5 Things I Learned During My Gap Year

Throughout college, I always assumed I would segue straight from my undergraduate studies to graduate school without a break in between. I figured that maintaining an academic mindset over the summer, as I always had, would serve me best as I entered the next chapter of my life. But as I entered senior year, it became abundantly clear that taking a year off between schools would benefit me greatly. It would not only improve my mental health, which had taken a significant toll throughout college, but it would also provide a valuable opportunity for me to clear my head — to detox, as it were — and go into graduate school with nothing but excitement for the years to come. I felt that taking a year off would shift my views of school from something I had to do, to something I wanted to do, which was a feeling I had yet to experience since I’d been in school nonstop since kindergarten.

I start graduate school in a few short weeks, and I am happy to be able to look back on the past year knowing that I learned something, even if it took overcoming several hardships to get here.

The following points are not meant to serve as a cautionary tale about taking a gap year, terrifying as they may seem, but to show future students considering taking this step that, truly, anything can happen.

1. If graduate school is in your future, make sure you have a game plan as early as possible.

Before I walked across the stage in May and received my bachelor’s degree, I had already asked three professors to write me letters of recommendation. Their enthusiasm for my next steps aided me greatly in staying on task over the next months — essentially, not following through with my plan would mean that I had not only let down myself, but them as well. Even though I had yet to narrow down the programs to which I would apply, I knew the field I wanted to enter and I was able to make a good sell to these professors in order to ensure they would write me the best letters possible.

Of course, it’s not all about these specifics. The process of applying to graduate school can be confusing all on its own, between wrangling transcripts (and figuring out which schools want multiple copies), essays, how each school wants to receive letters of recommendation (online or in the mail), and more. In some ways, organizing the application process itself was more stressful than actually getting it done.

The takeaway here is that if you have time-sensitive plans following your gap year, you can never be too organized. It’s always better to prepare too much for something than realize you missed a deadline.

2. The job-search stress never really ends, even if you’ve already found employment.

Before I graduated, I optimistically assumed I would spend my gap year balancing full-time work and graduate school preparation, all the while getting a taste of what it was like to be a Real Adult™. But when August arrived and the hundreds of employment applications I had submitted had not yielded a single interview, I realized the coming year would probably not be as clear-cut as I imagined.

Even as I finally found employment at my county auditor’s office, the fact that it was a temporary position (processing voter registrations and performing other behind-the-scenes election tasks) meant that I knew exactly when I would be unemployed again. So while I was making money and, indeed, experiencing Real Adulthood™ for the first time, I still felt like a high school kid whose job at the ice cream shop would only last the summer.

To top it all off, a sudden move near the end of my tenure at the auditor’s office complicated things even more. Before I knew it, I was in a new city — a much smaller one, at that — with my future job prospects diminished. And while my circumstances allowed me to live rent-free for the first time since high school, I could feel my perceived adulthood slipping away. I felt obligated to find a new job as soon as possible, but also pressured to bring my life as a whole back to where it had been as soon as I could.

3. You will probably throw a lot of money away.

Between graduate-school applications, ordering transcripts, and making the 200-mile round trips to see the professors who would be writing my letters of recommendation, I was hundreds of dollars in the red before I knew it. This, I quickly learned, is a necessary evil when your life has no clear direction one way or another.

As the year wound down, I decided to sign up for a spring medical terminology class at the community college. Even though I knew the class would prepare me in some way for my future education in the public-health field, it was still an extra $400 that I was spending without any real justification. Sure, it made sense to take the class, but I also know that it will probably be a while before what I learned there will aid me in any significant manner.

In the last month, I also fairly impulsively forked over the $30 to become a notary. There was a job I was looking to apply for that required the applicant to be a notary, so without regard for the fact that I would not be approved before this particular position’s application deadline, I figured it would eventually be worth it. I’ve got three years to justify this one, folks.

Looking back, I’ve concluded for now that this spending was a fair introduction to the financial woes of Real Adulthood™: Sometimes, you throw money at something and don’t see the benefits right away. But I’m hoping that by the time I do — or don’t, who knows — it won’t matter, because the experience was enough to propel me forward.

4. You will get bored, and it won’t be pleasant.

By the time 2012 ended, I had become complacent with my situation. As soon as graduate school applications were in, boredom finally reared its ugly head and began its onslaught.

