Gap Year Girl Goes Gap

December 22, 2018
By Lizzie Youshaei, CAS '21

Lizzie wrote this post reflecting on the value and purpose of a gap year in 2017, half way through her own gap year. It appeared originally on her blog.

This most difficult part about deciding to commit to a gap year had nothing to do with taking a year off, instead, I feared what others would think when they learned of my decision.

For as long as I can remember, my life has been planned around one specific path — college. It was the topic of many conversations around our dinner table and was considered the epitome of success. Fast forward to high school and you’d find an angsty teenager who was always stressed out and overworked. The worst part was that I was putting so much time and my only motivation was my grades at the end of the semester. I wasn’t passionate about anything anymore, I did things because I had to and not because I wanted to. And when I finally got into college, I felt empty rather than fulfilled and I knew that something was wrong.

The issue is that I did everything in high school for this ultimate goal of college and once I had accomplished that, I felt like I had nothing to work towards anymore. I felt lost and confused, and I didn’t understand why I wasn’t excited for the future that was ahead of me.

High school is a special time because this is the time where teens begin shaping their identities. And I, like many others, chose to wear a facade as opposed to developing my self. We kill ourselves for the college acceptances only to feel empty at the end of the day because we are nothing beyond our resumes.

This was when my brother proposed the idea of a gap year. I had always known gap years as years for people who are “confused” or just want to “slack off,” and I never thought about how life-changing they really could be. College seemed like the only path for me because that is all I had known for my entire life. I had trouble admitting that I had no idea what I wanted to study and I was always anxious because I thought everyone else around me had their lives figured out.

But here is the truth. We are all struggling with the same insecurities, doubts and fears and only once we recognize these things can we grow. No one has their lives sorted out like they may say they do, so breath a little! Exploration and wayfinding is a good thing. Being confused is normal and if anything, beneficial at this age. We shouldn’t know exactly what we want and we shouldn’t let people put us into boxes. We are capable of so much more once we begin experimenting with our interests and stretching outside of our comfort zones. So, take a few moments here or maybe a whole year and figure out who you are once your job and education are taken out of the equation. What do you love to do? What is a skill you want to learn? What do you want to know more about? Develop yourself first, real success and fulfillment will follow.

Each year there is a number of Penn students that choose to take a gap year, whether as admitted high school seniors prior to matriculating, or between years at Penn. They pursue passions and interests, gain work experience, travel, nurture relationships with family and friends, and more.