On taking a gap year, being a twenty something, and plans (or lack thereof)

Those Who Wander Lost is a blog-site dedicated to the Class of 2013 but with enough room for guest contributors to share their pearls of wisdom, advice, rants, worries, and stories about college life and beyond. Posted here with permission by the author, one of my dearest friends from highschool–basically I’ve known this girl for about eight years now can you believe that–my lovely marine biologist senpai: Emily. Emily has got an amazing year ahead of her–but I won’t steal her thunder as she goes on to explain what it means to take a “gap year” (Currently something I’m suffering through, I mean *Gulp*)

To start off, welcome, all you new grads, to the real world! Wait a minute, that’s not right. Let’s try again!

Welcome, all you new grads, to the hellish limbo of officially being a “twenty-something!”

It’s really not that bad! Well, depending on what you have decided to do with your life post-graduation. I, for one, do not have a single friend that I graduated with that has begun their professional career. Grad school? Yeah, a bunch! Life-affirming service projects to underprivileged citizens of the world? Mmmhmm, a few! Returned to their parents’ homes to take menial jobs for which they are highly overqualified in order to get by? Check. I happen to fall into the latter category, partially of my own volition. And hey, it wasn’t so bad! But let me tell you why this possibility of familiarity and comfort in a “gap year(s)” should scare you. I’ll start at the beginning of my story.

Bright-eyed and ready to save every creature that has ever traversed the deep blue sea, I graduated with my BSc in marine science. I graduated with honors and with a slew of under-grad research under my belt, and with these qualifications I figured I would have a good shot at making my post-graduate plans fall right into place. Let’s outline:

1. Summer: field job
2. Fall: field/research job with some state agency in an exotic place (Alaska? Hawaii? California!?)
3. Winter: home! (snow, The Hobbit, copious amounds of free food, aww yis.)
4. Spring : travel! see the world!
5. Summer round 2: field job again!
6. Fall round 2: move to New Zealand and travel!
7. Winter round 2: start grad school in New Zealand!
8. The rest of my life: be happy and fulfilled!!!

Well, I achieved the first bullet point (for half the summer), but not much after that. I spent 2 months looking for lab or field tech jobs without a single useful lead, so I gave up. See, I have this constant inner battle between wanderlust and homesickness. I love to travel, but I love to be home as well. Having been away for four years at various distances around the world, I was more than okay with the cosmos obviously telling me to take some time at home to decompress. I liked being home, I missed being home, so I decided to stick it out in my old abode for however long I needed to. I wanted to hang out with my high-school friends, wanted to do the stuff I used to do, wanted to drive down the same streets and see the same people I was so familiar with. I wanted to relish it, to relish the comfort of familiarity. What I didn’t plan on was how to manage the fact that things change.

“Stuck” (I wasn’t really stuck, I could have pretty much gone anywhere and done anything if I had enough gumption) at home, I took a part-time job that let me “apply to grad school” (quotations because, really, proactivity is not my strong point). It started out fine and dandy, was easy and comfortable, but it slowly turned to soul-sucking. My friends weren’t even around to occupy me when I wasn’t working; funny how other peoples’ lives don’t actually depend at all on yours! As I kept working I kept realizing that I needed to go back to school if jobs (and social circles) like this were going to be my future otherwise, but I was banking on the fact that I would get that Fulbright Award and jet off to study fish in New Zealand forever. Big surprise, I didn’t! Here is where my advice on contingency plans come in: have a better one than I did. I scrambled trying to find graduate programs I was interested in, and, more importantly, ones that had room/money for me. I did this while checking off bullet #4: “traveling,” aka living comfortably and innocuously in my friend’s house in Mexico for two months. I fell into the same trap as I did at home; I was “comfortable.” I didn’t do anything too risky, and therefore I didn’t do anything too exciting. I got back to the United States and felt pretty unfulfilled, the sense of which was compounded by lack of work at my old job and not getting what I wanted out of my grad school search. It was a monotonous existence, at home by myself for days on end, and I was lost and depressed for months. The tide only broke when the prospect of graduate school was on the horizon. Not graduate school as I had hoped; not in New Zealand, or even on the West Coast, not studying what I thought I would study, and not even involving fieldwork, my real passion in research. But it was something, so I took it and ran.

My “gap year” is almost over. Did I hate it? No! I honestly loved being home and being a semi-lazy bum for a few months. But the novelty wears off, and being comfortable does not provide good stories about how awesome and fulfilling an entire year of your life was. Am I looking forward to graduate school? A qualified yes. I am so comfortable at home again that the thought of leaving is saddening to me. But being a year out of school has given me enough perspective on what I could have been doing to make me not want to waste any more time. Would I tell someone to avoid taking a gap year, or to avoid doing what I did? Definitely not! But make sure you have an idea of what you want to do, start prepping early, and don’t let that idea get swept under the rug because it’s easier to stay stagnant than it is to swim against a current.

So I guess the advice I have for all you whippersnappers in your post-grad daze is this: plan. But don’t rely on your plans, because they will never work out. Don’t float on the breeze waiting for something to happen to you, but don’t put all of your eggs in one basket either. It’s a tricky balance to strike, but if you seek out opportunities you will be surprised at what else falls in your lap that is probably better than what you had originally “planned.” And most of all, DON’T GET TOO COMFORTABLE. This is where “twenty-somethings” are created; in their parents’ bosom and a room filled with pastel colors and high-school band posters. If you can, get a 9 to 5 job. Save up money from that and pay back some of your loans. If you can afford it (and you know what, even if you can’t), travel. See things you’ve never seen before, and do things you never thought you’d do. Don’t wait for anyone to do them with you; go out and explore the world on your own. Don’t plan it (too much). Don’t get comfortable in any one place. You can be comfortable in your plush, velvet-lined casket when you’re dead. For now, break free of your plans, kick comfort to the curb, and live at least a little bit while you still have the chance!


2 thoughts on “On taking a gap year, being a twenty something, and plans (or lack thereof)

  1. Pingback: Grad Student Rap | Those Who Wander Lost

  2. I loved your post, it’s exactly how I feel and I thought I was the only one in this situation. I am working as waitress and, like you wrote I know I am over qualified, but then when I apply to jobs in my field of study it seems that I am under qualified because I don’t hear back from them. Who would have thought that looking for a job as a recent grad would be so tuff. Great Post.

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