Three years ago today, I was a second year undergraduate just finishing up my final round of assignments and term papers for the semester. Reading break had come and gone and it was like a breath of much-needed fresh air… but it was over much too soon. I had been having troubles figuring out what I wanted to do with my time at UBC, and my sense of purpose was slowly slipping away. It was starting to take a huge toll on my grades, and I felt exhausted, unmotivated, powerless, and overwhelmed. I had developed bad eating habits and I didn’t have time to do the things that I actually enjoyed. I was, in essence, going through academic burnout.
At the time, the thought of taking a year off would have been unthinkable to me. I had huge dreams and goals, and wasn’t going to let some negative feelings set me back an entire year. I didn’t want to feel like a failure. I didn’t want to be thought of as the college dropout, no matter how silly that might seem. I told myself to power through, even though I knew (and my body knew) that I really, really needed a break.
Then I began talking to friends and classmates. I started to realize that maybe a break at this point was not as common as the gap year in between high school and freshman year, but it wasn’t particularly uncommon either. I listened to stories of friends of friends who had taken a year off and come back with a renewed sense of purpose, and I started to entertain the thought – Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all. It planted a small seed in my mind that grew and grew as the term came to a close.
By the time final exams were over, I had shared my thoughts with friends and family, who in turn responded with more encouragement than I had ever expected. Something lit up inside me then and I began to feel more excited and invigorated than I had been in a while. I spent my summer volunteering and researching activities to do over the next year, and when registration for September finally rolled around, my decision was made. I didn’t register for a single class.
Over the next year, I did things and saw things that I had never even dreamed of. I volunteered in new places and was lucky enough to have my brother as my travelling companion as I backpacked through the streets of England, France, Switzerland and Italy, getting hopelessly lost more times than not. I tried new foods, learnt new phrases, made new friends and, most importantly, got to know a whole new side of myself that I had never known before. Free from the restraints of assignments and exams, I was able to forge my own path and challenge myself to step way outside of my comfort zone. I had experiences that I would have never had, had I stayed on to finish my degree without taking a break.
I will admit, returning back to classes at UBC the following year was not a walk in the park. It was hard to adjust back to the daily grind, having spent an entire year completely free to make what I wanted of my days. Yet, I don’t regret my decision one bit. I came back to campus with a clearer sense of what truly interested me and what kind of person I wanted to be, and this gave me the focus and drive to pursue the opportunities that I felt passionate about the most in my remaining time at UBC. I found a major I was excited to go to classes for, and I got involved with a peer program on campus that allowed me to develop my interests and skills in an area which I was enthusiastic about. I had a renewed sense of motivation and a much healthier outlook on life.
Today, as I graduate with a Bachelors degree in Psychology and with more good memories from the Wellness Peer Program than I could have ever asked for, I can say that I truly have no regrets. Choosing to take a break three years ago was one of the best decision I made in my four years at UBC, and it was what allowed me to find what I was truly looking for out of my university experience. It gave me a brand new perspective and renewed my passions for the things I loved most. It taught me that sometimes, it’s best to give something a chance no matter how scared you are of the unknown.
If you are at the absolute end of your rope, taking a break doesn’t have to mean the end of your academic career. If you or your family have any questions please feel free to leave a comment!