At the end of my junior year, I remember being overwhelmed, depressed, and generally unhappy with myself. I barely left my dorm or wore anything that didn’t have elastic. By the end of the Spring semester, I was faced with a hard choice, I could take the year off or continue on the path I was on of graduating “on time” like all of my friends. In the end, I made the choice to take the year off and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
Don’t get me wrong, it was hard. I had always imagined graduating in the Spring of 2016 with my friends. I had more than enough credits by the end of junior year and only a few required courses left to complete my double major. I had to watch all my friend post photos of the great time they were having during their senior year. Meanwhile, here I was in the town I said I would never go back to working a dead-end job trying to save money to go back to school. I felt like a bit of a failure.
However, returning was not easy. First off, I was already older than most of my classmates. Second, I was nearly 23 and living in the dorms on campus. Third, most of my friends had graduated so my social circles were limited. Lastly, after a year away I had changed and so had everyone else. During my year off, I had one goal, which was to get back to school. But now that I was here, I had never felt so uncertain in my life. I was starting to doubt I made the right decision in returning to Miami.
Within the first couple of months of being back, a lot of my fears came true. The groups I socialized with no longer accepted me. With so many of my friends having already graduated and moved, I felt the loneliest I had felt in a long time. I did not want to leave my dorm because I always felt the never-ending stares from people as I walked to class; not to mention some of the oh-so-lovely messages I would receive on my Twitter and Facebook every morning. (Yes this is sarcasm. These messages are, in fact, very much not lovely.)
But despite all this, I do not regret anything. My year off provided me with so many new opportunities to grow into the woman I am today. I moved out, got a job, changed my hair, traveled and fell hopelessly in love. I found my “soul family” and, very slowly, started to smile again. I competed in numerous pageants and even got to travel for two national ones. I found a love for crafting and painting I did not know I had. I finally accepted my sexuality. I adopted cats and even learned a few cool tricks with a hula hoop. Now I am so much more confident in my future. I find myself getting ahead, instead of falling behind, in class. I look at the person I was before my year off and I do not even recognize her. Heck, I don’t even look like her anymore. When “memories” pop up on my Facebook from before my gap year, I see the person in those photos was miserable. Even though I was smiling, my eyes screamed misery.
When we enter college, we usually have a set plan to graduate in a set number of years. We never plan for life to get in the way. Unfortunately, s**t happens and we need to address it. This may put our original plans off track, but that’s okay. While things have not gone perfectly, the people in my life now will be there until I am old and senile. They have loved me through some of the darkest periods of my life and showed me light when I thought there was none. If had to go through it all again to end up the person I am today, I would do it a million times.
So, if you find yourself faced with this choice, I can say with complete confidence that taking time off is one of the best decisions you will ever make. You will change in ways you never thought possible and come back a stronger, happier and a completely different person.
Photo Credit: Flickr