I was eighteen years old when I started university. It was, if I may be so trite: incredible. I moved to Utrecht from Curaçao and met people from Dutch towns I had never heard of; people from countries I’d never seen. It seemed like there were people there from all walks of life.
I was flung into friendships with background stories I couldn’t have dreamed up if I had tried.
We bonded quickly, as you do in these settings. We shared stories of our towns, cities, countries.
As I met everyone, one phrase popped up various times: “gap year.”
“I’m 19 because I actually went on a gap year after high school. I traveled all over [insert country/region/continent] by myself.”
I was entranced. A gap year? Leaving your parents’ home at 17 or 18 and traveling abroad all on your own? It wasn’t something I knew. What I knew was leaving your parents’ home at 17 or 18 and moving abroad to study. Also a big step, absolutely. But that was a world I understood.
The idea of a gap year stayed with me. I vowed that one day, before entering the working world, I would venture out in a similar fashion.
You’ve just dropped out of law school. Okay, this is totally normal. Tooootally.
What now? Is there a manual for this? I don’t do well with uncertainty. Of course there isn’t, because the steps you’re taking aren’t exactly logical. Not to the outside world. All you have is your gut.
Breathe in, breathe out. Think.
What do you want?
The gap year came back to me. It crept in. I had been talking about it for a while, I will admit. Recent trips to South Africa and Peru had fanned the flame. I had described to family and friends that I wanted to go traveling on my own. I had detailed how I would do it after I finished studying. It would be September 2018, so for now I would study and save, study and save.
But now it’s December 2017. Nothing has been saved, and we are no longer studying.
How do you let go of a dream you’ve held on to for the better part of a decade? How do you embrace new dreams as they come creeping in? Beckoning in something new felt incredibly like closing the door on something from a past life. A familiar life. And let me tell you, there’s simply no handbook for that.
Nevertheless my gut crept in, whispering “just do it.” I decided to follow that order. I realized, however, that the only way it would work was if I vocalized it. Say it out loud and people will hold you accountable. There will be no going back, no chickening out.
But we need money. Okay, let’s sort that out then.
I’d been working a part time corporate job for a few years and decided I had a good enough relationship to discuss this openly with my boss – a blessing, I know. I waltzed into his office and told him I had something to tell him (Did I waltz? Or was it a soft knock followed by a quiet, nervous tip-toe inside? Oh well).
“I’ve dropped out of law school and want to go traveling. I would need to work full time here to save money so I can leave in September, but I also feel that I need more of a challenge. What are your thoughts?” It seemed to be no problem -blessings part II.
What followed after that was a conversation that would be repeated many times in the days, weeks and months to come. Conversations about how it’s such a shame. How I have such potential. Have I thought about my future? Have I thought about my career? What about becoming a lawyer? “I thought that was what you wanted.” – I do, I have, it will be fine, I thought so too, but I don’t want to anymore.
It’s understandable, really. We see people younger than us and we want to guide them. We want to make sure that their decisions aren’t made in haste or without careful deliberation. We do it all from a place of caring, a place of protection. I hope we never stop.
But sometimes we need to let them leap, as worrisome as that may be to watch. Sometimes we need to trust their own trust in themselves. I was painfully aware that my very own careful deliberation was what had gotten me to this place in my life. I carefully deliberated for 5 years before daring to cut a chord. So now this part of the story? It’s mine. And I will be just fine, I promise. And I will be safe. I promise that, too.
I got a second position and I got the extra hours. But we now had an expiration date. And so we rang in the next months. Months in which I told everyone and anyone: in September of 2018 I am going traveling for 3 months. I will go alone. It will be my very own gap year.
As you already know, today is the 2nd of November and I’m still in Amsterdam.