My gap year in “productive idleness”

I graduated from college last 2015. After the final bow, I was clueless about what to do with my life. I was stuck. I felt I was about to get left behind, what with all my classmates getting hired, pursuing further studies, moving out of the country… They had their stuff together. They seemed to have their life already mapped out while I had no choice but to exist among them, overwhelmed and paralyzed, unable to picture a future of my own. “This is really happening”, I quivered to myself.

They weren’t kidding when they said it would be a struggle, figuring it all out after college. As much as I wanted to bust a move, I was still unsure. I’m the type of person who likes to calculate every crucial step in making decisions before taking action in order to minimize risks. In short, I value organization and preparedness over spontaneity and adventure (which I’m aware that I need more of). So I decided to take a break… A gap year.

A gap year.

Before you think me overreacting, I need to explain first and foremost this one fact about growing up in the Philippines: Taking a gap year is NOT part of the norm. Here, you are expected to move to the next level right away, save for summer breaks/semestral breaks/Christmas breaks we have within a single school year. Otherwise, you’re a bum. Simply put, you are expected to be preoccupied right away with other endeavors after you finish college. This is why I was apprehensive at first, why I felt like a loser when all the while I was just trying to not jump into things impulsively.

But looking back, I don’t regret stopping to catch my breath while everybody else was panting to wherever we’re racing forth. For crying out loud, there isn’t even a race. I realized that we’re just a bunch of people with different goals whose paths turn out to cross over at some point. In my route, I discovered a number of pit stops in places where there may be none in someone else’s. And I’m glad I didn’t ignore them: I studied for the board exams and passed; studied for the National Medical Admission Test (NMAT) and got a percentile rank enough to get me accepted into 2 out of the 2 medical schools I applied in. I had all the time I need to make sure that I am willing to dedicate my life to becoming a practicing physician. These happened within a span of 6 months. Afterwards, I got to spend more time with my family and friends. Thank You again for the invaluable blessings, Lord.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s not as if each day of my gap year was filled with thrill and excitement. There were more humdrum days than invigorating ones. I didn’t have enough money to travel or indulge in my habit of reading books. Most days I didn’t even have enough to see my friends more often. I wasn’t able to enroll in a supplementary Spanish class. In spite of this, I was discouraged to take on jobs because my parents preferred the idea of me resting, but they have a point. I didn’t feel like asking money from them all the time either. We have someone at home we cannot afford to leave alone, so in the few times my family are out to spend quality time together (but primarily they have to run errands), they have no choice but to leave without me. I have to stay. These may seem like petty things compared to other existing problems on a national or global scale; but when they are accumulated and reiterated in your monotonous daily routine, it could get pretty dismal. You’d grow heartbroken by it.

Yet right now, as I prepare to say goodbye to the gap year that will have been, I thank God the Father for the highs and the lows. He taught me lessons about life and faith through subjecting me to both extremes. I cultivated enough sensitivity and awareness towards problems existing around me to ward off all the excuses my mind could come up with in giving less than my 100% in medical school. I feel that I am wiser now, more resilient, more motivated than ever. Empowered yet grounded. In my final year in college, I slowly felt my engine burning out. Now, I am energized and enthusiastic to go back to school. I don’t know if I’d still feel like this had there been no bad times.

It also became clear to me how much of the mundaness in my gap year mattered just as much as the extra-ordinariness in it.

I’m going to miss sleeping whenever I feel like it. I will miss the length of day spent in active reflection and plainly thinking about overall meaning of my life. I will miss my undisturbed stream of consciousness, my steady imagination. I will miss having all the time in the world to happily think of what I’m going to have for breakfast the next day and feel no rush in making it when I wake up. The peace and quiet I spend by myself as I luxuriously take a sip of my morning coffee. Those precious, triumphant occasions celebrated on behalf of the successes of my friends over lunch and/or dinner and intimate conversations. The placid joy and awe at the world that come with taking a moment to be captivated by my mother’s projects in the garden. I am going to miss the uninterrupted company of my mom I am grateful to have enjoyed over the year that has passed. Jokes, laughs, and exercise routines shared with my siblings with nothing else to bother us. I am going to miss the warmth of home-cooked lunches and dinners straight from the kitchen. I am going to miss not having to dress up and make myself look presentable because I’m just staying at home. It turns out as well that I’m going to miss being found reliable enough to take care of a member of the family all by myself and being thanked and appreciated for it.

The list would go on, but this post would have to end before long. And as I type this sentence, it came to me that I had been blessed by moments I won’t be able to take back and relive exactly just as how I lived them. In a month’s time, my life would never be the same again. I am all the more thankful.  I may not have gotten to do everything I wanted, but I was able to accomplish those on top of my priority list.

The unfamiliarity or strangeness found in a decision doesn’t make it a bad one. Do not  be afraid to go against the current. If you can’t help it, then fine, be scared… but do it anyway as long as it’s good for you, and you’re the only one who can weigh that. It is alright to stop for a while when things get too much to bear. The important thing is that over the long haul, you continue on.

Remember that there is no race; it’s just an illusion. Live your life at your own pace.

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