I really needed this year. I needed it to learn how to slow down. I needed it to learn how to enjoy myself without the pressure of achieving. The last two years of high school were a high speed bullet train in which I had very little time to sleep, relax and carefully plan my future. I don’t regret the hard work I put in because by God’s grace I got a full scholarship to study at the best university in the country. That was all that mattered. Getting into university, excelling, graduating and having a successful career was all I cared about.
Nowhere in my plan did I make room for learning how to be a person. All I knew how to do was to work towards the high standards I set for myself and then consciously beat myself up when I didn’t reach them.
I had countless panic attacks in my first year of university. Suddenly, I had lost the one thing I’d based my entire being on — my academics. It seemed that no matter how hard I worked, no matter how many workshops I attended and tutoring sessions, the coursework just didn’t seem to stick. It was disheartening to realize that 110% of your blood, sweat and tears couldn’t even yield half the returns. In as much as I was enjoying living in the big city and growing into my personality, parts of me felt hollow. I could forget about it now and again but every time I had to set foot on that beautiful campus, there was a knot of dread in my stomach.
I knew I should’ve done something sooner. However, I wasn’t one to believe that something couldn’t be done. I could do anything I put my mind to. So stubbornly I pushed on and like Benjamin in Animal Farm repeated, “I will work harder!” Yet at some point you have to realize that you’re human and not a robot. My breaking point came halfway into the second semester. After getting a really bad mark on a test I’d studied so hard for, I just lay on my floor, in the dark, thinking about what my life had come to. It was then that it dawned on me that hard work didn’t always translate into results and I was now at my wits end. No amount of hard work could make up for what I lacked in passion and I was just going to have to learn to let go of that which was not meant for me.
So fast forward to my second semester of my gap year and I am grateful that I failed at the one thing I cared about. I was so fixated on caring about grades that I could even look up to see everything else that was going for me. It took moving back home to realize how much support I have from my friends, even from a thousand kilometers away. I’ve been able to spend time with my family, I’ve had experience in the working world, and I’ve spent lots of time with myself. At the end of the day, I found I was the only one who was capable of making me feel better. I had to get back on my feet and decide to look life in the eyes once more.
I may not have traveled the world, volunteered in remote countries or even became a vegan but I learnt how to be a person. That alone has given me the strength to accept that even if things didn’t go according to my plan, I can still look to the future and decide, “I’ll try again, differently.”