I have never felt a high quite like that of my senior year at Virginia Tech. The culmination of all my work in the previous years, both in my academic life and social life, were finally at their peaks. From managing the photography section at the Collegiate Times, to running Humans of Virginia Tech, to becoming close with my professors in the psychology department, to having a tight-knit group of friends and a loving relationship, the euphoria of senior year was truly unlike any other. Looking back, for just a moment, I had an illusory feeling of control in my life.
“Get ready for the real world” was a common saying I heard all the way through graduation but always brushed off thinking everything would be just fine. See, I didn’t exactly have a plan after graduation; I naively thought that I could still maintain a level of stability in my future. I ended up finding an internship I despised, my group of friends split due to distance, I let go of my positions at the organizations on campus and my steady relationship came undone. What a warm welcome to the real world, I thought. These perseverative changes tore open the illusion of control that I had worked so hard to build up during my time at Virginia Tech.
And often I wondered, had I picked up a major with a little more stability after college — such as engineering — then maybe the level of uncertainty I experienced would not have been as pervasive. That was one of my first thoughts as the gap year unfolded, but it was also one of my first mistakes. It was a thought that made me spend the first few months looking for a way to fix this artificial mistake of picking a supposedly useless major in the real world. I began trying to satisfy the perspectives of what to do with my life that weren’t my own. My confidence faltered as those closest to me would ask what the hell I was doing — a question that I didn’t have a right answer to. And for a brief period, my ambivalence regarding my future brought about a state of powerlessness.
Oddly enough, it was at this moment, when I felt alone and lost, wondering if this confusion would ever go away, that I began to find my footing. Now, my gap year was not one filled with travel or partying. I didn’t enter some retreat across the globe to try to discover new cultures. I grabbed a few books, a nifty journal and began to reflect. I stopped asking the questions and considering the statements that everyone was telling me, the ominous, “What was I going to do?” or, “This is what I should do.” Instead, I began asking, “Why?” Why do I want to do this? Why did I pick this major? Why is the uncertainty so painful? Why did I find refuge in this person, place or thing? I figured that if I was going to make the right call on my life moving forward, then I needed to better understand my past and the decisions that brought me to this present moment. I let go of all the expectations people had of me and developed expectations of myself. I began to soften the obstructively critical voice in my head and push an air of confidence through the fear that surrounded my uncertainty.
As my gap year now comes to a close, I have a direction and newfound understanding of myself that I can be proud of. And as the class of 2018 prepares for life after college, I am sure there will be people who don’t know exactly the direction they will take afterward. They may find themselves in a little post-graduation depression as the people they know spread out toward their futures, uncertain of what the real world has in store for them.
If there is anything I have learned during my gap year, it is to keep your head up, reflect on your past, not get caught up in the future, understand your present moment and find validation through yourself, not others. To those people who may fall into the same rut I was in, I hope you remember that senior year at Virginia Tech, as amazing as it may have been, is not the greatest high you will ever experience; in fact, it is the “commencement” of all the beautiful highs and lows yet to come.