I ran into one of my middle school teachers at work the other day. We recognized each other and briefly exchanged “how’ve you been”s. Later, he approached me, tea in hand and a puzzled look on his face.
“I guess I’m a little surprised,” he said. “You must have graduated in the spring? What… uh…“ he trailed off, contemplating how to ask the obvious question.
“What am I doing here?” I interrupted, opting to get the question over with.
“Well, yes. I remember you being so motivated and driven. I thought for sure you’d be off to a four-year by now,” he said.
I wasn’t offended. Once I explained my situation, as it usually goes, he was really excited for me and supportive of taking a break. I’m used to people being surprised that I’m not at school. In fact, when I chose to take a gap year almost exactly a year ago, I half-shocked myself. But what about getting ahead? What about doing the thing everyone told me my whole life I had to do immediately if I wanted to be successful?
But once I decided to delay attending school for a year, then came the planning of my year-long grand adventure across the globe.
At least, that’s what I envisioned at first.
I figured I would spend some time at home, but would be traveling the majority of the time. The main goal was to take a break from achieving, and I couldn’t think of any other way to do that other than go far, far away for a long, long time. I have had countless different versions of what my year would look like since that initial decision. I floated around the idea of spending a semester in Australia or New Zealand. Maybe I would backpack around Southeast Asia. Maybe I’d make a pit-stop in Mexico City. Maybe I’d spend a few months working at a hostel in Amsterdam.
None of that is what I’m doing.
I am two weeks away from departing for about three months to spend time in the UK, various parts of Europe, and Bangladesh. Here’s the extremely abridged version of my plans: I have friends to visit in the UK, places to see in Europe, and family to visit in Bangladesh.
The trip is shorter than originally planned, but once I actually entered into my gap year, was working full-time, and attending therapy regularly, I realized that I needed to be rooted at home for a while. The ways that I have grown since staying home are impossible to describe (but I’ve tried in my last couple posts).
I felt confident at work in who I was and the job I was doing. I felt authentic and joyful and productive. I didn’t feel tethered to the idea of being unworthy or not enough.
I found friendship and community in ways that I have needed for so long. I realized that spending upwards of six months all alone might not be the best for me right now. Maybe I do need people after all.
I found comfort and familiarity in routine. I found rest in a weekly rhythm that didn’t involve chaotically running from activity to activity. I found (uncomfortable) space to dig into emotional work.
I recall over the summer I told my mom I didn’t love the plans that I had been telling everyone. I can’t even remember where exactly I was planning on going at that point, but I knew for certain that I didn’t want to spend six months by myself.
“I feel like I’ve been telling people I’m doing this one thing for so long that I have to actually do it. But I’m not sure if I want to,” I said hesitantly, as if revealing some sort of secret.
She just looked at me and said, “Does saying that out loud help you see how ridiculous it is? You get to decide how you spend this year. You know yourself the best, and you know what you need.”
I leave on February 27th. How I feel about my trip varies from moment to moment. The top two emotions are excitement and terror, which seems like a good indicator that I’m doing the right thing. I am beyond content with my plan as it stands in all its spreadsheet glory. I hope to post pictures and stories along the way, and I cannot wait to share my journey with you all.
I think it’s going to be a good one.