Why Take A Gap Year

By Matthew

 

Although I will not be attending classes this year I will never stop learning and nothing, not even another stay-at-home mandate will prevent me from growing intellectually. I’m learning and growing from every experience I’m having this summer.  Everything from navigating social interactions, precarious backcountry situations, catering to guests’ needs and cooking food on outdoor fires (in a summer snowstorm no less) is helping me navigate the future.  I am learning to appreciate the benefits of preparation and communication while attempting to resolve problems with upset guests from my job as a bellman at a local high end hotel. That alone will help me in the dorms, classrooms and labs when I get to school.

Over the past few weeks, as many of my friends leave home and settle into life as college freshmen, I have been reading, hearing and watching scores of entertaining stories about the various amazing experiences they all seem to be having.  This was inevitably going to be the first gut check where I’d likely be second guessing my decision to take a gap year.  As my family and friends predicted, it hit me hard.  But it also forced me to review my sentiments when deciding to take this year off and remind myself what I hoped to gain from it. My anxiety hasn’t lasted too long, thankfully.  I remembered that I’ll eventually get my chance to be a freshman at Duke and that I’m actually not missing out on anything.  My initial intention to create time, space and experiences between high school and college to grow as a person and gain knowledge and perspective along the way to help maximize my time at Duke is still front and center as I embark on my journey.

One of the biggest keys to success in college and life that many high schools don’t effectively teach is intrinsic motivation.  For students to truly make the most out of their years in college they need to know what they want to do and how to get there, but also, most importantly, why they want to do it.  Knowing and being able to articulate the “why” gives students both the focus and drive to maximize their educational experience. In high school and college most students are motivated extrinsically, by grades, others aspirations, and following the status quo or society’s general idea of success, not driven by personal interests. Those motivations lead to many students losing interest in their classes and simply being unhappy. In a gap year, especially this one in 2020,  there is no clearly defined path to success.  The path to knowledge, self-awareness and enjoyment needs to be crafted by the individual and is largely going to be free of judgement.  I am navigating the current climate by choosing to pursue areas of intrigue or curiosity, and not chasing the wishes of others. As students are able to identify and follow their inner guidance chips they will be owning their choices, chasing their moments, learning by trial and error and likely setting themselves up to truly flourish in college and life as more informed stewards of their intrinsic motivations.

I wish all my buddies a wonderful year of discovery.  Right now my plans span from mountain peaks, to the far Pacific and back to Europe, with much detail still to be filled in.  I look forward to seeing what I learn, how I adapt and where I might grow as a friend/son/brother/student over the coming year.