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What I Learned in My Gap Year

When I decided to take a gap year between high school and college, I had no clue that it would be the best learning experience I could ever give myself.

By Emily FinniganPublished 6 years ago 5 min read
Top Story - December 2017

College has always been a rocky boat for me, especially leading up to my high school graduation. One minute I wanted to go, the next I didn’t. Looking back I always subconsciously knew that I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t really ready to give myself the huge responsibility that is college. I finally decided (very last minute) that I would take a year off to work. I would save up money and put it all towards my future education. Little did I know that my decision to take a year would affect everyone I knew, because everyone decided to give me their opinions on my life!!! (Notice my angry sarcasm?) Some family supported my decision fully; they said that college isn't for everyone and you can't force it. Some even tried to convince me that I shouldn't go at all. Other family looked at me like I killed someone. They told me that I was making a huge mistake. It was a wild couple of months, especially when the holidays came around. All I dealt with that year was people telling me what was right for me. Trust me, none of them knew what was right for me. Only I knew what was right for me. First thing I learned: You can't listen to anyone else but yourself. You live for you.

So I worked. I had a retail job in a sports pro-shop in Boston. It was pretty cool for a while, but seasons end and shifts become limited. It's not very likely you can save for higher education with two shifts a week that pays minimum wage. Around mid-October, I searched for a new job. I had been in retail, so I didn't want another boring retail job. I applied and was hired at a restaurant in my town which was part of a nation-wide chain (this restaurant will remain nameless). Let me tell you something, if you take things personally, do not become a waitress; I hated it from day one. You know if you ever worked in the restaurant business that everything that goes wrong is blamed on you, EVEN IF you did nothing wrong. Customers blame the waiters, who blame the cooks, who blame the waiters, rinse and repeat. The money, on the other hand, I couldn't resist. I could actually save with the kind of money I was making. Around this time, too, I started a new relationship. Working full-time with two different jobs, having friends, and having a boyfriend isn't too easy, especially since I was stressed out by how much I was working. But the support from them was much needed; it made everything a bit easier. At one point I was working eight days in a row, one day off, then eight days again. I was hustling. It was really, really hard. You can't let your job interfere with your personal life and that was what was starting to happen.

I have been having a long battle with anxiety and depression since I was 13. I've been in and out of therapy since I was 14. I stopped going in high school because I was doing well, or so I thought. Like a train going 140 MPH, it all hit me. I went through a couple of humongous break downs affecting everyone. My jobs, my boyfriend, my friends, and most of all and most importantly, me. I was working way too much, and on top of that, spending a lot of time with friends and my boyfriend. I wasn't focusing on myself and my mental health. The only time I had alone was sleeping. I quit my waitress job pretty abruptly, and I only told two people. Those two people SHOULD have been my parents, but they weren't. My mother found out as I was walking out the door one day and she wasn't too happy. Once I explained myself, she was very understanding. My father found out a couple of weeks later. Second thing I learned: You must make time for yourself. You must communicate to the people in your life. Sometimes the best work is the work on yourself.

I still worked at my first job, but since it was still winter, I only had about two shifts a week. Minimum wage. It was not fun. My pay checks were very saddening and my savings began to drop. I never went under my personal budget. I was good about that. I just hated seeing the numbers go down. Sooner or later, the new season was going to start and I would get more shifts. Finally the season started and checks began to make me happy! Yay, money!! Alas, another job problem would occur. I would drive an hour into work and about two hours home. Boston traffic isn't kind. I was getting sick and tired of it. Also the fact I was making minimum wage for a three hour drive a day. I'm sorry, but no thanks. I kept it very secret that I was going to look for a new job. I knew I didn't want retail or restaurant. We all know how that goes. My father offered me a job at his company. This was probably the first time I sat down and thought about a decision instead of rushing into it. I knew that working with family was a hard thing, but it was closer to my home and paid better, so I took it. Same hours every single week. It was amazing. I quickly saved a lot of money and started getting into the college process. Third thing I learned: You know what you want to be making for money. You know what you are looking for in a job. Do not settle for the best you can get. If you want a job in your hometown that pays a little more than minimum wage?? Find it. If you want a fun job in Boston, then get one. I found the job I was looking for.

It really seemed like time flew by. Now I am writing this after finishing my first semester in college. GPA of 3.76. I'm very proud of myself. I feel like I took school so much more seriously because I knew I was putting MY money towards it. I worked to get myself the education I wanted. The things that you can learn when you are making decisions for yourself are monumental. I have learned so much within the past two years of my life. I really think the most important lesson I learned is that you come before anyone. You should always make yourself a priority and do what is right for you. Advice for high schoolers thinking about college? Do what makes yourself happy. If it's working, then it's working. If it's working towards a degree, then it's working towards a degree. Benefit yourself.


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    Emily FinniganWritten by Emily Finnigan

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