This is the story of how I broke out of my shell.
It's how I began pursuing my passions once again - and how I began living my life with a newfound purpose.
It's the story of my gap year.
This is the second installment of a series on my gap year journey. If you didn't catch the first one, read all about how it started right here.
Today's post picks up a few months after our hike and discussion of taking a gap year to travel. At the time, Dylan and I didn't have a plan for how this would work, and we quickly let doubt take over our mindset.
In this post, I share about expectations, comfort zones, and how to break out of them. I also include three helpful studies for ways to step outside the box and try something new in your life.
Back when this all began, I didn’t realize how much I had lost my nerve to go after what I wanted, until it wouldn't fit inside my own idea of normal.
My Gap Year Journey Part II
A few months after our hike in Breakheart Reservation, life was as usual. It was the spring of 2017, and I was ready for summer. Dylan and I were both working and living for the weekends to hike, explore, and travel. We couldn't wait for more sunshine and good hiking weather!
I was finishing my fifth year of teaching. I loved my students and enjoyed sharing the Spanish language and culture. I was on the cusp of completing a master's degree that had been in the works for at least two years.
In the previous school year, I planned our wedding while also working full time, taking online courses, completing a practicum for my teaching license, and tutoring privately an additional seven hours a week. In my free time, I also decided to take up CrossFit three times a week to get in shape.
At work, I kept pushing myself more and more, to do more, be better, work harder, and add more to my plate. I graded papers with speed, went to numerous meetings, sent countless parent emails, and went above and beyond in what was asked of me. I prided myself on being organized, punctual, and efficient. I submitted more paperwork than necessary for my teaching evaluations, signed up for volunteer committees, and spent my prep periods trying to come up with new exciting ways to teach my lessons.
The one thing that kept me going and kept me sane was traveling whenever I could.
In my resistance to change and my determination to stay in my comfort zone, I tried putting the idea of travel into the confines of what I already knew. I would tell myself the same thing, over and over:
"There's no way you can go do something like take a huge amount of time off to travel. That gap year notion is crazy- it won't ever happen.
You should be happy with what you have. You're a teacher and you get way more vacation than everyone else!
Just plan more trips during the time you have - it will be enough!"
And so I did.
I devoted my free time reading travel books. I read blogs and websites online about traveling. I planned weekend getaways and vacations for our allotted time off. Each trip was an escape to the lifestyle and freedom I so desired. I would count down the days until we could go away again to explore another new destination.
Whether it was a weekend getaway to Vermont, a hiking day trip to New Hampshire, a night out in Salem, or week-long school vacation to Florida, I made traveling a priority. I planned road trips to hike and visit national parks in various states. I organized camping trips with our friends in Acadia National Park in Maine every summer.
I thought this type of travel would be enough to keep me satisfied.
But it wasn't.
After each hike, vacation, trip, or getaway, I'd find myself back in the same boat. I would sit down once again at my kitchen table, with my computer open to TripAdvisor, desperate for more.
Together, we had tried to have a little bit of that honeymoon adventure in our routine schedules, but it wasn’t enough.
A few months after that winter hike, the idea of a gap year to travel appeared once more. I had heard from another teacher that some districts grant sabbaticals, and immediately a lightbulb popped into my head.
If my district allowed sabbaticals, then that was all I had to do to take a gap year! I'd follow the steps in the contract and ask for one from the administration. There might be other stipulations with taking the year off, but I'd figure that out.
Maybe the gap year idea wasn’t such a crazy idea after all!
"This was it! This the way I could begin traveling the world!" I thought to myself once more.
I eagerly and excitedly asked around at work about sabbaticals. But the responses I received made me want to bury my head in the sand.
Everyone else seemed to be content where they were. I was the one person reaching for more. I was the oddball or the weird one, and it quickly was made clear to me that everyone expected me to do something else with my life.
Me: "Hey, what do you know about sabbaticals? I'm thinking about taking a year off to travel with my husband and practice my Spanish. It could really enhance my teaching practice, too."
"Why would you do that?”
“Shouldn’t you have kids soon? You’re almost 30.”
“Why don't you wait until you retire?”
"It's really dangerous to travel."
"Why not just go in the summer?"
Maybe the idea was, in fact, crazy, or I was completely nuts.
Why was everyone so resistant? I couldn’t understand it. I now felt disappointed that my one chance wasn’t even worth investigating. But I was still curious.
After feeling extremely embarrassed by asking others, I decided to research the matter myself. I looked into my district's contract online, scrolling page after page until I found the section on leaves.
There wasn't anything written about sabbaticals or personal leaves of absences for professional development. They didn't even offer them.
My heart sank.
My one shot at being able to travel wasn't even done in my district. There was no way it could happen. I would just have to suck it up and see if we could go on another three-week vacation that summer. We could just relive our honeymoon in the time frame I was allowed.
That would be enough. Sure it would.
Looking back, I assumed that because sabbaticals weren’t in my teaching contract, that meant they were impossible and could not be done. Not quite!
While I had always followed the rules my whole life, this moment was pivotal to my journey and growth. I was stuck in my comfort zone, and couldn’t see around what I knew to be “acceptable”.
I was so fixated on the idea that I had to find a correct, allowed and expected way to go about the gap year that I grabbed hold tightly to the chance of a sabbatical.
When I learned they weren’t offered, my brain simply said: “that’s it, game over”.
Why did that have to be game over?
The truth is it didn’t, and it wasn’t.
I had become so resistant to anything outside the box, so to say, that I couldn’t imagine just going and asking about a gap year. That notion hasn’t even entered my head!
Feeling Stuck? Try this.
Take a breath.
These are useful, helpful tips for establishing a better mindset, going after your goals, and stepping away from what you already know for something new.
It's always good to have a little inspiration and motivation, especially if you are being too hard on yourself. Take some credit for where you are on your journey.
It's amazing what we are willing to settle for when we limit ourselves and forget to push those boundaries. When we begin to open our eyes to new things, that’s when creativity begins!
But I didn’t realize any of that just yet.
In my mind, the gap year idea was once again, an impossible dream, and I was no closer to actually making it happen.
Soon, a close friend would come to my rescue and give me the courage I needed to finally go after my dream.
Stay tuned for next week’s installment of my series on gap years, which will focus on friendships, mindsets, and just asking for what you want.
Thanks for following along!