Why I Decided to Defer My Job and Take A Gap Year
I checked the time on my phone and saw it was 1 am back home. “Guys… it’s my birthday,” I mumbled to my parents. We were on a 15-hour flight to Seoul and still had another six hour flight to the final destination: Chiang Mai, Thailand. I’ve never been to any country in Asia before. I’ve never taken an Asian Studies class. In fact, I have a background in business and African Studies, so it’s unsurprising when I get asked why I decided to move to Thailand and become a teacher. I can pinpoint three experiences that influenced my decision:
1. The Crossroads of Should and Must
Someone I know decided to take a gap year while in college and wrote about an article by elle luna in one of her blog posts. In the article, the author makes a distinction between ‘should’ and ‘must’:
“Should is how others want us to show up in the world — how we’re supposed to think, what we ought to say, what we should or shouldn’t do. It’s the vast array of expectations that others layer upon us. When we choose Should the journey is smooth, the risk is small.
Must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self. It’s our instincts, our cravings and longings, the things and places and ideas we burn for, the intuition that swells up from somewhere deep inside of us. Must is what happens when we stop conforming to other people’s ideals and start connecting to our own.”
The article encourages us to choose ‘must’ more often despite the difficulty of doing so. Now obviously this logic doesn’t apply to every life decision. Sometimes you just gotta pick should. You should delete the clothes in your ASOS cart online and use that money to pay bills. You should wash your hands after you go to the bathroom every single time even if you are naturally unhygienic because germs are real (I spot people doing this less, and it’s disturbing). You should believe in global warming regardless of your conspiracy theories because… do I even need to explain?
I’ve had this article saved for 2 years. I realized then that throughout my life, my choices had put me on society’s version of the yellow brick road to success. I got a business degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a great job after I graduated. My issue wasn’t with the path I was on; what bothered me was that I tended to push myself and dream big only in areas that are generally approved of: academic and professional spheres. But what about other important aspects of my life? I toyed with the idea of dedicating time to travel, but it didn’t fit with the plan: spend a year doing something that didn’t align with my career goals? For the sake of a challenge and personal growth? To have more than a second to reflect on the last hectic four years of my life and how I want to transition into the world of adulting? Seemed risky at the time. But I saved the article anyway.
2. Cape Town, South Africa
Maybe I’m too cynical but once upon a time, I would roll my eyes when I heard stories of people becoming nomads after studying abroad in college. I thought, “It can’t be that life-changing.” I never expected my experience would be what it was. Maybe it was being surrounded by radically woke African student activists who shut down the university in protests of unfair tuition fees and wages. Maybe it was spending the night in a hostel for the first time or sleeping overnight in an small empty airport in the middle of a desert (yes, even the employees were gone). Studying abroad was a high for me. As soon as I came back, I was looking in my next calendar for another opportunity to leave. All of a sudden the world seemed smaller, and so many assumptions I had had as an American were deconstructing. I recognized the Westernized bias in my classes and was more critical of how information was conveyed. I reclaimed my time – dropped leadership positions I liked but wasn’t passionate about, minimized time spent in unnecessary club meetings, and tried hard to spend more time with people I wanted to be around. Going abroad improved how I lived my life.
3. Travel Noire
Black travel groups, such as Nomadness Travel Tribe, existed before Travel Noire, but TN has arguably been a leading force in strengthening the black travel movement. It was the first travel Instagram I followed, and I became obsessed with the company and its purpose (Zim Ugochukwu is one of my heroes). With all the social issues in the United States and the suffering black communities face, it was hard for me to justify promoting the idea that something purely for leisure and oftentimes expensive should be a part of everyone’s lives. I couldn’t communicate the value, especially to my friends who felt certain that they couldn’t afford it. Travel Noire, along with other organizations, created a community for black explorers. Of course, there were black people who traveled extensively way before, but I never knew how expansive and thriving the community was until Travel Noire. I started following people that were highlighted on their Instagram, and eventually it clicked in my head that I could actually do this. Artsy, filtered Instagram photos were my vision board (sorry, I am a true millennial). But honestly, I was proud and motivated to follow black women conquering mountains, tasting foreign foods in markets, serving looks in front of beautiful architecture, and thriving in areas of the world that I once assumed were not for us.
I knew in my heart that for once I wanted to something that wasn’t focused on my career path but was critical for me to do solely because I really wanted to do it. To dedicate a year to learning for the sake of learning, being bold, re-evaluating my values and opinions, and enjoying my own company is an extremely valuable opportunity I’m lucky to have. I’m excited to share this journey while also encouraging people to incorporate a similar one into their lives. I don’t believe you need to be as dramatic about it as me. It can come in many forms – whether that be flying to a new continent or taking a road trip to a town nearby.