When I decided that I was going to take a gap year, I spent endless hour planning (read: fantasizing) about what I was going to do when I finally had the freedom to choose. But after writing my fourth or fifth plan and then ripping it up into pieces, I realized that I had to get smarter about my approach to planning my gap year. I realized that I couldn’t properly come up with the answer of what my gap year plan was going to be if I didn’t ask myself the right questions first. Here are a few of them:
- Why are you taking a gap year?
For me, it was because I wanted the opportunity to do the kinds of learning that made sense to me, unfettered by the obligations of school. Specifically, I wanted to work. I’d had a number of internships in high school that were really challenging and fulfilling, and I wanted to have the full experience.
- What else is there?
But when I thought about it more, I realized that this -- doing the kinds of learning that made sense to me -- wasn’t the only reason why I wanted to take a gap year. Far from it. So I reflected a bit more, and realized that there were many equally compelling reasons why I wanted this to be my path. I desperately wanted, for example, to figure out what it was that I should aim for in life. I also wanted the opportunity to spend time with people of all ages and stories before I dived into another environment where I was surrounded by people with similar life experiences. Finally, I wanted to figure out whether or not I actually wanted to go to college. I wasn’t sure.
- What specifically do you want to accomplish during your gap year?
In my first few gap year plans, I made a list of all of the things I wanted to accomplish during my gap year: I wanted to do an intensive coding bootcamp. I wanted to visit a foreign country on my own. I wanted to do a bunch of self-directed learning into different topics. After I made these plans, I would feel really good for a while and then really bad. I would feel really good because there was clearly so much potential for what I could do during my gap year. Then I would feel really bad because I didn’t actually believe I could do all of the things I had on my list.
- What would you feel proud of doing at the end of the year?
So I decided to ask myself a different question, one that has proven more useful. Instead of looking ahead and forecasting all of the things that I wanted to do (which was overwhelming), I decided to imagine myself after my gap year and how I would feel. Would I care that I had checked off ten things from my to-do list, or would I be content with having one really intense, immersive experience during which I learned a lot? I realized that I would be more than happy with the latter.
- What’s your step-by-step plan for your gap year?
Now is a good time to actually create a plan for your gap year, based on your answers for the questions above. Hopefully those questions gave you a clearer and truer sense of what you wanted your gap year to be like; they did so for me. So, what’s your current plan for your gap year?
- How much do you want to follow your plan for your gap year?
Once you’ve created your plan (or revised your old ones), consider the following scenario: you’re on your gap year and you get an email titled “Would you be interested in this opportunity?” When you open the email, you realize that you now have the chance to do something that you never thought possible. Something incredible. Something that gets you what you want much more effectively than your current plan. Do you grab it?
It was nerve-wracking for me to take a gap year. It was stressful for me to think about planning it. The thing that helped me, and that I hope helps you, is that you can’t actually go wrong.
Consider your gap year an experiment: it’s a time that you’re giving yourself to explore what you want. Even if everything goes contrary to plan, even if everything seems to be going wrong, just remember that you are always winning in at least this way: you are always gaining more knowledge about how you want the rest of your life to be.
Read this next: 10 Reasons to Take a Gap Year After High School