Sometimes it seems as if life is a “Connect the Dots” picture, with checkpoints and milestones along the way.

Sometimes it also seems as if the fact that pathways connect the docs gets lost in the fold.

It’s that loss that drove me crazy in 2008. It was the expectation that I needed to be at Point A, Point B, and so forth at a certain time. You all know that about me, though.

The thing is–do you know that about yourself? Or are you going to wake up in twenty years and feel utterly stuck?

There is not enough emphasis in learning from the in-between. I cannot help but think about how much change could come about if, for example, more American youth were supported in taking a gap year. I know, I know–it screams of privilege at first glance. (We certainly would not want this to happen.)

But think about it for a second. What if more of us had taken a service year between high school and college? What if we had even taken a year just to work? What if we built in a year to humble ourselves before leaping into college? Do you think it could alleviate that “stumbling out of the gate” feeling that I found and others have experienced?

Even more so, what if more of us had taken the route of one of my incredibly intelligent friends, working for several years while taking some classes here and there to narrow down his field of interest? He has gone from science and medicine to photography and film and creation–and I must say, he is finding some outstanding opportunities, probably due to a combination of growth, experience, and wisdom. And yes, some of the experience is outside of his direct career field, but it is transferable.

What if it was encouraged… no, acceptable… to take one’s time. (Completion Agenda advocates are rolling their eyes, but hang on a second.) I see it in my new job. I see students who slow down so that they can succeed by devoting time to fewer classes, and a lot of them are, by no means, in privileged positions to dawdle. No, instead they are deliberate in their progression, and they are understanding of who they are and their unique circumstances.

If we let people take time to live their lives and explore who they are and find ways to contribute to the global community instead of implying, “When you’re done with high schoolit’s time to decide on a career path (which includes the perfect major, if you go to college)! And make sure to get done in a pre-determined time frame because otherwise… fail!” maybe students will be more deliberate in their choices of school and major and path. Maybe young people will stop berating themselves for not having it “all figured out” by their mid-twenties.

I am not advocating racking up a ton of student debt, though, by switching programs and majors and staying in college for a gajillion years. What I mean is, perhaps if someone is having trouble in finding that set path–maybe they need time away from the stress of searching. I certainly should have taken some time off before locking into a pre-music program; it could have saved me the trouble of panicking when I realized I needed to be doing something with people. Programs that encourage active exploration of interests, too, are so useful.

But what if those were available before college on a wider scale? I don’t have the answers.

What I do believe is as follows. When you are given the chance to forge your own path, you learn much more about yourself than when you follow a trail that was blazed by someone who did not know you or your life’s story. It won’t be easy, by no means, but if you can live life between the dots and take time to be aware of what that looks like, I would imagine your discoveries will be ten times more amazing that if you rush to the next checkpoint.

Move through transitions. Take time to explore. Spend time with yourself. Find the little things–like a tiny yoga studio or a nearby park or whatever moves you–and enjoy them. Discover your talents. Consider your passions.

I can’t imagine that Newly-Graduate Ardith in 2008 would be happy if she had ended up where she thought she “should” have been.

But I do know that About-to-Graduate Ardith in 2012 is ready to try this “real world” thing one more time, with deliberate and intentional baby steps, day by day.


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