Photo: Anna Auza/Unsplash
Towards the end of my final year at university, I was at a crossroads on what to do. I had two options, but I wasn’t sure which one to take.
Option one was to go down the well-worn route of a recent graduate and get a job. The other was to take a year out and go travelling. In my case, go and live in Australia for a year.
As the weeks ticked down and exam season came into sight, I was still none the wiser about what to do. Nor did I have more of an idea once my exams were finished and I had more time to think about what I wanted to do.
The thought of going to Australia was intoxicating but it was also scary. Going to a country on the other side of the planet for a year by myself was daunting. However, it appealed to me more than getting a job that I wasn’t enthused about.
In the end, my cautious side won out and I took a job instead of travelling to Australia. Working in a betting shop was an eye-opening experience and not what I thought I would be doing after graduating from university.
With hindsight, it wasn’t the worst idea as I was able to save up a good chunk of money. When I was hit by a car cycling home from work six months into the job, I decided to put that saved money to good use and finally go to Australia.
After three more months of solid work, I quit and jumped on a plane to Australia. Finally, I was doing what I had wanted to do when I graduated.
The experience changed my life forever. That may sound cliche but it really did. My confidence grew, I made some great friends and I had the time of my life. So much so, that one year in Australia, turned into another year in New Zealand and two years in Spain.
During that time I set up a travel blog and started writing here on Medium. Had I not decided to go to Australia back in 2012, I’m not sure whether I‘d be writing here today.
All of this points back to that one decision I made when I was hit by a car. Taking the time out to go and live in another country, experience a different side of life and broaden my horizons benefitted my life in numerous ways.
Getting a job after university is what most people but I’d argue you’re better taking some time out to experience life and grow as a person.
Graduating at 21, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. The only thing that I was certain about was that I wanted to go and live in Australia for a year.
The funny thing about university is that you spend three to four years there, and after you graduate, you’re expected to have everything figured out. It’s assumed you’ll know exactly what you want to do, what job you want to take and have your life mapped out.
The reality is, that very few people know for certain what they want to do with their lives when they graduate. Unless you’re doing a specialist subject such as medicine, you’re more likely to be in the dark about what career path you want to take.
This is normal. After 21 years of formal education, I was still unsure about what I wanted to do. Graduating in History didn’t help matters as there were many career paths that I could have followed. The choice was overwhelming and confused me no end.
When I did get a job it was one that didn’t require a degree, nor one that I particularly enjoyed. The only upside was that the money wasn’t too bad and I was able to save most of what I earnt by living with my parents.
Still, I knew this wasn’t what I wanted to be doing long-term. When I was hit by that car and realised how lucky I was to walk away with a few cuts and bruises, I knew I had to go to Australia.
The problem with taking a job straight away after you graduate is that you can end up stuck in a job you don’t like. It’s a common belief that most jobs are secure, but it only takes a crisis from out of nowhere to shake up the job market and change everything.
Not many people fall into their dream job after graduating. Out of all my friends that graduated, very few of them are working in either the job they first got or what they would consider to be their dream job. Sometimes, the thought of losing their job can be enough to convince someone to continue working in a field they hate.
This is where the beauty of taking a gap year comes into play. It gives you time to think, to gain a different perspective on life. The best time to travel is in your youth. You have bundles of energy, it’s easy to meet people and you’ll have a lot of fun.
Leaving your dream to travel the world until you’re older is something you’ll regret. That desire to travel and see the world can fade when you’re older. Looking back on my experience, if I had done started now, at the age of 30, I wouldn’t have done half the things I did.
Travelling at this age gives you a perspective on the world that most of us don’t have. I was unaware of lots of things before I started travelling. I had many assumptions that were quickly brushed away when I made it to Australia and started interacting with people from a variety of countries.
Travelling breaks down borders and brings us closer together. It makes you realise how much we have in common with one another, and how wrong those people that try to divide us are.
I can see how people become radicalised if they don’t push themselves to step outside of their comfort zone and travel to different parts of the world. Doing this at a young age is a good idea because you’ll have fewer entrenched beliefs.
You’ll be more receptive to what you see around you and better able to form a coherent opinion, rather than succumb to your own biases.
Most of all, taking a gap year gives you time to think. It removes the pressure of finding a job. This was one of the reasons I ended up taking the job in a betting shop. It got to the point where I needed a job and any would do.
Taking a year out, you can take your time to think about the career you want to do. Maybe you’ll experience something on your travels that will influence you and make you realise what you want to dedicate your life to.
Gap years have been derided by many as the preserve of the rich and privileged, but they are a great way to expand your horizons and consider what’s important to you in life.
Travelling is an experience that changes you forever. It gives you perspective and strips away your assumptions. It can also provide you with clarity where none had been before.
Instead of taking any old job after you graduate, take a year out and experience life in different parts of the world. You’ll be surprised how much you change and how you’ll have more of an idea of what you want to do with your life than you did before!