Zanny Merullo Steffgen
Dos and Don’ts
Coming into the last couple of months at my time at home, I have made a transition in how I live each day. Before, when I knew I had time laid out before me to use however I wanted, I lived a steady existence that consisted of waking up late, working out, going to work, and coming home immediately after. I used my free time to explore different hobbies I wish I’d pursued before, and occasionally tracked down various friends. Now that I know time is fleeting before I head into my next adventure, I have begun to slip into a way of living that I had previously adopted when I lived in Italy- saying yes to new experiences and letting life take me where it will. I’ve begun to stay late after work talking with the bartenders and bouncers, I’ve tried yoga, I’ve taken trips to Boston and New York City, planned a party for coworkers, spent a night at a country dance club, and deleted social media from my phone so I can fully live each moment. Although I feel too immersed in my experience to have any real insight on how I have changed as a person, I do feel that this time I have taken for myself has allowed me to explore parts of myself that I had never indulged before, and my thoughts about what I want to do in life and what kind of person I want to be change every day. Sometimes I feel lost, sometimes I feel lonely, but mostly I feel utterly free and have resigned myself to using this time to live blindly until I discover exactly how I want to live with purpose in the coming years. With nearly six months of gap year under my belt, here is a list of what I have learned so far, and how I would advise future adventurers to spend their year off.
DO take a year off before college, but DON’T think of it as a gap year. Think of it as an extension of your life, and DON’T be swayed by those who attempt to dissuade you with the thought that you may never make it back to college. Taking this time off will show you that there is no direct path in life.
DO get a job, sign up for a class of some sort, or join a volunteer organization. You will crave some structure in your life.
DON’T spend your whole year traveling or constantly moving around. After twelve or so years of schooling, you will need some steady time and a home base to gather your thoughts and energy.
DO spend some time alone. Check in with yourself at least once a day and become aware of the changes going on in your mind. Taking time off removes the barriers that previously guided your visions of the future, and the lack of those barriers can cause a lot of questioning. Accept this and allow yourself to grow.
DO visit friends at different schools. This will allow you to see how you would live if you weren’t on a gap year and open your mind to different possibilities for the following years.
DON’T put pressure on yourself to make the best of your time. Not every second can be exciting, not every minute can house an adventure. Sometimes the most mundane moments allow you to become further acquainted with yourself.
DO try something new and commit to it. (I have started to go to yoga class weekly and it has added a new, peaceful dimension to my life. I’ve asked my dad to teach me carpentry, something that I had never thought to do before, and have learned valuable skills.)
DO allow your plans to change. (When I first started planning my gap year during my senior year of high school, I thought I would be in a religious home in Italy right now. My plans have evolved at least half a dozen times since then.)
DON’T lose sight of who you are. It is easy to slip so far into the present and new experiences that you don’t take into account the person you were before. (Sometimes working at a bar/restaurant I lose sight of the intellectual that I was when I went to Exeter. I have realized that I can be both a tough country girl who works as a hostess and a sophisticated intellectual who can have interesting conversations.)
DO find something to keep your mind stimulated. It is good to keep your brain in shape even if you aren’t being challenged by schoolwork. I read, watch the news, listen to the radio, try to figure out mathematical probabilities, and work on my Italian.
DO take a break from social media. For the first few months, it was hard to watch my friends with their new friends or posting pictures of college life. During the election there was so much negativity and anger from both sides on social media that I finally stopped looking, and eventually stopped caring. Now I can enjoy a nice sunset without the pressure to take a picture that encapsulates its beauty, I can look in the mirror and be happy with the way I look without comparisons to photos of other girls I’ve seen. Every experience I have doesn’t need to be voiced, commented on, or appreciated by others.
DON’T be limited. If you’ve always wanted to go rock climbing or sky diving, do it! Take a road trip and live out of your car, drive somewhere late at night, travel to a place you’ve never been before, go to a museum or a concert or a book reading, try going to church or meditating, and, most importantly…
DO write it all down.