‘Real life’ doesn’t start with a desk job

The idea of a “gap year” portrays a career as the final goal of any successful college graduate’s life.

by Alia Jeraj

I’ve figured out my employment status for next year, which is super exciting for a soon-to-be graduate. Starting in September, I’ll be working as a full-time fellow with a prominent service organization that seeks to lower our state’s achievement gap. This position will utilize both my majors, and it’s directly related to the type of work I think I’d like to do in the future.
I spent my spring break with various aunts, uncles and cousins, and I’ve thus explained my plan many times. Their reactions have been almost exclusively positive, encouraging and followed by comments such as, “That sounds like a great gap year!” or “You know you’re just putting reality off for another year, right?”
I respectfully reject both of those statements. First of all, I’m not sure what kind of gap my fellowship is supposed to be filling. I have neither the desire nor the intention to begin either a graduate program or a capital-C Career in the fall of 2017.
The word “gap” refers to an empty space, generally one that needs to be filled. I resent the idea that if I’m not formally continuing my education or beginning a full-time, salaried job with benefits, I’m creating a gap in my life, a period of time that I should fill with something other than what I’ve planned. 
I find the idea of “putting off reality” even more ridiculous. We have somehow arrived at the idea that “real life” begins in conjunction with our careers. When we think of our lives like this, we completely discount any experiences that happen before then. We also equate the accumulation of wealth with “reality,” ignoring the indisputable signs of life we display for the first 20-some years of our existence. 
I would love to abolish both the idea of so-called “gap” years and the idea that real life begins at any point after someone is born. 
I believe both these thoughts stem from the notion that a Career is the most important thing in life. For many millennials, the hope for a single, capital-C 
Career does not even exist yet. Ninety-one percent of us can expect to stay in any given job for less than three years. If we continue to see time before Careers as gaps, many of us will spend our entire lives moving from gap to gap — or perhaps living a completely “unreal” life.
I am not arguing against the importance of finding a job or earning money — in our society money is a necessary evil. Instead, I’m arguing against the notion that beginning a Career is when real life begins and that salaried work is thus the single, pivotal event in our lives.
I’m lucky to have a plan for next year that incorporates my education and that has the potential to point toward future paths. However, if I were planning to travel for a year or return to my old barista position, I’d still refuse to view my time as any sort of “gap” or a postponement of real life.
Though we may wish it weren’t, time is constantly progressing, and so too are our lives. Rather than viewing any of our time as a gap, let’s begin to view all of our time and experiences as valid, important and very real.
Alia Jeraj welcomes comments at [email protected].