The excuses came en masse: No one hires around Christmas, so don’t bother applying for jobs. It’s too cold to leave the house today, so I’ll just stay inside. There’s nothing to do inside, so who’s stopping me from sleeping 16 hours a day and watching movies the other eight?

Luckily, it didn’t take me long to realize that part of being a Real Adult™ was making yourself feel busy, even if you aren’t doing much at all. With that epiphany in mind, I made a daily schedule for myself: Wake up by this time, run errands here, go grocery shopping there, do laundry on this day. Sticking to my schedule made me feel like I had something to show for myself, even though these tasks felt wholly unimportant. And when I started my medical terminology class in January, knowing I was needed somewhere made the rest of my life feel a little more worthwhile.

5. Expect the unexpected.

On my list of “things I never saw coming when I graduated from college”:

  • My move. While I had envisioned remaining in the same place for the duration of my gap year, I now find myself 100 miles away from my college town.
  • That it would be possible to apply for hundreds of jobs and receive only a handful of calls back. I also found it strange that while hiring machines like Target and Walmart never invited me to interview, libraries, banks, and bookstores only looking to fill one position did.
  • Having a choice of graduate programs. While I knew I had submitted strong applications, I never imagined that every single one would offer me a place. Unfortunately, by the time I had a choice to make, it was essentially made for me. My #1 and #2 programs were out of reach by virtue of distance alone, and #4 and #5 were financial long shots. Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly happy with my current program, I just could never have guessed that I would end up there in the manner I did.
  • That I would find myself in July without a job. I have resigned myself to the fact that full-time employment is now out of the question, considering the amount of work I must put into my graduate studies.

In essence, I’m the same unemployed student I was a year ago. But if there’s one thing my gap year taught me more than anything, it’s that the only sure thing in life is that there are no sure things. And in that vein, I’m excited to see where the coming year will take me.

Originally published at Mic on August 5, 2013.


Phone anxiety is probably ruining my life

Not to brag, but I have nearly mastered the art of getting out of making phone calls.

Is the place I need to contact close enough to go to in person? I’m there. If it’s too far away, can I e-mail them and achieve similar results to calling? Perfect. Can my fiancé make the call without having to pass the phone over because they’ve specifically asked to speak to me? Even better. Making an appointment? Canceling a service? Complaining to customer service? There’s probably a way to do that on their website; otherwise, see above. And ordering food? It’s 2014. If a restaurant doesn’t offer online ordering, it probably isn’t worth it.

However, there are a significant few instances where making a call is absolutely necessary. If a place where I’ve applied for a job leaves me a message, for example, it’s only proper that I call them back. In fact, most of these instances involve mirroring the person’s preferred method of communication – it’s probably in all the etiquette books. (I’ll note that taking my phone off of silent mode every once in a while, so I don’t have to call them back, might alleviate some of my apprehension. But that’s another situation entirely.)

To put it simply, I’ve likely transcended phone-related anxiety at this point, and graduated to a problematic sort of indifference. I’m not too proud to admit that I’ve put off making phone calls for so long that I’ve probably waited too long and the content of the call-that-never-was is left up in the air forever. My thought process in those situations was along the lines of, “Well, I’m going to be too scared to make this call, and I can’t imagine myself doing it, so I guess it’s not going to happen.”

See? No anxiety, as long as you cast aside the very idea of making the phone call post-haste. (I do not suggest you do this, ever.)

Clearly, I have a problem that pretty negatively affects my life. And having studied psychology in college, I learned more times than I can count that there are many methods of therapy that can address the problem, from the idea of the anxiety itself to my casually ignoring the anxiety and hoping that will make the problem go away.

In lieu of therapy (and the inevitable phone call – or phone calls, if the first therapist I call isn’t accepting new patients – required to initiate it), here are a few things I’ve learned about my own phone habits, out here in the open for you (or, more importantly, me) to analyze:

