To be fairly honest, I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I entered college. As a first generation college student, I only knew what I saw in the movies and what I heard from my teachers at my high school.
I went to a tiny Expeditionary Learning school where the goal of each graduating class of about 50 students was to get accepted to a four-year college. While we had representatives from colleges all over the state of Colorado come in trying to win us students over with their small class sizes and all-you-can-eat cafeterias, it's a completely different experience attending... especially if it's a school as large and recognizable as USC.
Going into the complete unknown, I know I definitely, without a single doubt, made mistakes that make me cringe at even just the thought of them; mistakes that have led me to wonder what I could have possibly been thinking at that moment of time.
Despite all of the million mistakes I made, I am grateful that I am able to look back on my first two college years at this in-between phase of my life, and to be honest I don't know that I would have without this "break." For a first tidbit of advice (also a reminder), especially to those in college: it's okay to take a break and you are allowed to take a break.
With the combination of an apathetic financial aid office and just being burnt out from all the activities I was doing, I had the unfortunate (turned fortunate) opportunity to take a gap year halfway through my college career. It wasn't the "I'm-going-to-travel-to-another-continent-and-live-there-for-a-year" gap year; it was more of a "I-need-to-find-a-job-that pays-good-money-or-else-my-degree-isn't-happening" gap year. At first, it was absolutely terrifying. I had already convinced myself that I needed to finish my degree in no more than four years and if I failed to do that, I would have let down everyone around me. I had also convinced myself that I was going to be stuck at my miserable, definitely-not-worth-$10-per-hour, telemarketing job I had over summer for a university I wasn't even going to be attending. When everything seems like it's heading down the toilet, it's easy to question what decisions you made to land yourself in that position.
What wasn't so easy was convincing myself that this entire situation was okay; that taking a break from my hectic schedule of classes and meetings and work-study was okay. It took a lot of time and research (and A LOT of reassurance from my amazing partner and close friends) to convince myself that I was not alone in my break, and that it could be extremely beneficial. In fact, I found that Harvard even encourages admitted students to take a gap year before entering university.
By utilizing the friends and connections I was able to make during my first two years in college, I landed a full-time position in the video game industry and am now getting a taste of something I could very well be doing once I go back and finish my degree. By taking an entire year off from school and other distractions, however helpful they were to my resume, I am able to start thinking and evaluating whether or not this is an industry I want to continue pursing. I have never been so sure of my ultimate goals and the path to achieve those goals.
Once I started becoming more stable in my break, I was also able to sit down and really appreciate the things around me and the state of being "okay." I was certainly thankful for financial stability and being able to get by with a tiny bit more to save, something I felt most 18-22 year olds around me in classes didn't necessarily have to worry about. I was thankful for the supportive relationships that surrounded me, and became less likely to hold onto relationships that were toxic or draining or just not helpful. It really started to weed out the less important things in my life and helped me appreciate the more important.
Taking a break also doesn't necessarily have to be an entire year out of college (although recent studies have shown that the number of students taking gap years is growing), but just take any break. Take a break for a weekend. Take a break for a day. Relax.
And of course I was warned before entering college to not spread myself too thin when signing up for clubs and work and meetings, but there was always this lingering feeling that I had to be doing something at all times. Whether it was homework, a job, being social, etc., I had to be doing something in order to feel like I was going to further myself in the long run in terms of becoming a functional member of society.
While it really is fantastic and equally as important to go out and do all of the things, I'm also here to tell you it's okay to take a break, to take a breather. I was once told by a very wise professor/mentor that the best time to take a break is when you don't have time for one.
Explore the area around you. Stay in and watch TV in your pajamas all day. Take a mental health day. Appreciate the people, the things, the environment around you. Appreciate the state of being "okay." It might even help you think about what you really want in life, or even just in the next week.