By: Kiera Dinsmore | @kieradinsmore
These past few months, I’ve seen a flurry of back to school posts on every social media platform. They feature everything from new haircuts to school supplies, class schedules, degree countdowns, and “back-on-track” goals for fitness, self-care, and the ever-elusive straight A average.
I give these online declarations a big thumbs up, hoping to encourage my peers as they hit the books once again. However, I feel a slight tug whenever I do so knowing that this time around I am not joining them.
This fall, I did what many of my peers consider to be the unthinkable – I didn’t go back to school.
During the first three years of my degree, life was an absolute roller coaster. There were times when I absolutely excelled in my studies, soaking up knowledge and theory like a sponge.
And then there were the times that outnumbered those shiny, happy moments – long periods of feeling rushed and anxious as I watched my mental and physical health swirl down the proverbial toilet bowl of life.
“I need a break.”
This year, I took the plunge and studied abroad for six months in Brussels, Belgium. I thought it was such a phoney, cliché thing to come back and be “a changed person”. Those people who “found clarity” made me roll my eyes at the predictable “eat, pray, love” endings. I was certain of who I was and what I wanted my life to look like; no plane ticket or trip of a lifetime was going to change that.
Nevertheless, I uprooted my life. I left my relationship, my friends, my family, my jobs, my apartment, and my little campus – all the things that made me feel secure. I moved into a crappy, overpriced apartment in a rainy, cold city that I didn’t like all that much in a country I knew practically nothing about.
I spent the next seven months living in french, learning about journalism and migration and European parliamentary decorum. I made new friends entirely different from the crews I had back home. I experienced firsthand the ways in which a country and its society responds to acts of terror. I lived out of a backpack as I travelled to eleven countries, throwing myself into cultures and traditions totally foreign to me.
As I felt my time abroad coming to a close, I grew increasingly nervous about the thought of returning to my old routine as an entirely different person. I wasn’t ready to give up my risk-taking, unorthodox ways just yet.
A Choice Just For Me
Taking a time out from school carried a huge appeal for me.
I could take a break and really refocus where I wanted to direct my studies and efforts. I could be sure that my time in school wasn’t rushed, and the massive amounts of money and time and energy paid off with meaningful knowledge – not just a piece of paper.
I could pay off debt that I had accumulated from the last three years of studies and a very expensive travel season. If I was successful, I could spend my last period of study breathing easier about my financial obligations.
I could work in my field, or even just try my hand at gigs I’d never had the guts to pursue. I’d gain some more experience in the working world before graduating and having to “get serious”.
I could finally dedicate time to accomplishing goals and developing skills that weren’t covered in the classroom, like how to play the guitar or obtaining my TEFL certificate.
The Nagging Voices
Ever since I was about 13 years old, I’ve felt like there was a “track” I was supposed to stay on. Finish high school, get into a reputable university, graduate, find a job that paid well and pushed me further up the career ladder, make waves in my field, and retire happily as part of the loyal legion of an XYZ corporation.
I already started university a year after I was “supposed to”. I didn’t excel or pass all of my courses like I was “supposed to”. I was watching my friends head towards graduation and real life, knowing I would never really catch up. Why was I trying to move at a pace that didn’t work for me?
Yet, I worried myself sick about a decision I felt so instinctively confident about. I started to doubt myself in every way – was I making a terrible mistake?
Would I be able to find a job that paid the bills? Would I make enough to cover my OSAP and other loan payments?
Did I want to be 25+ when I graduated? Was I putting off my “real adult” life?
What if I didn’t go back to school? People warned me I would lose motivation, that once I stopped it would be so difficult to restart. Would I lose momentum forever?
What about the technical aspects of school? Would I be kicked out? Would the university honour the work I had done before my time off? Would I be punished long-term and be forced to retake credits?
Would the workforce stress turn out to be worse than academia for my health?
Would I lose touch with the school community? With my academic, professional, and personal contacts?
And the thing that generated a heavy guilt…
Would people think I had failed?
That I was too stupid to work through school like everyone else? That I was lazy? That I wasn’t ambitious? That I had given up at the first sign of something difficult?
I was doing something unconventional, that people don’t talk about or see as a viable option.
A Promise to Myself
I knew that even if university and I were on a break, I would need to fulfill my curiosity in other ways and eventually finish what I had started.
I promised myself three things:
- I would give myself a minimum of one year off, and then re-evaluate.
- I would pay off my debt first and foremost – if I didn’t have the financial stability to support myself, then I would defer my studies until it was feasible.
- I would commit myself to learning in other ways – signing up for yoga classes, guitar lessons, and TEFL courses as soon as I could afford to do so.
I threw myself into the job hunt – found recruiters, sent out stacks of resumes, pored over job postings, scoured Facebook ads, and pounded the pavement until I scored a string of interviews.
It’s All a Process
All of my hard work paid off as the mess started to fall into place.
I worked at a tour agency and a bar throughout the summer, with unconventional hours and jobs that filled the financial quota until I could find my dream job. Ultimately, I made incredible friends and finished my summer with ridiculous anecdotes and memories.
I now work a 9-5 dream gig in a high rise building in travel and tourism. I use my second language every day. I put away my savings, chipping away at bills as I go. I have a routine and purpose and an obligation to an enterprise and consumer base I believe in.
I’m learning and living outside the box of standard student life, and frankly I’ve never been happier.
Ultimately, I’ve learned that dreams have no expiration date, and it’s better to enjoy and trust the process than fret about the final product.
I will make it across that convocation stage one day. Maybe wrinkled and weary, but content and experienced just the same.