Growing up, my parents engraved the same idea into my head: after high school graduation, you’re supposed to go to school, get a degree and find a career. Oftentimes, they equated these things with being successful and happy. No one ever told me there was more than one path after high school. This meant that immediately after I graduated, I accepted an offer at a university and, despite confiding my unhappiness with my choice to my mother one month prior to moving, I reluctantly packed my bags and headed for Ottawa, Ontario.
I was a student at uOttawa and lived in residence for a total of ten days. One night in Ottawa was enough to remind me of all the doubts I had. As the week went on, I grew more anxious as the first day of classes drew nearer. I knew that if I wanted to leave, I had to do it soon.
When I told my parents how I felt, they were unhappy with me, to say the least. My mother was especially angry with me as my older brother had also dropped out of school and since I too dropped out, my communication with my family has—for good reason—been minimal.
I felt the only reason I would stay in school was for other people’s satisfaction and peace of mind. But, I thought, “what about me?”. Was I really going to waste upwards of $20,000 on school when I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be there? Thankfully, my father took the news more easily and understood my plea that I wasn’t ready to be at university; I returned home within a few days.
Coming back was almost worse than leaving. Everyone had questions. I often used their concerns as a way to educate people on the idea that there are other options after graduation.
At first, I attempted to contact the other schools I had been accepted to in hopes of being able to start a second semester, but I was ultimately forced to reapply in the following year. After taking an extra year in high school to improve my marks, as well as an additional year off, I was left feeling incredibly behind in comparison to my friends.
Despite getting re-employed at my prior part-time job, I found myself extremely bored most of the time. While I pondered what I wanted to do with my life, my long-time dream of being an English teacher was on the line.
I started to think about what my likes and dislikes were in school and recalled a class called “Peer-Helping.” I assisted a teacher with their junior students and it was the most rewarding experience I had all throughout high school. Thankfully, the teacher I got assigned to knew I aspired to one day become an English teacher and allowed me to create lesson plans, organize units, tutor students, mark grammar and spelling on papers, and teach portions of the class when I was comfortable.
I figured with all this free time on my hands, I might as well find out whether I could teach as a career. I was nervous at first as to how people would perceive my sudden reappearance, but alas, I walked my washed-up, recently-graduated self back into the halls of my high school to work once again as a teacher’s assistant.
I spent the majority of my time during the week going to the school and going to work. My nights were typically filled with marking, and I even registered for an eight week American Sign Language course and received my Level Two Certificate. The months of my year off seemed to fly by and the questions as to what my future held became more and more frequent. I knew now that going too far away from home was not for me.
This time, I did my research. I visited all of the campuses multiple times. I read through course outlines, looked up professors and compared scholarship options. I deeply feared the idea of disappointing everyone all over again so I was extremely meticulous when it came to going back to school. I ended up applying to all of the Western University affiliated colleges and the University of Guelph.
They say going back after taking a year off can be tough, but I was more motivated than ever. Suddenly, I was excited about what I would be studying because, for the first time since I graduated, I felt sure of my future. I started school at King’s University College at Western University and have yet to doubt that decision.
As I watch my past students start to think about their options for post-secondary, my hope is that the path to success is no longer seen as an endless highway, but rather a crossroads with many choices.
I often wonder if people are more afraid of taking a path different from those before them, or whether they just fear the judgement for not following the status quo. Regardless, I hope those graduating this year don’t look at university or college as simply the socially expected next step, but rather find their own path that leads to happiness. No one path should be compared to another and making those comparisons will only lead you to question your own. My path came to a dead end and I was forced to pave my own way.
Taking a year off of school allowed me to figure out exactly who I wanted to be, gave me the opportunity to save some money, allowed me to participate in activities I enjoyed, and made me realize where my path was heading. Unlike the first time, when I started my post-secondary education in September, I was older, wiser, more mature and thoroughly excited to go to school.
Sometimes I wonder where I would be right now without my year off; my best guess is that I would be unhappy and $20,000 in debt.
For those who may be coming to a point in which you need to make that “next step” decision, just know that anything—from taking time off, going travelling, changing your major, going to college, going to trade school, going into the workforce or doing anything that isn’t the “norm”—is not any more lackluster than staying on the commonly followed path that has been laid out for you. In fact, I’d even say that straying off the common path is brave.
As long as you end up in a position of happiness, the path you took to get there is absolutely irrelevant.
- First Years: It’s Okay Not To Feel Okay
- 5 Things I Wish I Could Tell My First Year Self
- The Opportunity of Change
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