By Yasmina Haddad and Lauren Heyano
Some days are good days for school; you get out of bed and you’re more than ready to take on whatever high school has in store for you. Pop quiz in Calculus? Bring it. In-class essay in English? Piece of cake. Lab write-up in Biology? Finished that yesterday. In high school, it is easy to take life one day at a time, but pretty soon you’ll have to face a decision that will impact, at the very least, your next four years. Your future looms over every minute of your senior year. It proves to be both physically and emotionally stressful in ways you never thought possible. In the throes of it all, you just want to say, “Forget it! I’m not going to college.” Well, have you ever thought about rewording those sentences? Have you ever thought to maybe say, “I’m not going to college yet . . . and that is okay.” Read on to see if, maybe, an alternative to college is what you are looking for.
Gap years take advantage of the natural “gap” in time between high school and college to travel and see the world, to explore different career options through work or volunteerism, to pursue passions or potential passions, and much more. Some might call this soul-searching, but we prefer to think of a gap years as path toward understanding your identity. Some gap year students might immerse themselves in a different culture for a year; others might stay at home and explore their identities through opportunities in their own back yards. Truly, a gap year is what you make of it, and all can offer ways to explore whom you are. But how do you know if a gap year is right for you? As college first-years ourselves, we are aware of the fact that gap years are not for everyone, but we also acknowledge the benefit of knowing your options and planning accordingly.
To understand if a gap year is right for you, it is important to be cognizant of what identity is and what it consists of. When one says identity, the first thing that may come to your mind is an ID – passport, learner’s permit, driver’s license, school key card. While these serve as very basic forms of identification, the type of identification we are speaking of is deeper than that. This identity is what you think of when you think of “a conceptual system made up of [your] thoughts and attitudes about [your]self” (Siegler et al., 2011, p. 437). Some examples are as follows:
· “Physical being,”
· “‘Spiritual’” being,
· “Social characteristics” (Siegler et al., 2011, p. 437).
The way you understand yourself in terms of these concepts affects self-competence (Siegler et al., 2011, p. 437).
James Marcia (1980) believes that as individuals we can go through four possible stages of identity (as cited in Siegler et al., 2011, p. 444). When you have explored many different possibilities of who you might be and made an informed decision about who you are, you have accomplished what’s known as identity achievement (Siegler et al., 2011, p. 445). Identity achievement should be the ultimate goal of recent graduates, because after matriculating from high school you enter a transition phase in your life in which you are pondering many aspects of your identity (Siegler et al., 2011, p. 442). Deciding on an identity before exploring your options can result in identity foreclosure status, whereas failing to decide on an identity at all can result in identity-diffusion status (Siegler et al., 2011, p. 444).
The Conflict of Identity Confusion, and Identity Diffusion Status
First, let’s take a stroll down memory lane to a time when no one understood you or your feelings, a time where no one seemed to care about the things you cared about, a time called middle school (Siegler et al., 2011, p. 441). Erik Erikson (1968) calls this conf lict identity confusion, “an incomplete and sometimes incoherent sense of self” (Siegler et al., 2011, p. 443), while Marcia (1980) might have called this identity-diffusion status (as cited in Siegler et al., 2011, p. 444). Somewhere in middle adolescence we begin wrestling with the fact that we act differently around different people and in different situations (Siegler et al., 2011, pp. 441-442). Both middle school and high school are times in our lives that can muddle our thoughts about who we are. We begin feeling genuinely unique in our emotions, and then even when we realize that our feelings are universal, we still feel isolated in the sense that we have multiple identities that are particular to our surroundings (Siegler et al., 2011, pp. 441-442). These are very difficult circumstances under which to form an identity. These feelings can lead to depression and isolation, which could potentially be the root of the “goth” or “emo” stereotypical teen (Siegler et al., 2011, pp. 443-444).
Early and middle adolescence, as discussed, are not ideal times for soul searching. Rather, by late adolescence we are more equipped to resolve who we are in our entirety, no matter whom we are surrounded by (Siegler et al., 2011, p. 442). We begin to feel more at ease with that person and can spend more time with her and discover her strengths, weaknesses, and peculiarities (Siegler et al., 2011, pp. 442-443). Now you find yourself in a more mature and, quite possibly, an even more stressful state. This is called a moratorium status where you are both figuratively and literally “exploring various occupational and ideological choices” (Siegler et al., 2011, p. 445). Psychosocial moratoriums might be less or more accepted by your friends and family depending on your culture (Siegler et al., 2011, p. 444). Sometimes older adolescents in certain cultures are forced to explore through this time in a very structured manner. For example in Colombia, where Mina’s mother was born, you decide the educational path you will take at the age of 14. Then, as you proceed through school, you must continue your education until you receive your degree after which you must enter the workforce; this is what is socially acceptable.
If you make long-term decisions at an early age, you may actually be in foreclosure status, a time when you are “not engaged in any identity experimentation and [have] established a vocational or ideological identity based on the choices or values of others” (Siegler et al., 2011, p. 444). Gap years may help decrease the risk of foreclosure situations in which you choose an identity prematurely and discover that the identity does not suit you (Siegler et al., 2011, p. 444). Moratorium status allows for exploration and experimentation that will help you discover an identity, or ensure that you are on the right identity path (Siegler et al., 2011, p. 444).
Identity Achievement Status
The end goal for us, as growing adults, is identity-achievement status. Identity-achievement status is the stage in which you “tend to be more socially mature, higher in achievement motivation, and more likely to be involved in [your career]” (Siegler et al., 2011, p. 445). In order to achieve this state, the moratorium stage will likely need to be experienced.
Often our biggest fear as young adults is that we will never find ourselves. We propose that each of us has great potential to find ourselves, and that it is okay to spend some time exploring who you are, even if you are confused for a while. The true fear of our generation should not be fear of confusion, but fear of entering into foreclosure status – a place where you have resigned to your future and to what society and your family want you to do with your life (Siegler et al., 2011, p. 444). Foreclosure status may be caused by an incomplete exploration or total skipping of moratorium status (Berzonsky & Adams, 1999; Meeus, Iedema, Helsen, & Vollebergh, 1999, as cited in Siegler et al., 2011, p. 445).
What we are proposing as a third opinion, one that is coming from an unbiased standpoint, is that you take the time to seriously consider taking a constructive gap year. To help you in this process, consider clicking the link below and seeing where you are on your identity journey. Once you find out, consider your options.
Siegler, R., DeLoache, J., & Eisenberg, N. (2011) . How children develop. New York: Worth