What is the one thing in this world that you’ve always wanted to do but have held off on doing because you were so afraid to be vulnerable, free, alone, or ostracized? What is the one thing that you have held in your heart for as long as you can remember, but have never acted upon for fear of retribution or retaliation? What are you afraid of hearing others say?
These are the questions that I asked myself before I realized that I was not ready to start college in the fall. You see, there’s a lot of pressure on young people nowadays to get up and begin the next chapter of their lives the moment their high school diplomas are in their hands, especially here in the United States. While in Europe it is much more common to see students taking a gap semester to work or travel, straying from the “ideal path” is often seen in the U.S. as being foolish or lazy, a way of setting oneself up to fail.
So, of course, that is exactly what I am going to do. Because--to be frank--the dogma that the only path to success involves directly attending college and earning a degree is completely false.
As far back as I can remember, I dreamed of a college with ivy covered brick walls and beautiful architecture that dated back centuries, of escaping the state that I had lived in nearly my entire life to set out on an individual journey that was entirely my own. I yearned for the things that college represented to me: not just the next step in my education but also my first baby step into adulthood.
In my quest of applying, getting accepted, and getting rejected from a variety of colleges, I held my breath, realizing that none of the places I was applying to made me as happy or excited as this childhood fantasy had all those years ago. Even the rejections I received lacked the sting I’d expected to feel. I simply had run out of energy to care about any part of the process, and the only emotion that lingered on my mind was hopelessness: I would be the next “high school has-been” that fell apart under the pressure of the real world.
So I pursued a school that I believed I could be happy with, even though in my mind I knew that I was just putting up an act to please my family. I thought that if I put up enough of a front, people would leave me alone, and I could quietly regret the decision I’d been corralled into without also having to deal with outside disapproval. I was scared of being miserable and terrified by the idea of spending an outrageous sum to be unhappy.
I believe adults often forget what it felt like to be a young adult, just stepping into the real world where real decisions have to be made. They forget the how heavy it feels, as a high school senior, to be making major decisions (often for the first time).
Far too often, teenagers who can’t afford or aren’t ready for college are pushed into higher-level education before they have a true sense of who they are and what it is that they want with their lives. It is so hard to know what you want to achieve by age seventeen or eighteen, and if someone is prematurely forced into making a major decision about attending college, they could end up making financial, mental, and relationship damage that would’ve been completely avoidable had they just been able to step out of the fast-paced world to reevaluate.
I don’t want to make those mistakes. I don’t want to struggle like my mother, who took nine years to complete her bachelor's degree simply because she spent so much time working to pay for it herself. I do not want to be at a school that refuses to offer me room to advance my future career and improve who I am to become someone better. I do not want to be in a place where I know I am going to be unhappy, even if choosing to avoid that unhappiness means incurring judgment from other people.
I want to live a life that is happy and fulfilled. I want to accrue work experience in the real world before I go back to school, to build a schedule that allows me to pursue interests outside just the academic realm for a semester. I want to earn enough money to go into school with confidence that I will not be drowning in debt for the entirety of my life.
You do not have to suffer constantly in order to reap the rewards that life has to offer. You have to have the courage to work hard and pursue whatever you know will make you happy. Life can change in an instant, and if we forget to remember to live in the moment and only focus on what the future will bring, we will spend our whole lives anticipating instead of living in the moment.
I want to do what scares me most because I know that on the other side there is the most reward and the most growth. So, yes, I am taking a gap semester, and yes, I do know what I want to do with the rest of my life. Yes, I will be attending college in the spring, and yes, it is out of state and closer to someone that I love--because these are all aspects that are important to me. And, frankly, it doesn’t matter what anyone else has to say.
No, I am not ruining my life.
Yes, you may watch me succeed.