A voice in my head often pops up and says “Vitan, go with the flow”. Only a few seconds pass by, as another voice asserts “only dead fish go with the flow”. Does this sound familiar to you? We frequently find ourselves in such dilemmas, where we are constantly torn between adopting two different paradigms towards our desires and goals, the first one being “if you want it, go get it,” while the other being “if it is meant to be, it will be”. However, this is all assuming we at least have a rough idea of what we desire, but what if we do not even have that aforementioned rough idea?
It is not unusual to belong to the latter group, without a sense of direction. Asking a mere teenager to decide what they want to do with the rest of their lives is always a mammoth task, and unfair to say the least.
“This … put me at odds with the way my parent’s generation traditionally understood the education-career pathway”
If you think you have not found a discipline or a craft that you are passionate about, or even something that you suppose could do for a living, I want to tell you that that’s completely alright.
We, students and young adults, have all been exposed to a plethora of different opportunities from an early age. But to expect us to decide in, essentially, a flash—read: right after MYP/GCSE/DP results—about what we want to do for a large part of our life’s prime is nonetheless a big ask. I know this sounds a bit like a late-night conversation, under the stars if you would like, but that is exactly what I intend to do with this piece. So, indulge me a bit here, roll out a blanket in this field of dreams and let’s gaze up at the vastness of the universe together.
Looking into the future
In this alchemy that we find ourselves in, it is important to know that there rarely are any wrong answers. Well, some would even say that there are rarely any right answers as you do not know how your life actually pans out and what happens to the plans you make for yourself. We often come across people who will question each, rather, any step we take towards fulfilling our desires. But what good does negativity do except make our dreams shallower and our conviction weaker?
Less than two years ago, I was confident that I wanted to be a lawyer as a grown-up and my intrigue in the subject knew no bounds. As a current affairs enthusiast, I knew about every injustice happening around me, and I wanted to do something about it. I convinced my rather traditional parents that taking a year out to prepare for Indian law entrances after completing my IB Diploma Programme (DP) course was in my best interest. It was a good feeling—to know what I wanted to major in and to think I was on track for it. However, just three months into my entrance preparations, I realised I was losing interest in it and that I had to do something about it.
“Sometimes, we think that we are just ‘growing up’ when we find practical alternatives to a discipline that interests us.”
I somehow mustered the courage to tell them about my apprehensions with pursuing law; they were not amused. It had taken me a lot of time and effort to persuade my parents, who were very weary of the idea that a ‘gap year’ was the right decision. Particularly since gap years are still rather unheard of in India and the subcontinent as a whole. Used interchangeably with a ‘drop year’, a gap year carries a negative undertone implying that a student had to ‘drop’ out from a normal timeline of when each level of education should be pursued, to re-appear for exams that they performed poorly on. This new change in direction after the unorthodox decision to take a gap year put me at odds with the way my parent’s generation traditionally understood the education-career pathway. Each new generation has the opportunity to build on the inventions of their predecessors; this opens up opportunities to off the beaten path and discover different paths and I was ready to take advantage of that.
Change of plans
The role of my internship teaching India studies was pivotal to my decision. I reached the conclusion that I did not want to pursue law while interning at my alma mater, where I was teaching an IGCSE subject which delved into Indian politics. I recognised that while I had a strong feeling to do something about the injustices happening around the world, pursuing a career in law was not the only way—one of the greatest lessons I learned from that was that a burning desire to impact the world positively needs no university degree.
Support from my alma mater and my school’s career counselors helped me realise that my problems were extremely ordinary: passions may change, but you have an obligation to grow and realise your new passions. We have all witnessed countless number of people switch careers during the course of their lives. From seeing a theology graduate becoming a recruiter to a professional footballer getting a Wall Street job; I knew that I was not venturing into the unventured.
If not for my gap year, I would not have discovered my eagerness to study politics and people’s behaviour in the political sphere. I still meet students that have absolutely no clue what they want to study at university (which is okay!) and unlike high school, where education is often broad, university gets really difficult if you do not like what you are studying. So, why is taking a year out to discover your interests still frowned upon? I believe that this is because we have an unhealthy obsession with following a certain timeline, in which we think the only way to succeed in life is thus: high school to university to graduation to career to retirement yet we all know it is not always so clear.
“I knew that I was not venturing into the unventured”
There exist numerous stories of people achieving success later in their lives, or sooner than expected, for that matter. In the long run, I believe taking a year out to discover my interests saved me so much more time than studying something because of its utility and then being stuck in a job that I would not enjoy spending the prime of my life in. Sometimes, we think that we are just ‘growing up’ when we find practical alternatives to a discipline that interests us. As the world moves towards STEM, we think that we need to pursue STEM subjects to stay afloat. Technology may be playing a greater role in our lives but to reduce social sciences, humanities and other disciplines as less important, would be a gross mistake.
What am I up to right now?
Simply put, a lot. Last night, I had dinner with a managing director from HSBC UK. The night before, I spent hours talking to a consultant working in rural Uganda. The night before that, I was up studying Hobbes. The best part about all of this? I love it. I am enjoying my time at Warwick, learning and growing day by day—facing challenges head on. It is going to be overwhelming, for sure, and at any given point: I have at least five tasks to complete, apart from cooking for myself. To a great extent, the skills I picked up during my gap year have aided me a lot, as I made sure that the experiences I undertook would help me live on a different continent from my family. But by far, learning how to cook and do groceries would always be the highlight of my gap year!
Vitan Patel is an IB graduate of Fountainhead School, Surat, India. Currently, he is pursuing an undergraduate degree in Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick, UK. When not discussing politics, dogs or sunsets, he likes to travel and involve himself in a range of different sports. You can know more about him through his LinkedIn.
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