  1. It’s not like I never make phone calls. A couple of weeks ago, I ordered food from Domino’s online to pick up. After submitting my order, I realized that I’d told them I was going to pick it up right away, instead of in 45 minutes when I was actually nearby. Therefore, I had to make a phone call to the store in order to change the pickup time, because I decided that I’d rather get it over with than (a) pick up cold food, or (b) ignore the fact that I’d ordered completely and be out $10. And guess what? The call was short and painless.
  2. The underlying problem is more that I’m not the biggest fan of talking to people. The only people I can talk to on the phone without being relatively terrified are my fiancé, parents, and sister. Other friends and family? I will if I have to, but I’m more happy when it’s over. This isn’t even a dig at the people themselves, I would just really love talking to them in person more than calling them. (And strangers? Much more comfortable talking to them in person – see #4).
  3. I also trust phones quite a bit less than other forms of communication. Sure, it’s just like talking to someone in person, minus their physical presence. Except it’s not. I have good hearing, but it’s much easier to hear someone the first time in person than on the phone. And when their words are right in front of you for you to read in an e-mail or text message, barring a typo, you get to see exactly what they’re saying without having to ask them to repeat themselves. Sure, meeting up with a person or having a much slower conversation online or via text message sometimes isn’t ideal, but at least you won’t be interrupted by static – or, perish the thought, a dropped call – that makes it more difficult to carry on a conversation.
  4. If given the choice, I would even prefer seeing someone in person to video chatting with them. This shows me that it’s not the face-to-face aspect that makes me slightly more comfortable talking to someone in person, but the fact that they are right in front of me, so I can try to read body language and have a better sense that the person is giving me their full attention. And when I say “giving me their full attention,” I don’t mean that I necessarily want to be the center of attention, but being able to tell whether a person is multitasking or has something else on their mind helps me act appropriately in our conversation. The overwhelming example I can think of is job interviews – having one in person, as opposed to over video chat or the phone, makes it much more personal and helps me show more of myself to a prospective employer.

When I experienced phone anxiety as a kid, I always figured being forced into the situation as an adult would help me become more comfortable. Clearly, I’ve taken every available opportunity to put this off, and I recognize that I need to not do that in order to become the person that young-me envisioned. But I feel like writing about this has helped – even a small amount – to the point where I’m at least objectively driven to change things.

In other words, it’s probably about time I make a sizable dent in my 5,000 rollover minutes. Because having nary a financial excuse to avoid making phone calls, and yet avoiding them at all costs*, is pretty obscene.

* If you get one positive thing out of this post, let it be this horrific pun.

This post was inspired by my friend Andrea’s entry on this topic. Her article actually contains useful information about how to address phone anxiety and start to conquer it.

Final Sentences

This mess is inspired by this McSweeney’s post, in which the author reproduces final sentences of essays they wrote in college. Ever-so-creatively, I’ve done the same here. They are somewhat in chronological order, from freshman year in 2008 to graduation in 2012.

A few things that are worth mentioning: (1) I apologize in advance for the likely errors in the French sentences; (2) trying to guess for which classes these essays were written could be a fun game; and (3) I attended a Catholic school for the first three semesters of undergrad. Enjoy!

I am proud to be here and eager to begin my college education.

The fact alone that I may act independently of them is reason enough for me to want to live without them.

She breaks from my grasp and dances into the next chapter of her life without vertigo.

It is this symbiotic relationship that is the foundation of my entire association with my parents and I take pride in maintaining my part of this valuable connection.

Based on this evidence, it is obvious that China should invest more into its space program.

It is only then that the answers to the unrequited questions will expose themselves.

It is not pleasant to ponder this, so we should merely hope for the best in Obama’s campaign — and hope for the worst in the aftermath of the Palin disaster.

Overall, America will focus its attention on the common good, and following the election, has great potential to advance culturally and socially as a country.

It is in these lines where one understands that the entire sonnet is a compliment to the speaker’s beloved and that his peace should entirely resolve any issues with the situation.

However, this mixture of metrical patterns helps the poem flow in a more colloquial, almost childlike manner.

The pain of death that plagued Jesus between his death and resurrection are what elicits the angel’s appearance and his rise into heaven.

At my next poetry reading, I will not enter expecting it to follow a certain set of guidelines; I will instead sit comfortably and wait for the environment to demonstrate its full potential.

From sorrow, the hope for the journey to a better place upon death emerges and the grieving process that is all too necessary in order to live is finally assuaged.

Just as the association between the speaker and his surroundings is not altogether clear upon a brief glance of the situation illustrated, the personal connections between the speaker and his natural surroundings and the speaker and the people on the ferry are not evident without detecting the similar vowel sounds within each key word associated with this major correlation between the living and the inanimate.

Where “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” communicates the hope of a new beginning, “Sailing to Byzantium” conveys the inevitability of the end of the thoughts and emotions that drove the first poem, death.

The speaker’s self-deprecation, driven by his self-created surrounding darkness, eventually causes his downfall.

Without a belief in oneself, one’s outward qualities may not be truly embraced by others.

