I’ve never had a real break from things. Sure, I’ve had holidays. And I’ve definitely had a few weeks off to run away from my problems by drinking my soul away  figure things out. But I’ve always returned to working my jobs, or chipping away at my education, one mind numbing submission at a time.

This past month, I finally closed the chapter of education in my life. After handing in my final uni assignment, there was relief. More than that, there was excitement. What was I going to do now? I have so much free time. Maybe I could work out like crazy. Maybe I could get weirdly into macaroni art. Hell, maybe I could spend my days at the local Tradies, sinking schooners, and throwing lawn bowls against each other as hard as I could, before probably getting kicked out by seccies (“Are you guys silly? I’m still gonna send it.”). My mind was racing at every new idea, one overlapping the other as if kids in the back of a minivan, pulling up to a Maccas drive-through after soccer practice. The possibilities were (virtually) endless.

And then I had a thought. Maybe I could take a year off.

Silence. Blank screen. Static. That one loop of the clapping monkey in Homer Simpson’s head. My mind immediately went back to the schooners and lawn bowls idea. “That sounds pretty good, how are we going to top that? Go on, grab the day by the lawn bowls. It’s time to send it.” I almost listened to my basic judgement. The logic was sound. The idea, for the most part, was safe. It wouldn’t require much risk. As much risk as adventure holds, anyways. But why was I so against the idea of a gap year?

I think the most immediate images we conjure up in our minds when we hear ‘gap year’ is the issue. We think of vapid, Instagram addicts that use spirituality like toilet paper. We think of those spoilt and smarmy individuals who believe a culture can be summarised in a hashtag, that a culture is nothing more than a hashtag. Most of all, we think of the unstructured. The free, the open, the unstable. It can feel like being in a row boat, paddling in circles by one side, in the middle of the great, big blue.

Face it, you’ve spent the majority of your life in a structured setting. Every check point was linear. Every criteria was prescribed. Finish A, B, and C. When you’ve done that, have a little break. Go nuts. It’s OK, you’re coming back Monday to start D, E, and F. Complete the sequence. Progress a level. Keep going. Here’s a gold star. And the moment you take that away, it scares you. I’ll be honest, it scares me. Because now, there’s no one else to blame. You have full control, full accountability. Anything goes, and as nice as that sounded when you were checking in from 9 to 3, the fact that there’s no guarantee for anything has you wetting your pants out of fear.

You’ll all be thankful to find out this isn’t the end. This wasn’t. The epilogue to this gloomy chronicle is that I took a little trip overseas, just as a sample. Eventually, I eased up. When I came back, order resumed. I wasn’t going to take a year off. But I was going to spend it how I pleased, to the best of my ability. That was the moment where I realised the only thing scarier than having a mapped pathway taken away from you is waking up at 40 and wondering when the good old days everybody talks about were supposed to happen. That was the moment where I realised a gap year doesn’t mean your life is on hold. It just means you don’t have to abide by the conventions of achievement and progress. It means you can take it as seriously as you please, at your own pace.

The thing about growing up now, and at this age, is that it’s all progress. You just have to trust the process. And even when it isn’t, you have your entire 20s to sort it out. Expectations be damned. You’ll never be able to live the same day twice. So why are you standing around worried about how you’ll spend it, when you could be spending it? That would be like counting the gold coins in a pouch, while it empties by a hole in the bottom. Take a deep breath, and look both ways before you cross. You’ll get where you’re going.

photo cred: Analogue Impressions

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