Why I Need a Career Break at Age 23

Woman visiting Montmartre, Paris
Woman visiting Montmartre, Paris

All my life I've followed the path society told me would lead to success, diligently working toward this ill-defined goal, never stopping to question it or ask myself if this path was right for me.

Get good grades, get involved, get into a good college -- I did it all. I started my years at Gonzaga University as a business major because, you know, the economy was bad back then and that was suppose to help me secure a job.

After 14 straight years of classrooms and homework, I came up for air. This was not what I wanted. So, I tried again. Equally haphazardly as the first time, I selected a new major.

Having never taken a journalism class in my life, I blindly committed my next two years to this course. Luckily, it turned out alright. I thoroughly enjoyed the four semesters I spent packing in the curriculum and fell deeply in love with the art of storytelling.

However upon graduation, I was again wooed by the societal norm. An amazing internship fell into my lap and I worked hard to eventually come on as a full-time employee. But now, I find myself needing to come up for air yet again.

I have a great job, in an exciting industry. I have a steady income and even get the opportunity to travel to amazing new places every once in awhile. I'm a glimmering image of American success--educated and employed. So why then, am I feeling so burnt out at the ripe young age of 23?

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A 2014 Gallup poll shows that nearly 70 percent of Americans aren't completely happy with their jobs. Unfortunately, I'm not surprised.

We spend the first 18 years of our life learning English, math, science and history. Once we know how to write in MLA format and long divide, we're expected to have the tools to select the best path to lead us to our dream career.

It's a quarter-century sprint and at the finish line you're rewarded with student loans, a badge of dissatisfaction and an urgent desire for some perspective to cure this confusion.

When Malia Obama announced she'd be taking a gap year, I did some research and found some pretty incredible stats. In fact, it sounded to me like this gap year could be an immunity shot to what I'll call the "finish line syndrome."

Studies
show students who take a gap year before entering college come out more developed and mature and with a better sense of how they want to contribute to society. These students are prepared to make better choices in terms of their major and are much more satisfied with their jobs down the road.

But what about those of us already at the finish line?

Unlike the traditional gap year, little research has been done on the post career break or sabbatical effects. Although it's a growing trend, sabbatical is by no means a societal norm. Many people won't even consider the idea of taking a break due to fear it will set them back in their career.

So instead, they keep running on this track, fueled by fear of the unknown, slowly burning off the debt, stopping at all the checkpoints -- marriage, promotions, babies, retirement.

But what if we stopped for a minute to take a breath and look around. We might realize there are more paths than one, paths we never even knew existed.

For some, the checkpoints provided along the path most traveled align perfectly with their dreams. For me, I need more perspective, more life experience in order to define my checkpoints. I need time to gain some global understanding, write a book, seek educational opportunities. Go after my dreams or simply find out what they are. But until then, I continue to sprint.

Graduating from high school and taking the next big step toward college can be daunting, so a growing number of students are choosing to take a gap year to focus on personal growth. Whether you spend a year traveling, volunteering or working, we'd love to share your story. If you'd like to contribute a text or video piece, please email gapyear@huffingtonpost.com and tell us all about your experience.