"There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered." -Nelson Mandela
You’ve just returned from your gap year and you are transformed. Maybe you’ve learned a new language, skill, or developed a new set of values. You probably did all of that. You are excited to ride the wave of this “new you” and share all of your new insights with your friends, family, and community. Wide-eyed, motivated, and flushed with that transformation glow, you return home and are met with that dreaded question from everyone around you:
Everyone: “So, how was it!?”
You: “It was, uh, great!”
Obviously, you are aware that there’s no possible way to describe what you just experienced. You would have needed a documentary crew following you and asking pointed questions the entire time to just scrape the surface of your experience.
The longer this goes on, the momentum begins to diminish and you might feel more lost than ever. We’ve seen it happen far too many times and we’re here to tell you that this doesn’t have to be your reality. So how do you actualize all of your newfound ways of being human? These five steps will help you get there:
It’s really challenging to create change in your life without taking the time to reflect on the past in order to visualize the future. You’ve gotten that age-old advice before to keep a daily journal, which is an amazing reflection tool. We cannot recommend this enough, and also, we understand that sometimes it’s really hard to motivate, or find the time to journal. Sometimes you sit down and don’t know what to write about. So if you weren’t already keeping a journal on your gap year, now you can start. And if you were, then now is a great time to look back at it to see where you began, what happened in between, and where you are now-- physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Regardless of your experience with journaling, try this reflection exercise to begin the process of actualizing your gap year (no journal necessary!):
-Sit comfortably or lay down if that’s more comfortable (if you are tired, try sitting up so you don’t fall asleep), close your eyes, and take 3-5 deep breaths. Feel your belly rise and fall, and center into yourself. You are about to go on a journey.
-Trace back in your memory what types of feelings you were experiencing when you made the decision to take a gap year. Were you happy, excited, fearful, confused, ready, etc? See if you can access in your physical body what that felt like for you.
-Now it’s time to go on the journey. Let your mind be your filmmaker as you follow your gap year from start to finish, bringing the pictures and the imagery of your experience to mind. As you see the film go by in your minds-eye, begin to notice the underlying feelings, challenges, triumphs, insights, and deeper lessons you explored. This could take up to an hour or more if you take your time. Don’t rush.
-At the end of your gap year you transitioned back to a familiar place, but you came back changed. Begin to visualize the biggest changes that you experienced on your gap year -- again, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. These could be changes in beliefs, values, mindsets, perspectives, goals, etc.
-Gently open your eyes, take in the space around you, take 3-5 deep breaths, and feel the noticeable difference in your body and mind.
WRITE IT DOWN
Reflection is essential, and yet the buck can stop there unless you take it to the next level: Action. One of the best ways to turn a reflection into an action is to write it down (which is why we love journaling so much!). Grab a journal, or just a piece of scrap paper and a writing utensil and write these words down:
“I felt happiest on my gap year when:”
These can be experiences you had, routines, people you spent time with, or something else. Write at least 5 things down.
When I was waking up every morning to the sunrise and a home-cooked meal fresh from the garden that I would then work in for the rest of the day, in the sun, with my friends, getting physical exercise.
Now, start to get underneath the surface level “things” that caused you to feel happiest and try to dig into the underlying beliefs that led you to this feeling of happiness. Write these words down:
“The underlying beliefs that led me to feeling happiest on my gap year were:”
Also, try to write at least 5 things down.
1. I am connected to all beings and things.
2. I already have everything that I need.
3. Working as a team yields better results than working in solitude.
MAKE AN ACTION PLAN
Now that you’ve been able to reflect on your journey and have identified the underlying beliefs that guided your own happiness, it’s time to start planning. How will you take these beliefs into your current life? What types of activities will you do to keep the momentum going?
Making connections between what you were doing on your gap year and what you will do now is incredibly important to take ownership of your own life, and include the people around you in the process. These can be as small or big as you make them. Remember to not just focus on things to do, but the underlying beliefs that you are striving for. Make your plans SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.
If you were speaking spanish every day during your gap year and you want to continue, maybe you find a local spanish/english exchange group in your town that you can join once a week. Or maybe you volunteer at the refugee assistance center where you can support people and practice your spanish.
If you loved the community that you were living with in Tanzania and are missing them and wanting to stay connected, maybe you decide to send letters once a week or plan a phone call with them using skype once every two weeks so you can stay connected.
Maybe you learned how much you love working with animals and you decide to enroll in university as a zoology major.
Perhaps you did a training to become a certified yoga teacher and now is your chance to continue teaching. Apply to teach at a local studio, or at least continue your practice by volunteering to work the front desk in exchange for classes.
TAKE THE FIRST STEP
A plan is worthless if you don’t do anything with it. Once you know what you are going to do and how, take the first step to doing it. Call someone, write something, read something, enroll in that class, create the project you’ve set out to do!
It helps to have several steps to each action plan, but the hardest part is taking the first step. So what’s holding you back? Once the first step is done, the others come a lot more easily.
It’s one thing to tell people what you’ve done, it’s another to share what you are DOING. As you probably learned during your gap year, one of the benefits of living in community is that we are each others reflections. Therefore, we can hold one another accountable. You have all of this momentum and it’s easy to get stuck in the past, dwell on it, and feel the nostalgia that ultimately holds you back from realizing your next steps in life. Call your old friends and family and tell them about what you are doing now, as a result of your experiences and insights from your gap year. Reach out to your new friends and chosen family that you connected with on your gap year and ask them to stay in touch and help hold you accountable to your new goals and action plans. Use social media as a tool instead of a crutch to post about your new ways of living that have come as a result of those amazing experiences you posted about not so long ago. Make new friends, and stay connected with old ones. See if you can find others in your similar position to check in with weekly, or monthly, and ask how you are doing on your action plans.
Above all, know that you are not alone on this journey. Many have come before and many are experiencing this now. The transition back home can be rough, but it doesn’t have to be...it can also be inspiring, uplifting, and fulfilling. You get to choose how to be in the world now.
"If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be." -Joseph Campbell
If you like what you've read and want to take your actualizing to the next level, contact us at Intrepid Gap to help guide you through your transition.