Gap Year: How to Plan Your Life

I’m no stranger to having a plan and setting goals to achieve. While scrolling through journals, speeches, or posts, I noticed that I always select captions geared toward planning your life. I’ve always been curious about how people got to their dream job or found this content/ happy median between work and home life. What I’ve discovered is that the majority of advice for figuring out this world is summed in 4 statements:

  • Audit your life and determine what needs adjustment
  • Find your passion and listen to your heart
  • Rely on Mentors and Network
  • Schedule time to build on your skills or achieve your end goal

However, you have people that will tell you that none of that matters. The truth is that for some of us, if every step is over calculated, we will spend the majority of our lives trying to figure out what we want to do with it, rather than actually living it. Another thing that is tough to accept is that finding some passions and goals are easy for others to decide on, while the rest of us linger in the grey zones. For those of us in the grey zone, we have to remember that the standard advice above may not apply to us. Of course, this isn’t the most comforting advice, but we all have different plans to take us on a unique journey.

I happen to eat, sleep, and breathe in the grey zone. One of my favorite professor’s advice was to find something we’re good at and something we like. Yet even that advice was tough for me.  I like a lot of things and my passions about those things shift with time. I know that I am artistic, creative, humorous, analytical, compulsive, and curious. I like visual and performance art, writing, and creating order to things.  I care about a variety of causes and issues. Overall, I spread messages of feminism and the Golden Rule which means that I believe in equality, humanism, and trying to be a good person. I have tested the waters with a number of fields. I can tell you my experiences working for non-profits, for-profits, film, theatre, pharmaceutical industry, teaching, writing, and more. I also know that I’m good at almost anything. I’m not bragging. I’m just confident in my abilities to complete a variety of tasks and do them well.

So as I read, hear, and watch all of these extraordinary human beings in their successes, I am still curious about how they made their decision. And now I’m starting to think that I’ve figured it out. I restructured the 4 step process for planning your life, even if you’re in the grey zone.

  1. So at the end of the day, you have to set your priorities. Aside from interests and job prospects, what is the most important thing for you to have or do? I need a beach or tropical climate and I want to be able to support myself well enough to live alone. Therefore, I am looking for what industries are most popular in coastal regions and have a decent cost of living. Because being financially comfortable is important me, I know that I will need a boring 9-5 job to get above the poverty line (seeing that I’m single with no children or debts). I will always be creating art, but realistically (based on my priorities) I need something to support myself and those supplies to create my dream pieces. I also know that I don’t have the drive of an entrepreneur to start my own business.
  2. In the spirit of being realistic, you have to do a mini assessment of your life. I am single, childless, and debt/ loan free. I am also mobile with a car that I now own, passport, and no other obligations once August comes. My options are to find a job, another service position, or a graduate program in a coastal city. Of those three, I would have to make sure that I get enough scholarships and would make enough for living off-campus or make sure I’m making at least 35k a year or more with a relocation package. So if I want to pursue either school or a new job, I will have start applying for schools now and wait a couple of months before August to start applying for jobs.
  3. Before making a final decision, do a happy check with yourself. Although I’ve discovered that adulting isn’t really about happiness, the goal is to not be miserable. Therefore, at this point revisit your priorities and skills. As I search for a degree program or job, I will be realistic about my past experiences (rather than trying to follow a passion). Basically, I just want to make decent money to support myself and be able to drive to a beach easily on the weekend. So I’ll apply to a few programs and jobs in good locations that connect to my undergraduate degree. During this time, I can build a portfolio or network for a decent 9-5 job which I’d be skilled at. For me, at this point, it’s not about having a meaningful position or solving the problems of the world. I’m just going to be basic and maybe every now and then I will have the chance to pull out my cape and save the world.
  4. Finally, think of some small goals to get there. You don’t necessarily need a big end goal (unless it’s an easy choice for you). So I’ll give myself two to three weekends to decide on at least 3-5 graduate programs (mostly in coastal cities) to apply to. After that I’ll put application dates on the calendar, call and email department heads with questions and start sending in paper work. If the universe wants me in that program, maybe one of them will say yes. If they say no, I will already be applying to jobs starting in May (maybe earlier but it really depends on when they want the positions filled). Again, if the universe wants me in those job positions, then I might get a call back and a chance to kill that interview. In the meantime, whenever I get stuck, I’ll ask more adulty adults for advice (or ecosia and google).

I originally took this Gap Year, because I had no idea what I was doing, what I wanted, or where I was going. I was also VERY exhausted from my undergraduate program. And now I see myself and what habits I want in the real world. Now I know how well I work with people, commuting to and from work on a daily basis, and how I maintain relationships. I am starting to notice patterns in my free time habits. I noticed that I actually can survive in the real world. Although tough, I have seen quite a bit to be more prepared in the near future. I’m also seeing that to be extraordinary, you do no have to be famous or unique. To be extraordinary you just have to be you and craft your life for you. So just remember, just do you boo.

Best,

Cayla Jae

 

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Gap Year: Making the Decision

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.

Best,

Cayla Jae