While cleaning out my childhood bedroom, I found a letter I wrote to myself for a high school assignment. I was ready to enroll in college with a musical theatre major, hold onto my circle as tightly as possible, and graduate with a structured plan.
16-year old me had no idea what was coming.
As the end of my senior year was swiftly approaching, I began feeling uneasy about the decisions I was planning for myself. I was auditioning at various schools for musical theatre, and something just didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel like I was connecting to the schools as deeply as I expected to. I remember sitting in the library staring at a blank screen where my 6 other college essays were supposed to be. Suddenly, the idea of a 4-year commitment towards something I was unsure of felt daunting.
And so, at 17 I decided to take a gap year. This time period was incredibly messy, uncertain, and not according to plan. I realized that no one really tells you what to do if/when you decide not to go to college, so I was figuring it out all on my own – which, for someone with anxiety, was not the ideal situation at first! I realized how many stigmas there truly are surrounding work ethic, as I’d be asked the constant questions: “Where do you go to school? What’s your job? What do you do?” At first, any time I’d be faced with these questions, I’d internally panic, fumbling around for any combination of words I could that would make it sound like “I had things figured out.” In reality, my answer at the time was I don‘t know what I’m doing at the moment and am currently figuring it out.
I’ve experienced feeling a lot of shame surrounding “figuring things out,” and it’s taught me just how much pressure there is, especially on our youth, to have your life structured around one set plan, and stick to it. What’s so wrong about needing time to figure things out? And why do things have to seem overly grand and extravagant to have significant value?
I learned that there can be numerous options and opportunities linked to one specific passion or plan. For example, I began working as a teaching artist during my gap year, and found that I really enjoyed developing leadership and educator skillsets. I loved becoming familiar with the behind the scenes elements to theater, which made me understand my initial passion that much more.
There is just as much value in human experiences that you can learn and thrive in. There is just as much value in taking time to get to know yourself better, assert boundaries, and setting aside time for rest. Things don’t have to be large and glamorous all the time in order to possess meaning surrounding your life. Although I’m still working on taking the advice I give, my life experiences are continuing to teach me just how much value lies in following what feels right – even if it isn’t according to plan.