If you randomly pull a student from any of the universities in Denmark and ask them what they did after high school, a good handful of them will tell you about their gap year. The “gap year” is a sabbatical, a break, a time to find oneself – but no matter how you phrase it, it comes down to being a period of time they took off between high school and that “next stage in life”, whatever it may be.
This phenomenon, as I soon found out, is very common; and at times, even expected when you’re living or studying in Europe. My peers, no matter which country they came from, all had some sort of gap experience before really deciding on going to university. So it begs the question: why is this so?
It turns out people do it for a variety of reasons, but one stood out to me the most. They just wanted to know what they want for their future. The logic stunned me at first. If you don’t go to school, then how do you know what you want? If you don’t try different skills, then how do you know what you don’t want? But I soon realized this kind of thinking is exactly the problem in the first place. Going to school doesn’t guarantee you answers to these questions!
I still remember the pressure from the college application process, how we were expected to go to college right after high school, and how that was the end of that conversation. College, to us Americans, is where we go to find ourselves. It’s where we pick our future first and then decide if we like it. It’s where we go to learn everything we can about the field we’ve picked, regardless of if we like the class, if it really is relevant to our studies, or if we even really want to be in that field in the first place. Now this logic sounds silly. Why pick your future before you even know yourself?
That’s where the gap year comes in: it is a time for soul-searching and self-analyzing. It’s used to help people figure out what makes them happy, what motivates them, what they envision for their future, and to give them the courage to pursue it next. It all comes down to the idea of happiness. What do you want to be doing? What do you want to wake up to? What makes you smile? Nowadays, people are so caught up in what they think they need to be doing that they don’t think about the other things.
Happiness is not just a feeling anymore – it has tangible effects in very realistic aspects of life. As Alexander Kjerulf, author of “Happy Hour is 9 to 5”, puts it: “people are discovering that when they love their jobs, they are more productive, more creative, and more motivated. They enjoy work much more, and they are healthier and happier.” To get that happiness, my peers have taught me to really think about what I want in my future. What sort of roles do I want to pursue? What skills do I want to learn and use every day? So maybe I didn’t take a gap year, but I sure am doing my own soul-searching now.
What about you? Do you know what makes you happy?
Images from: Here