Throwing Out the Job, Throwing in the World

12/02/2010 02:42 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

You know the word "job" is complicated when it's only a short 3 letters, but a whopping 15 Scrabble points. That's the same amount of points in education and graduation -- words triple its length.

You initially score big with "job," and that's great amateur gratification, but any seasoned Scrabble player knows, three-letter words do nothing but limit future possibility on the board.

Instead, a real thinker would choose a word like "traveling," with its sprawling 9 letters offering expansive future opportunity.

Continuing with the analogy, just as few Scrabble players are dealt the exact squares to spell out Quartzy (the highest scoring Scrabble word), few of us are born with our destinies written on our foreheads. From day one of our academic journey, however, we are asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Our first grade thought often replies with aspirations of becoming a firefighter, ballerina, lawyer or doctor, and of course, there is always that one cheeky girl ready to give Hillary a run for her democratic dollars as the first woman president. Over the years, we learn of less glamorous jobs -- accountants, sales managers, business consultants, construction workers, guidance counselors -- and our first thought is lost, as are most of our second, third and fourth.

However, the steadfast path that Americans are common for (grade school, college, job, marriage, kids, retirement) leaves no room for breathing between these flitting thoughts.

As young adults especially, we are so obsessed with having a focused, solid and sequential resume -- I was the coldest case, the model student as I reached for my diploma last December (one semester early, even). I had aced through all my Public Relations and Business classes, served as the Vice President of my sorority, was super campus-involved and had stacked my resume with internships at top name companies like Betsey Johnson, David Yurman and IMG World. I'd been going and going with my professional perseverance, more reluctant to stop than the energizer bunny. Like that same energizer bunny, I didn't realize what a disruptive toll the going and going was taking, and it was only until I hard-stopped the noise that I realized how loud it was in the first place.

My hard stop used the strategic Scrabble move I mentioned earlier -- I'd thrown out the word "job" and considered "traveling" instead.

For a few months after graduation, I pumped the working-woman breaks to go on an introspective wander through Southeast Asia. I pedaled the back roads of Cambodia, came near to death by monkey in Thailand and wrote off 11-hour bus rides in Vietnam as a breeze. I met someone new every day, learned something new every day and loved something new every day. I saw the world as a revolving door -- indefinitely open, so long as you push yourself through, and closed only when you give up your strong arm. With might, my permanently inquisitive mind wandered to places, both physical and intangible. Experimental was my nature; nature was my eyes' constant bliss; bliss was every step of my journey.

I learned more than a few things in these too short of months, but most circled back to appreciating those breaths that Americans are repeatedly persecuted for taking -- myself, too, a persecutor. Elizabeth Gilbert's ever-praised bestseller-turned-blockbuster, Eat Pray Love, was widely admired because it hit home for thousands of Americans who have similarly discovered that moment, in that 10-years-too-late breath, of realizing that the life they'd created had spiraled out of their control -- happiness and self-truth stolen in the whirl.

For the sake of not over-saturating the book market with mid-life crisis memoirs, I encourage young adults -- just graduated from the cyclical and brutal academic journey -- to breathe in, breathe out and to consciously, with an open mind, step into your own future. In 10 years, when you turn around to look at your footprint, you want to be happy you put it there, be happy on the path you created for yourself.

Forget structure -- you've been living it for 22 (give or take) years. Forget that a job is the secure next step -- in this pitted economy, it's a debatable security anyway. Forget the fear of veering off course -- who even built that course in the first place? Whichever control freak built it, it was definitely not a European, and we should, in fact, take a hint from those wise Europeans and revel in their universal practice of "gap year". Gap Year is a longtime trend of young adults to take a year off between studies to gain broader experience in the world -- be it from an odd job or a far-off, worldly adventure. Future admissions officers and employers hold the year, and what you make of it in your own way, in high regard, as it develops individuality and inspires passion.

Americans, however, feel pressure against such a breach of structure, and the word "gap," is all too threatening to the resume. Though I was undeniably nervous in doing so, I felt it was okay to buck the American system, and do as the Europeans do. What I learned in my one sixth of a gap year, gave me more insight into the world and my own person, then in my 16 years of the American school system.

And, as my Thai friend would say, thank Buddha for that. I had always known that I liked to write, (in fact, I regretted not making a small business out of all the cover letters and papers I wrote or edited for my friends in college), but keeping a blog during my trip opened my eyes to my true writing passion. As I immersed myself in travel, and the cultures and lessons that unsurprisingly accompanied, I felt excited to share my experiences and growth with friends, family and the curious stranger through my writing.

As my thoughts readjusted to focus on writing (fundamentally throwing my hard-earned resume out the window), I happened to meet an incredibly worldly and insightful American man in Vietnam. He left me with a line of advice that I've adopted as my personal mantra.

Live a great, passionate, outrageous life, and then write from your experiences. If your writings don't make it, well hell, you've lived well in the meantime.

On that quote, I offer my own advice to young adults. You don't always have to follow the steadfast American path. Consider traveling to gain a global perspective that challenges that path Southeast Asia was my off the beaten path of choice, but it's not the only revelation-provoking destination or swaying road to take. I hear Machu Picchu is hair-raising and the climb up Mount Everest colossal (both on my to-do list). The Grand Canyon, in our own backyard, I hear is inconceivable, too. Wherever you go, whatever you do, take a breath before you plant your feet on someone else's road.

You deserve your breaths, and you deserve the time to sort through your Scrabble letters and form the word that might not put you at the immediate top of the scoreboard, but that will give you many more successes in your future.

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