Take a chance, grab an adventure. Four years, ten years, 45 years later you will never regret it. This summer you will be given the opportunity of a lifetime, one that, contrary to popular belief, does not include a suit and briefcase. Seize the opportunity and take a trip to Europe, drive cross-country, trek in the Himalayas.
It’s the first week of April and I just returned from an epic week in Acapulco (back when it was still okay to go there) with 40 of my closest college comrades. I felt on top of the world, as if college was never going to end. But college was ending. 6 weeks later, myself along with thousands of other graduates were sitting in our caps and gowns feeling the pressure to get a job amidst recession.
We passively listened to our commencement speaker, Vicky Mabry the dateline correspondent, rattle off the usual, “You can do it, you’re our future!” speech (one which was surely being replicated across the country on this same day.) Before we could all be droned to sleep by the predictable, she changed gears and introduced the international concept of “gap year.” Gap year is the period of transition usually between high school and college or college and the working force, in which a person will travel the world or work abroad. It is an opportunity to find oneself, find adventure, and discover other cultures before settling down with something permanent. The period of time does not HAVE to be one year. It can be 3 weeks, 3 months, or forever. The point Mabry was making was that you did not need to rush to find that corporate job next week. It would still be there in a few months. Once you get caught up in your career, that life, the opportunity to take off and find yourself, find the world, may not still be there in a few months. These words by Mabry suddenly awakened me into my first clear thoughts in the emotionally riddled weeks leading up to graduation. I now knew what would be next for me.
I applied for and was offered a job in Florence, Italy with the travel company, Bus2alps. I finished up the summer working some random jobs (including dish-washing and rolling up posters), and got on a plane to Italy in August. For four months I worked as a marketing intern and tour guide for Bus2alps. During the week I was gaining incredible first-hand insight into the inner workings of marketing a smaller company. On the weekends, my job took me to vast corners of Europe as tour guide, including Oktoberfest, Prague, Capri, and the Acropolis of Athens. During my travels, I met dozens of other backpackers taking a year off. Of these, maybe 1 percent came from the United States. In other countries there is a sentiment that you cannot truly learn who you are and what you want to do until you have an experience like this. There are no five, 10, or 25 year goals. The only worry is if they’re moving on to Croatia tomorrow or spending another day wandering the streets of Venice. It is a distinctly American notion that you go to high school, you go to college, then you get a job or go for your masters/doctorate. There is no concept of the in between. No time for your own growth and exploration outside of this structured path. But adventures like this are what life is all about; the people you meet, and the things you learn from them all in places new and exciting, and how through them you learn about yourself.
You do not need to be rich to take a chance and explore. I sold my car, washed dishes, worked manual labor, then worked hard as a tour guide to fund my experience. I look back at how much I have grown and wish that all people would make a concerted attempt at having a gap-year, gap-month, even go off to Europe for two weeks after graduation. The things and events that have transpired in my time overseas have forced me to grow in a way sitting in an office could not possibly have done. I was 21-years-old. I had 44 years until retirement. Why would I want to begin 44 years behind a desk next week?
We have been so ingrained with how taking a year off, even three weeks off, might affect our career choices five years and 10 years from now that we are unwilling to take the risk and see what else could happen. We have the whole of our lives to worry about jobs and money. All I kept thinking was what Mabry had told us that once we found jobs it would be hard to turn back and do this again. They say the beauty of bungy-jumping is being able to push yourself past your fears and anxiety, to throw yourself off this ledge and trust you will survive. When I stepped up to canyon jumping ledge in Switzerland and it was time to go, my mind was clear and I jumped without any second-thoughts. I had been through a lot in the past year and had conquered my fears a long time ago. I had learned that without risk there is no reward, especially if that reward is an adrenaline pumping 150 foot freefall.
Now is the time to take off and explore, to lose yourself in the canals of Amsterdam, to discover yourself on a camel ride in the Moroccan desert, to lose your fears falling from 14,000 feet above the Swiss Alps, to get lost hiking in the Grand Canyon, jump off cliffs in the Amalfi Coast, or run around like a Greek warrior in Santorini. What better time to do it than now?