Coming out of college, I already had the benefit of a gap year that taught me how little I knew (know) about the world. I had 12 months to feel totally out of my element, so life after graduation felt familiar. I knew I’d be entering a workforce of people with years of experience on me, certifications, and more advanced degrees. Add to that the economic recession, and I felt lucky if I could find an internship. Still, I got lucky. I was interested in teaching, and got a job at a school (supplemented by gutting fish in Alaska).
Many of my college classmates had higher hopes. For the first year or so out of college, I got multiple phone calls from friends to the extent of, “This is BS. I have plenty of work experience. I caddied at a golf course in college, and have a four-year degree in art history. There is no reason I didn’t deserve that middle management job on Wall Street.”
Gap years are fantastic at building self-confidence. They show you what you know, but more importantly, what you don’t know. Getting off the plane in Lima made me realize that my Spanish needed some serious work. Before that flight? I could’ve been a part-time professor in Barcelona. After my gap year, and after college, I knew where I stood in the world. I took a job appropriate for my level of experience, and worked my butt off until I was recognized. I’m still figuring out how to be an expert, but I can at least offer you this insight: adults can see through exaggerations pretty well. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not.
A gap year is a special opportunity. While you may be figuring out how to pay for this year, the purpose of your gap year is not to launch your career or start a family. It’s a pretty risk-free time. You probably feel pressure, but not the pressure of the world coming down on you. It’s an opportunity to explore what you know, and what you want to know. Done right, you’ll feel out of your element pretty much every day… until you don’t anymore. What better way to prepare you for the day after graduation?