Before I begin, I must tell you that this is an article based on my personal experience. While it might not be relatable for all, it is something that has shaped my life immensely. So please keep an open mind and continue reading.
To begin with, I would like to give you an idea of what my family is like in respect to the importance we give to education. I come from a typical middle class Indian household, the only difference being that I always grew up in a nuclear family. My father has studied law and my mother has studied commerce. My grandparents, both paternal and maternal are well educated and were successful in their respective careers. All my relatives have completed their graduation and post- graduation. My paternal grandfather, who now stays with us, continues to sit with a dictionary to this day and learn a new word every day. He has made it his mission in life to teach me as much as he can. I know that the minute I return home from work, he will call me in his room, give me a random word and ask me its meaning. Usually I get it right and he nods in appreciation. Sometimes though, I am absolutely clueless, and this is when he’ll sit me down and explain it to me. My father, to this day learns something new each day and he makes sure to pass on the knowledge to me.
I have been brought up with a very traditional approach in respect to education. In my household, NOTHING comes before studying and that’s how it has been for years. I have had to give up on numerous outings with friends and family because I had to study. As my father is from the Forces, I have always changed schools but the one thing that did not change was the quality of education. As far back as I can remember, I have had “Extra- Lectures” with my mother. She would not only revise the day’s learnings with me but also things that were going to be taught later in the week. She made sure that I got the same quality of education as I would have, had I been studying in a school in the city. My mother would take it upon herself to teach me and in the process, would learn too.
When I was about 12 years old, we shifted to Pune permanently. It was here that I was first exposed to a competitive world. There was a race to be won with exams, class tests, homework etc. I fortunately, sailed through school with above average grades. Then came junior college where I had to decide on which stream I wanted to opt for. I took up ARTS and my family wholeheartedly supported my decision. I went on to complete my graduation in Psychology, and that’s when things started to change.
What was the change?
At this point I had been studying in the same college for about 5 years. I had the same routine, starting from the time I got up, the road I took to college, the classes I attended, the extra-curricular activities, etc for 5 years and at this point it was starting to get to me. Lack of time and general laziness, was making me fall into a rut. After months of going back and forth, I decided to take the plunge. I wanted to take the year off and not join any college for my post-graduation. YES, coming from a family that gives utmost importance to education, I decided to take a gap year and it was the best decision I have ever made.
Why do I say so, you might ask?
For multiple reasons, I felt that taking a break would help me change as a person. Some of the most important reasons are listed below.
It was during this one year that I got a chance to rediscover myself. Since 11th standard, I always had a direction, a goal that I was moving towards but during the last year of graduation, I was lost. I did not know what my future held for me. I did not know if Psychology was even something I wanted to take up as a career. I was always second guessing myself and I was at a crossroad. It was a breaking point for me and I knew that if I had chosen to continue studying at that point, I would not bethe person I am today.
2. PERSONAL GROWTH:
I have always been slightly shy around people and by God’s grace the friends I made in college understood that perfectly. I just had to sit back and breeze through college without worrying about having to put myself in difficult situations. I realized that I was turning into someone I didn’t like. I was insecure, anxious, had stage fright, was uncomfortable in my own skin and was afraid to speak up. I knew that while my traits would relatively remain the same, I had to push myself to change and that change would never come from being stuck in the situation I was in.
3. CREATIVE GROWTH:
Being in an Arts college gives you an added advantage because by afternoon our lectures are over, and we have a lot more time on hand to learn other things. I spent 3 years learning French. My friends learnt German or Mandarin and some even had Liberal Arts classes. While our free time was used to learn something new, we were invariably left with very little “Me” time for other creative outlets.So, hobbies and other such things took a back seat. This led to pent up feelings and emotions because I had no outlet for myself.So contrary to the belief, being in an Arts college does not mean one has all the time in the world.
4. REDISCOVERING OPPORTUNITIES:
When I decided to take a gap, I was unsure of my career path. I knew I wanted to do something related to Psychology, but I could never pin point on exactly what. I loved the field, but I was lost. There were so many options and no time to choose. It was always a race. Finish an exam, start a new term, the same cycle again and again. I never had the freedom to make a decision that went wrong and then to correct it. When that first doubt surfaced in my mind, I knew I had to uproot it before it took over me and my love for psychology and the only way to do that was by taking some time off.
Taking the Big Step
Keeping the pros and cons in mind, one day I told my parents my decision to not pursue another year in college. They were astonished, to say the least. Like every other parent, the age gap played a huge role here. They could not fathom as to why I wanted to take a break. How could I be so comfortable with the idea of not studying an entire year?
After many, many days of trying to get them to see my point, they finally agreed, although reluctantly and I took my break.In that one year, I developed myself into the person that I am today. I enrolled myself for a Development Course, where I evolved from a shy and socially uncomfortable girl to a confident and verbose woman. I educated myself on the various ways I could groom and present myself, I put myself in challenging situations to change who I had become and most importantly, I spent enough time researching on the various opportunities in my field so that when I joined Post Graduation the next year, I knew what I wanted. I passed out as an Industrial Psychologist and am working in a field I love, and I owe it all to that one year that changed my outlook on life.
Why was it a hard decision to take and accept?
It was a difficult decision for me personally because I was going against the set standard of the society. There is a ton of social stigma attached to anyone who goes against the set norms of the society. In India, we have a predetermined course of action. For years at a stretch, our lives move from 10th boards to 12th boards to graduation to post-graduation to PHDs and the list is endless. While I wholeheartedly agree that it is necessary to learn something every day, I also know that being stuck in a routine sometimes makes us lose out of a lot of things. Contrary to what many people think, a gap year is not a year wasted. It does not mean that one is simply going to sit at home doing nothing and waste the year. A gap year is a time when one focuses on the many things that he/she has either left behind or not given enough time to over the years.
It is simply a means to an end. It is a step that one takes to pull back, rework on self and propel forward into the world with renewed energy.
I have a friend who took a year off to focus on getting herself ready for her competitive exams. I know someone else who took the year off to go backpacking in Europe. I can also list another acquaintance, took up internships to help hone her skills in the practical world before getting back to her course.
So, what am I trying to say?
There is never a right or wrong that someone else can dictate for you. Your life is yours alone. Your decisions are yours alone. If at any given time, you feel the need to focus on yourself, do it. If you want to take a break from your routine, go ahead with it. It could be in college or at any other phase of your life. Do not be afraid to take a risky decision if you are sure of what you want and how you can benefit from it. The only thing to be sure of is to not lose aim of your goals. Do not get comfortable doing nothing and regret your decision. Push yourself to achieve what you know you can. Your break is your time to explore all the avenues you otherwise could not.
Take that risk.
Take that chance.
You owe it to yourself.