow and laugh at those who think they can co-write my life.