The cost of a polarizing choice

17 July 2017
17 Jul 2017
West Lafayette, IN
3 mins

One thing I’ve been inspired to think about a lot while fighting for my desire to take a gap year is why more people don’t take the plunge.

It’s not a matter of people not being interested. Every few people I meet tell me about how they wish they’d taken a gap year or travelled before college (or during college), or how they wish they’d taken more risks and been less conservative with their self-exploration during their collegiate years. And these are real people, honestly looking back, after sometimes decades of experience after college.

Of those who have just taken the gap year, very, very few regret the time spent.

So why don’t more people do it? What’s the barrier?

I think the problem boils down to this:

When we near our college years, we’re presented with a paradox. We’re told that the early twenties of our lives are for experimenting and self-discovery, for traveling and finding out what we love to do without the crushing responsibility of full adulthood. But we’re also told that our immediate choices will have lasting impact. We’re told to consider the possible but decide conservatively. On college, on relationships, on values.

The Internet is littered with “What I wish I’d known when I was…” posts. And the vast majority of them advise our younger counterparts to be less conservative, more adventurous and wiling to be fearless when we’re younger. They tell us to use our college years to travel and explore new interests, find ourselves in new and uncomfortable situations.

But that’s not really what happens when students sit down with their counselors our senior year of high school to chart out the next few years. Zero percent of most people’s discussions is about nonscholastic plans, and I think that’s wrong.

Gap years aren’t for everyone, but I believe it’s fit for far more people than are taking it today. I think the reason is that most people aren’t even considering the possibility, because we’re told to consider the possibilities of what we can explore, but freely disregard them in favor of security in any major decision.

I, myself, took the risk and chose the gap year. But the process was the definition of going against the current. I had to raise my voice (literally, in fights), seek out anedcotes, and gather evidence to demonstrate that, no, in fact, I wasn’t throwing my life into the pit. It cost me a lot of time and effort to be able to make the choice. More importantly, it required me to put in front of my arguments my self-worth in what I’ve come to value about my life and experiences, as some people praised it and others attacked it. And that’s not easy. I think that’s why more people don’t take gap years — because it requires us to put so much of ourselves into pursuading the rest of the world that it’s a choice that won’t jeopardize our future.

I don’t think it should have required me to put so much of my self-esteem and values in the front lines for me to be able to make this choice. The benefits of being less conservative, more adventurous at my age isn’t an untested hypothesis. Many of us agree.

And by making the decision so costly on students, I think we’re letting our younger generations miss out on an opportunity to grow personally, take a break from the mundanity of high school, and switch gears for a formative year.


If you enjoyed this piece, you might also enjoy my next post, I flew a plane!.

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