Learning to Take Risks

By Lizzy

Hi! I’m Lizzy from Austin, Texas. I can’t believe I’m already one month into my gap year—I have loved every moment and am so excited to see what the rest of the year will bring! 

 Despite my enthusiasm, I hadn’t seriously considered taking a gap year until about 6 months ago. I love the stability and organization of an academic schedule, so taking such a risk would have been out of character. Even though I dreamed of taking time off school and travelling the world, I never thought I would be brave enough to follow through with it.

So, what changed? At first, my structure-craving mindset remained stubborn as ever. I was bent on choosing the most practical option– and taking a year off school never seemed practical, no matter how much I thought I might enjoy it. As schools began closing in March and my meticulous plans for freshman year melted away, so did my fear of taking a gap year. I was faced with uncertainty no matter what I chose to do, so I abandoned hopes of practicality and stability and chose what I had truly wanted to do all along. At the time, taking a gap year felt like a huge risk, but I have it immensely so far and am incredibly pleased with my choice.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of taking a gap year so far is the freedom it has granted me. Throughout middle and high school, I would plan obsessively, scheduling every hour of every day– including weekends– with tasks to complete for school and extracurriculars. Now, for the first time in 7 years, I am not tethered to such a schedule. I am finally free to explore the things I felt too busy to do during high school, and I am beginning to learn the merits of letting go of structure: had I forgone a gap year and adhered to the college schedule, I would be fretting endlessly over class registration and roommate pairings right now. Instead, I fill my days with my favorite activities, like cooking elaborate dinners for my family, water skiing on Lake Austin, and going on hikes with friends. 

In fact, despite taking time off school, I have found even more joy in my nerdy, academic passions than ever before. I’ve spent countless hours studying math, physics, and chemistry on my own, and I’ve joined a logic puzzle-solving club in Austin. In my internship, I have delved into optics and engineering, working outside paid hours to complete my project. Along with a few friends, I’ve challenged myself to learn the names and mythology of the major stars and constellations in the night sky. When we camped at Enchanted Rock, a massive granite dome in rural west Texas, we even brought along a telescope (which admittedly looked a bit strange in the rugged wilderness, as pictured below)! As we located Jupiter’s red bands, Saturn’s rings, and the moon’s craters through the telescope lens, I realized that learning voluntarily in the company of friends and nature is a far greater joy than I ever experienced from mandatory school assignments. 

Inevitably some of my old stability-seeking habits will return come fall of 2021 and I am once again facing the regiment of a school schedule. However, I am hoping I will carry with me what I have already begun to learn from my gap year: that taking risks and letting go of structure can be both fun and rewarding.