The answer as of yet eludes me.

Albeit simple, it is indeed simplicity that governs life and we must live simply in order to best experience life.

This is not to discount Descartes’ entire philosophy on the subject (i.e. by calling it crazy), but it does not make sense on its own.

If death brings the pleasure that one could not realize in life, then death is yet another neutrality: it does not put one at peace, it is merely a final fix for one’s lifelong struggle with pain.

But who am I to judge based on my own beliefs?

Perhaps he is leaving it up to those who come after him to complete his philosophy for him, so that if his philosophy follows through and his soul returns, he may look upon the world and its beliefs and finally be at peace.

Although I believe myself to be somewhat tolerant of organized religion and its tenets, an argument like this is impossible to accept with its multiple exasperating flaws.

Nous adorons aller au cinéma, danser, passer la soirée ensemble, et rigoler beaucoup.

Ma chambre à coucher à Gonzaga est plus grande que ma chambre à coucher dans le logement de ma famille, mais je ne partage pas de chambre à coucher dans le logement de ma famille, et je partage ma chambre à coucher avec ma camarade de chambre à Gonzaga.

C’est génial !

This motion blindness is not a terribly common phenomenon, with only one good case being presented in published literature, but awareness of it may allow doctors, like Dr. House, to better diagnose patients and allow them the proper course of action.

This ironic conclusion reinforces the apparent normality of CIPA patients and prevents many others from understanding their massive internal differences.

“And,” Bereta reminds us, “there is always Ninja Warrior.”

Make checks payable to “GU Choral Music” and note “GU Choral Activities” on your check’s memo line.

“Trust, commitment, and love. Have these, and you will get through life.”

The director provides necessary tools; all people must do is recognize and apply them to their lives.

Students remember its final words long after orientation and wear their Creed shirts bearing the message that unifies Gonzaga: “I choose to be a member of the Gonzaga Community. I am a ZAG. I am a Bulldog. Together, WE ARE GONZAGA!”

Perhaps a “Second Industrial Revolution” is upon us, but with it comes ignorance of all that is real and worship of artificial intelligence in all its human-driven glory.

Whether the problems driving its supporters are merely unknown to the world or unbelievable, it must either demobilize some other way or face defeat.

The super rich will always exist, for they are who inherently define all who fall below.

Although Dwayne’s initial problems were family-based, the love his relatives have for him could be the only thing he needs to get better.

Judging by the bleak turn that the songs and the plot take as Berlin falls to the Nazis, the master of ceremonies’ final “Good night” is perhaps our only indication of the events to take place after the final curtain.

This is a choice left up to the viewer, perhaps the final question remaining at the end of this thrilling film.

A shifted perspective of the Dickens novel, one that favors Oliver and his allies throughout, is what this film used to its vast advantage.

Neuroscience and music therapy are an important pair in the field of medicine, especially in rehabilitation, and scientists should investigate this relationship further in order for more breakthroughs to occur.

Until globalization effectively “modernizes” the rest of the world, these differences will continue to affect decisions referring to sex and reproduction.

Though correlations between aggression and being of a certain ethnicity or gender exist, the causation of these is still up for debate, and neither of these reasons should be the sole motive for explaining aggression.

Le passage en Haïti sera apprécié par beaucoup de gens et je serai satisfait.

J’espère que votre compagnon appartement est meilleure que la mienne.

Voir le film deux fois !

The age at which a child attends preschool is a vital time for establishing a rudimentary awareness of basic skills that will remain with them for their entire life.

Though it remained undiscussed, we were both aware of one fact: we would never be alone at the bottom of the pack again.

I’ve never known him to stray when he has the chance to learn something new.

I sat down on the couch and began to write…

And as I’m helped up off the ground and taken to an ambulance, my heart pounds and I feel guilty that mine can and his can’t and I want to give some of my heart pounds to him, I can live on just a few a minute, please no I was joking don’t take my life too

DeLillo’s simple tweaks, such as adding the hijackers as affected characters, incorporating art as a coping mechanism, and providing untrustworthy psychological stressors, illustrate in great detail the effects of “the culture of the easy edit” and how a few minute details can shake up an individual’s views of a horrific event.

Indeed, “what world is this” in which love can endure but not truly exist?

As irrelevant as this work is, so too is it a failed attempt to help the country heal from the September 11 attacks.

The push for “perfection” must continue if the human race is to succeed, even if it means giving natural selection a push in the right direction.

