A gap year is typically a year-long break during which students travel or work to gain real-world experience before starting university or their careers.
That's not what I did. I went straight from high school to college to being a full-time working 'adult' with no breaks in between. So technically, it's not a gap year so but here's why I quit my job, sold most of my belongings and moved to all the way across the globe to a place where I didn't know a soul.
About a year and a half after I graduated from college, I was fortunate enough to have landed a job in my career. I had arrived at the last milestone of my young life. Now I was left with the question:
After completing college and getting on my own two feet the next steps led to marriage and children. I was very much not in a rush to reach those milestones. I was still on Bambi legs of adulthood. I wasn't ready for the life of suburbia. I wasn't complacent to tread in place until I was ready to march down the 'right' path. I'm motivated by progression so of course I began to get restless. I felt accomplished, for what I had achieved, I didn't feel satisfied.
Yes, I had the job that I had been working for, but I was never one to rest on my laurels. I wanted the next challenge. I wanted to move on to the next stage of growth. The pace that I wanted to operate differed from the pace of those ahead of me.
I was conflicted as to whether to stay the course or change lanes. All of the guidance and advice that had gotten me to this point. I didn't feel the satisfaction in life that everyone had assured me I would find. In uncharted territory, I turned to those who were further along in their journey (read 'careers').
After some one-on-one conversations with these individuals about their careers, family, and goals I gained some good insights. I learned about what they appreciated about their journeys and what they wished they could revisit. There was one theme that kept emerging: All that you want is just past the horizon.
The funny thing about horizons, is they keep moving.
Although I felt a sense of accomplishment in my career, it wasn't as fulfilling as I thought it would be. My enjoyment comes from innovating, experiencing new things, and learning. My hunger for these things wasn't being met. So, what is a girl to do? I didn’t want to go further down a path that didn't align with my direction.
For all of their good intentions, the advice about what to do next was given from their vantage point. Everyone is on their own path, I can't follow blindly behind anyone else because their destination may not be where I want to end up.
At this point, I felt a little disoriented. The guidance that I had received from others helped me navigate my childhood and adolescence. I appreciate all the guides that led me down the safe path. As an adult I was realizing that it was time for me to navigate this life my way (Alexa, play Frank Sinatra's My Way).
As cliche as it might be I was at the path divided. Unlike Mr. Frost who wouldn't be able to revisit the path not taken, I reasoned that I could always come back to a career. I've never been this old before, and I'll never be this young again.
If I were to take a chance and do something where I alone bear the consequences, the time is now. You can call it a quarter-life crisis (Lord knows I did). I was overwhelmed with FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). To settle down into a career directly after finishing college would have driven me mad with thoughts of the other path.
I thought back on the first part of my twenties and thought “I wish I had done ‘XY and Z’ differently”. Then I started to question myself as to why I couldn’t do ‘XY and Z’ now? I argued myself around in circles about whether or not to 'take the leap'. I was teetering on the edge of (in)decision when I suddenly realized (figuratively) that I was wearing a parachute, which is 99.9% effective.
I followed the advice I would if I were really lost: Go back. Go back to the last place that I felt all of the things I have been searching for. When was the last time I felt satisfied? My semester abroad.
My semester abroad was magical, hands down one of my favorite experiences in life. I'm rational enough to know that I can't replicate the magic of that semester. The circumstances that made it special have all changed. Innsbruck is on the top-shelf of my cherished memories.
I asked myself: what about that time was so special. I cherished the people many of whom I keep in touch with to this day (thanks, social media). What was awesome about that time was the work-life balance. European lifestyle is more in line with how I envisioned adulthood. I enjoyed learning about different cultures, seeing new landscapes, and learning new things. All of my senses were engaged.
I realized that the only reasons I wasn't living abroad were ones of my own making. All of my fears and uncertainties were keeping me on the path well trotted. I told myself I either believe in myself or I don't.
I was an able-bodied, young, single, college graduate with a network of family and friends. My biggest fear, (being homeless and destitute) was highly unlikely. Worst-case scenario: I would be on someone’s couch starting over. Which, by the way, I have already done—twice before. With my fears rationalized, I packed my bags and set off abroad. My twenties are a time for me to make those leaps of faith and plant those seeds now for me to harvest later.
If you want something you've never had before, you've got to do something you've never done.
I made up my plans to move abroad. I can say that I don't regret it. The clarity of mind, personal growth, and experiences I have had are priceless. I won't lie the path less taken is bumpy, ill lit, and unpaved, but the views...
... make it all worth it.
If ever this ‘wandering’ life is too much for me and I need more stability, a career will always be there. The opportunity I have right now is once in a lifetime. I decided to take a gap year (as a start) to pursue my adventure. When I am old and sitting on my porch in a rocking chair I will have memories, not regrets, to recount.