Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Gimme a Break

Remember how you felt during your last finals of college? You knew that soon, very soon, all the stress would be over. No more tests, no more papers, all you had left was to walk down an aisle in an silly outfit, and then you would start life. Get a job, maybe settle down, la de da.

Now we know better. Stress doesn't end when your schooling does. Believe it or not, trying to figure out what to do with your life can be pretty stressful.

So in between finding a steady income, paying off student loans, figuring out what insurance plan to get and wondering if you'll ever be able to move out of your parents' house (or lose that annoying roommate), life can get overwhelming. Sometimes you just need a break.

In England and other countries, many students take a "gap year" in between high school and college, or immediately after college. This trend is becoming increasingly more popular as more and more people realize that they just need a break for awhile.

The New York Times has an article about how Princeton is encouraging their incoming students to volunteer in a different country for a year before starting college.

Recently I met a woman in her late twenties who took a year between her bachelor's and master's degrees to move to and live in Colorado. Just for a change of pace.

If I had the money, the resources, and the guts, I so would have done that, too. And I know that I'm not the only one that feels that way. So I improvised. I took a cross-country road trip. I used up all of my vacation time (and then some), planned like crazy, took advantage of my AAA membership by getting books and camping site ratings and maps, and headed out for two weeks last July. My parents and friends thought I was insane for going by myself, but I found it liberating, freeing, and just plain fun.

I have a car that makes sleeping in it quite easy, so I saved money by alternating between hotels and campsites. I bought a National Parks pass, and visited (I think) 7 National Parks, including Yellowstone, where I had never been before. I took thousands of pictures, listened to audio books, and explored B&Bs and backroads. I took a helicopter ride in South Dakota just to face another fear, and have months worth of stories (and fun background pictures for my cell phone).

I didn't figure out life on the trip, or have any major revelations. But it was nice to take a step back, to have time to process and evaluate and THINK. By myself. Surrounded by nature.

If you have the time, money, and the inclination, I recommend taking a break. Even if it's just for a weekend or a day. Even if you just take some time for yourself. Go to a coffee shop and read a book for fun. Take a long drive in the country. Take a small break from this crazy life.

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