Why Taking A Year Off Was One of the Best Decisions I’ve Ever Made

When I was in my last year of high school, I was so excited to start applying to schools. I’d never had the best home life, so getting the chance to branch out, explore what the world has to offer, and learn more about my field of interest was a riveting idea. I picked my top three schools and programs and proceeded to apply. However, this was also when my parents decided to inform me that I would have to pay for schooling (living, tuition, textbooks, etc.) all on my own for my whole degree. After realizing that there was no way I’d be able to make almost twenty grand to cover my first year, I realized that I would have to take the year off in order to afford it. It was one of the toughest decisions I had to make: was it best to go into school knowing I’d be paying off student debt in the years after my graduation, or take the year off and watch all my friends go out into the world while I was stuck at home?

I deferred the University of Waterloo for the 2019 Fall Term in July of that year with hopes that after a year of work, I’d be able to attend. Following my deferral, I had to find a second job, since my current job at a library was only a few hours a week. Let me tell you: applying for jobs is not fun. I needed consistent full-time hours, so I decided to go the factory route. I applied to a factory close to my house, and after a few interviews, they said I couldn’t begin as a full-time worker until after I turned 18 in October. Until then, I worked at my local grocery store.

masked woman in a grocery store Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels Working was hard. Since I was saving up money, I couldn’t buy a car, so I biked to work every day for the whole summer. I worked in dairy, stock, and cash, and it was great getting to talk to people every day. But, as the end of the summer drew near, so did the time when all of my friends went off to school. Hearing about their experiences at school was great because I was so happy for them. But at the same time, I was isolated, and it hurt to see all of them having the time of their lives while I wasn’t.

As time went on, my birthday got closer and closer. Then, on my birthday, I received a phone call from the factory informing me that starting the following week, I would begin work as an A shift member. I was thrilled; this job came with benefits, paid higher than minimum wage, and had consistent hours that the grocery store didn’t provide. So, I informed the store and got my hours reduced in order to begin working at the factory. It was a car parts factory that supplied to bigger manufacturers.

a woman holds her hands over her face Photo by Anthony Tran from Unsplash At this point, I was now working three jobs, for a total of almost 50 hours a week. I was tired, lonely, and missing my friends. I worked so much that when they came home, I could barely scrounge up any time to see them, and whenever I did, I was exhausted.

Due to COVID-19, car sales skyrocketed, so I had to quit my job at the library in March to meet the demands of the factory; this meant working every single Saturday and coming in two hours early every day. I was working 10- to 16-hour days, 6 days a week. I was waking up at 4 am to get to work for 5, and a couple of times a week I would head straight to the store after the factory. I’d stay there until 9 pm, go home, pass out, and do it all again the next day. I know it may seem like a lot, and it was. But I was making enough money to support me for the years to come, whilst learning so many life lessons.

I learned what it’s like to have a real full-time job, where if you don’t show up, you don’t get paid. You can’t just call in sick or book vacation days whenever you want. You’re going to be tired, hungry, and your body will ache, but it’s only when you push yourself that you find your limits and how much you are capable of. I met so many amazing people who I will stay in touch with for the rest of my life; working ten-hour days in a factory brings you so close to so many people, they’re almost like your second family. Nobody else knows what it’s like there except your coworkers. Not to mention, no one else can relate if your management treats you unfairly.

I can confidently say that my year off was one of the hardest times of my life. I was pushed to my limits every day; I’d cry, sweat, and bleed, but it made me so much better for it while allowing me to begin university without the stress of student debt or loans. I remember after a month of starting university, my boyfriend said to me that this was the first time in a year that my hands weren’t scarred, bleeding, or scratched. 

So, in all honesty, sometimes the real world sucks. You have to deal with people you don’t like, work more than you want to, and get paid less than you should. But you learn so many lessons about life and work. Also, because I got to start school a year older, I feel so much more confident in how I approach things now. I don’t worry about what other people think, because nobody knows what I had to go through to get where I am.

If you take anything away from this article, let it be that taking a year off could be one of the best decisions you’ll make for the opportunity it gives you, experiences you gain, and people you meet.