Stepping out of a plenary hall, pseudo diploma on one hand and a cap I’ve picked up on the other, I’m filled with thoughts that aren’t well wishes. I’ve come face-to-face with my 2 a.m. reflections: What’s next?
Once you’ve made it to your alma mater’s alumni list, the question is a confrontation. Count it as the welcoming committee to the post-college party we’d rather skip out on—welcome to the limbo between graduation and employment.
On one hand, you want to give in to the capitalist bug pressuring you into becoming a responsible unit of society. Either your family is questioning you, or it’s just motivated by your desire not to feel like a useless bum. But then, you’ve spent four years (or more) going in and out of campus on a daily basis. You’re just not ready to dive into another nine-to-five without taking a breather—and with air that doesn’t come from a college building or a stuffy office.
And so, you’re presented with two cards: Should you jump straight into the workforce or wait a little bit?
Yes, you can press pause on reality
The concept of a “gap year” is straight out of a foreign dictionary. We’re taught to hop from one stage to the next, where family reunions are interrogations in disguise. Gap years are for globe-trotting European backpackers and travel is reserved for your retired tita’s pilgrimage, not a fresh grad ripe for employment. But we can look at it this way: Taking that so-called gap year isn’t necessarily selfish. After weeks of school-related burnout and mental health strains, it could just be a necessity.
This doesn’t necessarily mean exploring uncharted Thai forests like you’re neo-Indiana Jones.
Read more: We all need to take a mental health day every now and then
So, what do you really do in a gap year, and how does it benefit you?
For those that can spare some of their savings, traveling has become synonymous to gap years. Solo travel, especially done in long periods of time, is gained perspective outside of your locale. This doesn’t necessarily mean exploring uncharted Thai forests like you’re neo-Indiana Jones—volunteer abroad, attend conferences and buff up that CV with experience. As part of your character arc, opportunities like these push you out of classrooms and cubicles, and into the chaotic outside world.
Read more: Okay, so you’re not graduating “on time”—who cares?
And while we can’t think of “gap year” without thinking of travel, it’s best to remember that these times don’t only revolve around that. One option to earn without committing yourself to the full office experience is through part-time work. To boost your soul-searching—while helping others in the process—take a chance at volunteering in NGOs. Various civic groups and organizations accept volunteers such as animal shelter Pawssion Project, education charity Renovate to Educate or your local museum like The Met.
Take a step back when things are too much—whether it’s through a whole hiatus after graduation, or those much-needed mental health days in between society’s call.
Taking a break also addresses the mental distress experienced by college students. For the Student Conservation Association, the post-grad break is a “creative timeout,” where fresh graduates can take a step back from “sources of stress, helping equip students [to enter the workforce] in the right frame of mind—and with greater capacity to handle emotional and academic stress.” And as reported by Quartz Magazine, analyzed in-depth interviews with gap year participants show that 37 of the 42 studied gained a number of non-cognitive skills that helped them approach their next phase with increased mental stability.
Read more: Fresh grads and career shifters, here’s advice from professional creatives
And it’s true: We all need to take a mental health break every now and then. With rising cases of depression, breaks shouldn’t be a luxury afforded only to the few, but an essential right in this time.
However, not everyone is privileged to take a time off
Therein lies one problem—a time off is considered to be something indulgent, as if the powers-that-be are saying, “You can have a little break, as a treat.” There are a lot of factors to consider before jumping into a hiatus and most of the time, responsibilities and circumstances win over at the cost of your personal wellbeing. For one, a lot of students are expected to step in as a provider for their families upon graduation. Graduating on time is an obligation needed to be met, as welfares of loved ones are at stake. Joining the workforce isn’t an option that’s simply shrugged off and pushed back on a whim—as the situation dictates, sometimes, it’s the only choice.
Read more: Acknowledging privilege and what you should do about it
Should you take a break? Take one for a breather, as we all need it. Take one if your thoughts still wander and you’re lost on what to do next (which is perfectly okay). Take one if you can, but if you can’t manage it, consider a few months or some weeks off. Whatever the case may be, recognize your limits and take care of yourself through available means. Take a step back when things are too much—whether it’s through a whole hiatus after graduation, or those much-needed mental health days in between society’s call.
Art by Zaila Mae Urmeneta