In December of my senior year of high school, I made the decision to take a gap year to focus on myself, my writing, and most importantly, who I am apart from being a student. This decision I believe ultimately changed the course of my life, but beyond just my life, it changed the way I view myself and reminded me of the power of choosing me.
Like many other high school students, I actively involved myself in just about every activity I could possibly load myself with. I was a gymnast, actress/model, track athlete, speech team member, etc. I loved the feeling of being busy and had what I thought was fulfillment because I’d never been one to like the quiet. I had convinced myself that this was the way to live, and prioritizing showing up to school early at 6:50 am and getting rid of my lunch to fit in two extra classes was what was going to get me into the best college where I would continue working hard in the pursuit of becoming a doctor.
December was also the month I got rejected from my dream school, Barnard. I can still distinctly remember. I was in my car with a racing heart of anticipation, excitement, and doubt:, a trifecta. When I opened the email, my body began to go numb from my face down to my feet; it was a mixture of not only emotional pain but real physical pain that I had ignored for the past four years. The guilt started to corrupt my mind of how hard I had been on myself the last four years of high school. I should have let myself sleep more than three hours, gone out with my friends, and learned to be just a little bit kinder to myself because I needed it then, and, more than ever, needed it now.
In a way, this situation is grief. But it’s the confusing kind because you’re not saying goodbye to just any person; you’re saying goodbye to a version of yourself you expected to be. Now that
It’s over, you’re left with the existential question of who am I? And what do I do now? That, to me, is one of the most terrifying questions a person faces in their lifetime, and it’s not just a one-time thing we face; as we change and as the world changes around us, we will continuously be left with this singular question of who we are. But something about that question excites me because of the unknown it brings and the discovery it leads to.
I needed that rejection, and I wish I could have told my past self that she’s going to be okay; in fact, she’s going to be more than okay because, for the first time in her life, she makes decisions based on her own happiness, not the idea of who she wanted to be. Some may call me a burnout student, but I know myself, and it wasn’t burnout that led me to this choice; it was the feeling that there was something more, something more fulfilling than what I was doing. I’m thankful for my rejection because I needed it to realign myself, my values, and who I was on track to becoming.
The truth is that I don’t want to be a doctor; in fact, I’ve never allowed myself to be lost and without a plan, and yet that’s what I find myself doing, and I’ve never been happier. What I do know is that I love to write, I love people, and I have a heart and work ethic that is hungry for more.
What I’ve come to realize is that it’s not about the big things I once deemed as most important. Because achieving my desires is all happening right now, and I was so worried about missing it that I almost have.
At the beginning of deciding to take my gap year, I wrote “There is nothing that I can do that will benefit me more than the simplicity of having time to write, read, and experience life; that is what creates the formula of a good writer. Going out and having the ability to live life, feeling the graciousness of humanity surrounding me, but also the destruction will not only allow me growth as a person to experience this without a safety net but also growth as a writer. My life experiences and wisdom through age increase the capability to not only write a story but share a story, with real feelings of my own.”
I thought that this gap year was about me and discovering who I am as an individual, but what I’ve come to realize is that it’s about me discovering the people around me and learning their narratives. Living to learn about others’ lives has become my largest endeavor. I feel the most full in myself when I learn to love the people next door, the man on the bus, and then the woman at the restaurant. We all have stories, and what is the fun in life if we only take the time to explore our own?
I’ve learned the true definition of what it means to live versus what it feels like to be living, and if I had the choice every time, I would choose to be living, to appreciate myself and others. This gap year is just beginning, but the effect it has already had on me is tremendous. I now notice the things and people of the world I’d overlooked in the past, and my only regret is that I wished I had looked up sooner.
To the man I danced with at the senior volunteer party, the lady I spoke with in her art studio, and the woman I conversed with at the restaurant, thank you for sharing your stories with me and reminding me that there is much more to life than just our own.