People tend to make assumptions about gap years. I was probably not ready for university, not mentally stable enough to make it through the year or I just wanted a year to fuck about and drink whist messing around teaching kids badminton without any of the necessary qualifications. For anybody who made those assumptions, give me a few paragraphs to prove you wrong.
I just wanted a year to fuck about and drink whist messing around teaching kids badminton without any of the necessary qualifications.
I hadn't planned on taking a gap year but as the year came to an end and I had been accepted into all the universities I had sent my applications to; I just didn't want to go. I decided I needed time to find out what life outside of the North London private school bubble was really like, read a book that wasn't on an obligatory reading list and take time time out.
I've always been the girl that finds comfort in everything being perfect. From my rigid training schedule, meticulously highlighted homework planner and my drawer of alphabetically ordered protein infused peanut butters -everything I do has a reason, a plan and ultimately has to be flawless. My gap year proved to me that I simply couldn't have this attitude anymore. It led me to do incredible things, visit awe-inspiring places and meet people that I would have previously rejected because they didn't fit into the self-created caricature of the people I believed should be associated with.
my drawer of alphabetically ordered protein infused peanut butters
Although the vast number of jobs I undertook certainly taught me how to be the real "adult" both financially and socially that I had always inspired to be, it really didn't change me. Yes, it taught me how to be time efficient, dedicated and responsible ( and provided the solid foundations of a strong linkdn profile) but these were things I had always been- because they encouraged perfection. It was the travelling that taught me how to be a real human being again.
I started my travels in India, accompanied with my best friend Izzi in tow. We arrived in Goa at three in the morning with only our backpacks and each other to get through the next few months. I learnt a lot in those months in India. Firstly, I learnt how to be brave. I learnt how to argue with tuctuc drivers over charging me an extra twenty pence for a ride home from the beach, I went on runs in the dark with holy cows charging past me and stayed in beach huts without no locks or roofs that would hold up during the monsoon rains . I learnt how to be self-sufficient. We would go to our local market every few days for fruit and barter with Saj the owner, we would clean our little apartment every saturday, we knew all the locals and secret eating spots and ended up made amazing friends with the children at the orphanages we worked at. Finally, I learnt to be spontaneous. From sun-rise yoga to joining locals in their Diwali festivities on the beach, I finally forgot to care.
Australia took my lessons from India one step further. This time, I decided that I would travel alone for three months, with the intention of making plans and friends as I went. I have to admit, the flight on the way to Sydney was a nightmare; I was filled with regret, nerves and thoughts on how I would manage my full time training program and mental health campaign commitments whilst travelling non-stop for three months. However, on arrival, I realized this wasn't going to be like anything I had done before.
I had the best three months of my life. From sky-diving over the great barrier reef to finding anacondas at midnight in the rainforest with local aboriginal tribesmen, I did things I would have never ever believed I would have done aged nineteen.
I made friends for life, family even, who I still call daily and regard as my nearest and dearest. From a crazy, tequila drinking, 18-year-old fully tattooed bartender to a 31-year-old bio-mechanic in the prime of his career, my friends were an eclectic mix. They taught me how to go out until daylight, how to go on weeklong road trips through the outback without scheduling in my long run and held my hand when I got my first tattoo after diving with sharks over the Great Barrier Reef. They came and watched my interview with ITV news in Brisbane after I won British Health Hero of the year, they saved me from sweaty Swedish men with questionable dance moves and encouraged me to swing so high in a hammock on Magnetic Island that I ended up flipping onto the beach. They reminded me what it was like to be normal again and that is something I will be eternally grateful to them for.
they taught me how to go out until daylight, how to go on weeklong road trips through the outback without scheduling in my long run and held my hand when I got my first tattoo after diving with sharks over the Great Barrier Reef.
However, most of the things we got up to in Australia were by no means normal. We created elaborate tallies, counting who would make it out for the greatest number of days in a row- I made it to 62 nights out ( I'll take that as a victory). We took a helicopter ride over the Great Barrier Reef- mimicking David Attenborough as we went and climbed waterfalls we discovered on the sides of roads. We sailed to the whitest beach in the world, visited all the restaurant in every city on my bucket list , spent two weeks learning how to surf, attended a Marie Claire fashion event in Brisbane and even won "sexy dance" competitions in sketchy looking hostels, leaving $200 richer in the process.
But they also taught me that it was okay to lay in sometimes. They taught me it was okay to have feelings for people and that kissing on top of a boat at sunset didn't only happen in films. They taught me that the Irish definitely go harder than we ever will on a night out and that it's okay not to wash my hair every day. They taught me that I didn't have to know the people I shared an eight-person dorm with and that everyone is much kinder than you think. They taught me how to say no to dates with Sam who worked at the hostel and made me remember that I was nineteen, not thirty-five.
they made me remember that I was nineteen, not thirty-five.
I mean, I did other notable things in the time I spent at home during the year too. I worked for some amazing companies, continued my work with the Mental Health Foundation and trained full time in the process, resulting being ranked UK1 5000m for my age group. And this was great by all means but it was learning to be imperfect that made my gap year so perfect.
it was learning to be imperfect that made my gap year so perfect.
So next time you doubt taking the "soft" option of a Gap Year or choose to judge those who do, reflect on why we people take them. The past year showed me a world outside of the perfect bubble that I thought was the only acceptable place I could live in. It taught me not to judge, plan or stress and created a woman that I can honestly say I'm proud to be. I may not be as perfect anymore but I've grown into someone who's embracing life as it comes and is definitely a hell of a lot more fun on a night out.
*Except, please don't tell me not to wake up and train- then we'll have an issue.