This increases external validity and provides an opportunity for expansion in the field not only of music therapy, but of trauma therapy as a whole.

Knowing that there is a place where no new bad things can happen induces immense relief in the client and makes them not only more likely to return to therapy, but also more comfortable in their lives outside of therapy.

And in the end, this class as a whole is leaving me stronger, more scholarly, and with insurmountable knowledge that will facilitate my triumph over my anxieties for years to come.

The decision was purely my own, and I chose the option that would not involve possible negative involvement by my professor.

The only part of this article that was altogether comforting was the reference to “future research” at the very end, something that will hopefully follow very soon.

Now I embrace my differences, and do relish the extra sleep I can get because it does not take me an hour or more to get ready in the morning.

However, if research on this were to be conducted, it would surely fill in many of the holes left by the current research, including the possibility that researchers today are accidentally misgendering children in research.

In a logical society, lies like these would not be able to sustain themselves.

Farmers and consumers alike could see a real positive change if the runoff problem was addressed at the federal level.

It is an extremely treatable condition, but only if doctors and patients alike are willing and able to work through the appropriate treatment.

Protecting the bobolink means protecting Iowa.

Quel journée !

Breaking my silence

This project has been on my mind for a long time, and after sorting some things out, I’ve decided to talk about it a little bit.

When I was 18, I was severely mentally ill. I think there had been spurts of it throughout high school, but I thought they were totally normal occurrences and attributed them to being a stressed-out high school student. I had my first panic attack (and two ER visits in 12 hours) a few weeks before leaving for college in Washington, was prescribed some anti-anxiety medication, and thought that was it. During the spring semester of that school year, after cruising through freshman classes in the previous semester that were nowhere near as challenging as the ones I’d taken in high school, my brain decided it could only hold out for so long and quit on me. For about four months, I rarely went to class and spent most of my time asleep. At the end of April, I had another panic attack — The Big One — and instructed my roommate to call 911. I spent the next week in the psychiatric unit of the hospital, where I was formally diagnosed with depression and anxiety, put on new medication, and left with a slightly better outlook on life.

That’s the short story. That’s the story that I’ll share if someone I trust asks about my history with mental illness. But I don’t think that’s the story I want to tell anymore.

While I was in the hospital, I wrote a lot. Aside from group activities, meals, meetings with several psychologists, and visits from my aforementioned roommate, there were still several hours of the day where I had nothing to do except write. I wrote journal-style entries, letters to friends, and loads more in a journal I try to keep in a safe place wherever I live.

I think I’m finally ready to adapt those entries, along with events leading up to their writing, into something. An autobiography, a memoir, a novel, something. I’ve tried in the past to write about that point in my life from memory because I didn’t think I was strong enough to reread that journal, but I know now that I am.

I’m not saying to expect anything concrete soon. I’m not even sure if it’ll happen. Hell, I don’t even know what “it” is yet. All I know now is that there is a forceful stigma on mental illness and the mentally ill, and one way to break through is by talking about it. It takes a strong person to be able to discuss their own struggles with mental illness, and I think I am finally at the point where I can share it with the detail and emotion it deserves.

A quick post on my semi-redesign

If you haven’t noticed (and I don’t blame you if you only read my posts through an RSS reader), my blog is looking a little different. First, the theme: no real story here, I just decided it was time for a change and I liked this free option. Plus it’s a lot cleaner, I think, than my previous one.

Second, and probably more importantly, I finally named the blog: Onward and Eastward. I wasn’t necessarily opposed to choosing a name, I just didn’t think it was necessary (and I’m not very good at naming things). But when I decided to give it a proper name, this name came pretty quickly. There’s a simple enough explanation: I grew up and spent most of my life in California, and now I’m living permanently in Iowa after attending college here for the last two years of undergrad. Since three and a half years is a pretty long time for a 20something, within which lots of things tend to happen, it’s no surprise that I can barely recognize the 20-year-old that decided to go to University of Iowa after driving through the city for a few minutes on the way to Chicago (well, there’s more to that story, but I’ll leave that for another time).

Anyway, in this vein, the title of the blog is pretty simple. Onward to new life experiences, eastward from the west coast to the Midwest. It’s strange that the last few years of my life have been so busy yet can be boiled down to three words, but who am I to complain about brevity? After all, brevity is clarity.

I start my second semester of graduate school tomorrow, so that’ll be fun. Maybe. But probably not. I’ll keep you posted.