Up until I graduated last October, I lived out my life according to the three segments that made up every year for me as an undergraduate. The first and last segments would be heavily spent on campus where I and the rest of my cohorts fooled around during the semesters while easing into our newfound roles as practicing “adults”. We would go around in our own cars, setting up “meetings” with lecturers or group study partners, taking secret pride in our first taste of paying off our own bills and completely absorbed in our so-called grown-up duties.
This was the way we carried on like clockwork until our ceremonious exit into the working world on one sunny afternoon, surrounded by our loved ones, happy congratulatory balloons and all. Everything else that fell in between semesters was considered miscellaneous and neatly slotted into the middle segment also known as, the glorious summer holidays.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
It was simple, easy and fuss-free with everything having a set beginning and a set ending that you could always rely on. As terrible as the semester was, you could always count on there being a denouement to your suffering, whether in the form of exams (the final straw!) or a lazy, relaxing three month “staycation” away from campus to gather your wits before putting your game face on again.
After graduation, I decided to have one last proper break to myself before the frenzy of the working world kicked in. Adamant that I wouldn’t be rushed into looking for a job before I was truly ready, I smugly reclined in the hammock of my mind as my peers rushed around feverishly toting folders bursting at the seams with certificates and resumes. Days, weeks and half a year went by and the urge to actively search for a job still had yet to make an appearance.
It wasn’t until a year had gone by when I realized that I had somehow fallen off into a rabbit hole during my luxurious stroll via the scenic route, where my unending holiday threatened to go on indefinitely without conclusion. I’d grown so accustomed to this Bohemian lifestyle that eventually the thought of even searching for a job became a completely foreign concept. I’d gotten lazy and content with doing nothing and my year off was on the verge of becoming a permanent state of living.
So here are a few words of advice that I wish I’d taken into consideration before jumping into my gap year off:
- Be firm with yourself. Discipline is key.
Odd as it is, first of all, the thing to remember is to be strict with yourself. If you have decided to take half a gap year off, then set a goal to jump to your feet the instant the time comes. Until I actually left university life, it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t have any of those usual student constraints to lean on again, nor did I realize how much I actually relied on them to function properly as a contributing member to society. It took more than one wake-up call to make me understand that rules are there for a reason and that if i no longer had anyone else to rely on to set those barriers, than i had to do it myself. So take note to set goals and be firm when achieving targets.
- Move at your own pace
Some of us hit the ground running. Others prefer to take their time sailing down serenely with their parachutes bellowing above them before delicately landing feet first unto a soft, padded surface. Whichever feels right to you is undoubtedly the one you should go with. Regardless of what unrelated job offers or unsolicited advice aunties, uncles, cousins or nosy neighbours may throw in your direction, understand that at the end of the day, it is your life. Do not feel guilty about moving at a speed you’re comfortable with, even if you’re the only one along for the ride. Whatever you choose to do, be confident that it’s serving in your own best interests.
- Take your time but…
Understand what you’re getting yourself into. The harsh reality is that while you may now have all the time in the world to kick back and relax, it also means a longer time to go before you start earning a stable income. Your career isn’t going to launch itself without any effort on your part. The reality of taking a “Mental Health Year” is that while you develop other areas of yourself, it obviously will not do much in terms of landing you a gig.
Just because after eight months of having a good rest with your feet up, you suddenly decide to shoot off a resume to your lucky company of choice, there is a very low chance of you getting an interview or even a call back within the next month or so. So remember to keep this period in consideration as well when determining the length of your sabbatical.
- On the positive side…
If you plan on being slightly more productive than the average couch potato by exploring new interests, making some life changes or working on a hobby, you might just be one of the lucky ones who finds your passion or true calling when you’re least looking for it. And if you work hard enough, there is also a chance you may even be able to fashion it into a somewhat unexpected but equally-fulfilling career.
But most of all, don’t forget to do what you set out to do in the first place; relax and take a well-earned breather.