The Gap Year: Risk

Gap year ambitions vs reality

As I embark onto this gap year of mine, the start date of which I have set as Monday the 5th of October 2015 – the day I start my new full-time temporary job, I have had time to start reflecting on the past five years of my life in senior school, what I have accomplished during this time, the habits I have developed (and lost) and — with the wider world of university and real life spread out in front of me and the relentless steamroller of time pushing us unceasingly to make potentially life-altering decisions — the direction I want to take, and what is required of me to accomplish this. This post will be a incoherent collection of thoughts that I have had these past few months on my travels through Europe and the USA and after hearing the bad news from the University of Cambridge.

When the 1st of September rolled around, I made a list of things I wanted to accomplish in this gap year. On this list I had compiled a collection of skills I wanted to learn, like web development and a new language, alongside experiences, like travelling South America and gaining some more experience in the engineering field. Naturally, preparation for another Cambridge interview was also on there. That was step one accomplished. Step two is getting these plans into motion and I will freely admit that I have not accomplished this step as well as I could have. On the one hand there is a case to be made for having a good deal of general errands that needed completing, but honestly speaking I might have been a bit lazy, going to bed at extraordinarily late times and waking up at equally late hours. Why I did this, I do not know exactly. It has only been a few months since I studied diligently for my A2 and STEP exams. Perhaps I was being plain lazy in telling myself that this was alright, or, as my sister put it, “it’s because [I] no longer have a purpose”, which may have some truth.

At the end of the day, it is a matter of habits. The book “The Power of Habit” explained to me how habits can be crafted quite easily if one knows how to. My habits have since the end of the last school year have slipped, admittedly, and it is just a matter of pulling myself together and doing something; yet — as many of my peers will attest to — it is all to easy to waste unspeakable amounts of time online. It is part of the reason why I took a full-time job at a retail shop: I wanted to do something before January rolls around and I had never experienced working in retail before. The front-end aspect, inventory management and accounting are the more mundane aspects of business that are interesting in their own right. Additionally, I might be able to do some engineering freelance work for the shop. I also hope to take online courses in iOS 9 and web development so I have a vague idea where to start, and finish a long-overdue project of the internet-controlled buggy. I will post these endeavours here.

One thing I noticed on my travels and in planning the gap year is how risk-averse I am. The only reason why I was so comfortable traveling through the U.S. on my own was because I had planned everything to the minute before I had left. Reading biographies of quite remarkable people (Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Robert Oppenheimer) I am struck at the stupid amount of risk they took upon themselves. Elon Musk moved to Canada from South Africa not knowing where he would overnight when he landed in Canada. I thus wonder whether this trait — I never did homework on the morning it was due for fear of not getting it done to a high standard — might limit me in later life. After all, those who don’t take risks can hardly ever hope to have an impact on the scale of SpaceX  or the atom bomb. Even when I am planning the journey to South America, I find myself apprehensive of the unknown and scouring the UK Home Office’s advise to travellers there. Whether a healthy dose of risk aversion is a good thing is questionable, but I would like to increase my tolerance for risk, and I think this gap year might help me in that.

I have just rambled on about of my self-improvement plan, and much in the vein of Jay Gatsby in “The Great Gatsby”, I have created a daily schedule of self-improvement, including the

things like Cambridge interview preparation, working on various unfinished projects and the job. Who knows whether I will stick to it, but I want to learn new skills and I feel like a sense of structure would force me to actually start!

Yet another thing I realised on my travels properly was that I for some reason find it very hard to get passionate about new things, and its an odd feeling. While my friends are talking about and undertaking social justice activism, volunteer work and university courses for which they have a true passion, I stand here, whining about choosing between universities and with very little idea of what I want to do apart from “engineering” — make no mistake, I absolutely love engineering, but occasionally I feel slightly disillusioned about a what my future in engineering might look like if I don’t take enough proactive action in steering the direction I take. Things that I would have to consider in doing this is whether I would be prepared to take a sizeable loan out for an undergraduate bachelors degree from Harvard, when I can get a masters in the same time and (in engineering specifically) potentially of higher value to UK and European employers from a world-class UK university. Looking back on the last few months, I think that if I had been forced to make a decision then, I would have made a decision without proper thought and although it may have been the correct one, I would have felt regret. This time now will definitely help me make a firm decision in full confidence, so I can start university, and thus the first stage of independent life, without having to look back on what could have been.

This gap year, although unexpected, could end up to be the best thing that ever happened to me.

UPDADE: I started the job today and I am really liking it so far. It is challenging trying to sell, especially because I have no experience at all, and I do feel like my help is valued and that I might be able to add my own ideas to the shop. A great first day!


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