For most people, taking a gap year is a great way to grow up before heading off to college. UnCollege fellows certainly acquire the skills every competent young adult needs—time management, self-directed learning, communication, and a growth mindset. For Ben Lee, however, becoming an UnCollege fellow was the key to rediscovering what it was like to be a child, full of joy, confidence, and dreams for the future.
Ben was quiet and reserved when he first arrived at UnCollege, but one of his mentors noticed that he seemed to have a naturally outgoing personality. Ben traced his shift away from his exuberant childhood self to his years in high school. He is originally from Malaysia, and had received a prestigious scholarship to study in Singapore. It was a valuable opportunity, but, as he shared in his capstone presentation, “the high status given to me [as a result of the scholarship] caused me so much stress that I broke.”
Ben shared that, during his years studying in Singapore, he became depressed and withdrawn. In his presentation, he highlighted a four-month gap between posts in his Instagram feed, pointing out that, “for millennials like us, it’s a big thing when you don’t post for four months!” During that time, Ben said that he’d lost all interest in life—even in the things that used to bring him the most joy. He loves playing the violin, for example, and in a rare instance of bragging boasted that he’s quite good at it. If anything could have saved him, he believed, it was music. But he was so enveloped by his depression that not even the songs he loved could pierce through to him.
After his dismal high school experience, Ben needed time to reflect and better understand himself before heading off to college. He decided to take a gap year with UnCollege, a decision that he says, “ended up being life-saving.”
Through building relationships with other members of Cohort 12 and participating in UnCollege’s life skills workshops, Ben started to develop a healthy mindset and equip himself to flourish in his next steps in life. He learned to embrace his faults and weaknesses while still being proud of his strengths and accomplishments. He started to advocate for himself and his visions. And he realized, through the ups and downs of this experience, that everyone should love themselves.
As he learned these lessons, Ben rediscovered the happy-go-lucky, carefree kid he was years ago “with all his smiles, his confidence, his dreams to grow up with a loving heart.” After reconnecting with the younger version of himself, Ben is heading off into the next stage of his life confident in his ability to resiliently endure any challenges ahead and love and care for himself throughout it all. He now knows that “everything will be ok in the end, if it’s not ok it’s not the end.”
Trying to navigate your next steps after high school? Learn more about how a gap year can help you gain confidence, clarity, and direction to succeed in your next step in life.