In 2012, I graduated from high school, and never have I been so confused about what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. High school doesn’t necessarily prepare you for such choices. I mean, it’s a serious commitment. You basically commit to a specific path for the rest of your life (ok for a good, important few years at least). It is also an expensive choice because you spend at least 3 years at college if you decide to pursue a diploma or degree.
December 2012 was a pretty intense period, especially as my peers seemed certain about the fields they wanted to pursue. There I was, as confused and lost as ever. I didn’t know all my options, and I didn’t know what I was passionate about, I hardly knew whom I was. Other than that, I didn’t do so well academically, I got university acceptance grade but I had wanted to do better. I was especially bummed with mathematics, I really wanted to do well in that subject, but it did not reciprocate. Needless to say, I had not applied to attend any institution. So I opted to take a gap year.
A gap year is something you take after high school to gain some experience before deciding what to study at college. Taking a gap year has been in the news these past few years as high profile teenagers have taken gap years, think Malia Obama, Yara Shahidi and Ming Lee Simmons. These American teens have gone on to amazing and enriching experiences before heading back on to college.
2013. I honestly had no plan about what I was going to do during the gap year; I was just a confused 19 year old. I actually think my parents were worried about the direction that my life was headed. I was too. All I knew was that I wanted to improve my math score, because I didn’t know I could get into varsity without a math grade. And then I convinced myself that I needed to do a BCom to get a decent job. I just assumed all the courses, which were BCom related, needed a good math grade, and they did, and that is what I thought I wanted to do. So I registered to retake 12th grade math, and in the meantime I was working for Verimark at Makro as a salesperson. Not long into the job, I was fired; I mean I knew nothing about selling gym equipment.
Because I had no specific goals as to how I would spend the year, it was pretty much ‘anything goes’. Fast forward, I started my tertiary journey 5 years later after I left high school. Crazy right? Not really, but I couldn’t have asked for a different journey today. Although at the time it may not have felt like it, today I’m somebody who is certain about who they are and what I want to accomplish.
Here are some things that My Gap Year(s) taught me:
It’s okay to not know – you’re only about 18 when you graduate from high school, and I commend those who knew exactly what they wanted to pursue straight after high school, but it’s okay if you don’t know. Being that young you have time on your side, and stupid or silly mistakes are allowed. But you must never get comfortable being in this position; it should be a temporary state. This is where you should do most of your research about topics you’re interested in, not just subjects or courses, what you find yourself speaking about the most, your passion, what makes you light up when you think or do it. What kind of conversation arouses emotion and passion when speaking? Do as much reading as possible; educate yourself, even if you aren’t officially enrolled in a formal institution. This was the time when I took the opportunity to read the book Rich Dad Poor Dad, by Robert Kiyosaki, and it was when I entered my first awakening stage. Awakening in a sense that there is a lot more knowledge in the world to be acquired that we will not necessarily learn at school.
Pressure is good – it is inevitable that if you ever find yourself in a predicament similar to mine that you will feel the pressure. It will come at you from in from all directions. Transform this negative feeling into something positive. Pressure should drive you to want to do and be more. So even if you enroll for a diploma/degree that you are not 100% sure with, it’s okay. What pressure should do is keep the fire and desire to grow at a constant, but then that fire and desire should be from within yourself, not external, otherwise you will burn out trying to satisfy others. This was a hard lesson I learned when I enrolled in 2015 then later dropped out in May 2015. Basically, I quickly burnt out, I enrolled for a course because I felt pressured to start studying and I enrolled for a course I thought guaranteed me employment when I was it was not anything I enjoyed at the time. But it was only after that experience that I slowly uncovered my passion for a certain cause. A cause that is external to my own satisfaction. And that is what is really important. What and who are you about? This is a constant undying fire.
Take this time to learn about yourself – My biggest lesson to self here was that, “If I Don’t Know Who I Am, People Will Tell Me Who To Be”; obviously I was not okay with this. So I took this period to learn about many truths, including my true self. This has been by far my most personally challenging experience, lonely and depressive. I was confused about a lot of things, and decided to take time taking them on, one by one. Once I was on this journey I slowly started meeting people who made sense, who spoke my language. This ultimately gave me clarity about who I wanted to be, what I wanted to do and whom I wanted to do it for and importantly that I don’t have to try fit into any box of what I think people expect me to be. I still live by this vision it is what motivates me. Finding a purpose higher than myself.
2017, I started varsity. As you have read, a gap year can also take you on an adventure you never subscribed to. But to have a successful gap year and also to limit the time of years spent trying to figure yourself out, set clear intentions about what you wish to achieve during that period. That will make all the difference, setting clear intentions from the onset. Ask yourself important questions like who you are? What drives you? What are passionate about? How would you like to make a difference? What issues do you care about? Also, don’t forget to educate yourself, keep reading and having conversations with people you look up to, there is also a lot to be learnt from the streets of life outside of structured schooling.