4 Things I Learned from Taking a Break from School

I changed my major four times in two years because I was trying to find a career-field that my family and friends would be proud of me pursuing. Didn’t happen. Pursuing every one of those majors felt like running into a 365 ft. concrete wall of people-pleasing. It was break-time.

1.      Taking a break is not failing, but I need to have a good reason.

If you’re thinking about taking a break from college, then you need to identify your reason. Taking a break can be a relationally, emotionally, mentally, and financially taxing decision. It is so important to identify a good reason because it can be easy to slip into a toxic-thought-world where you always feel like a failure. You may even have family, friends, colleagues, and professors who will express disappointment because of your decision to take a break. But remember, you are not a failure. Taking a break can be a good way to re-position yourself for the future.

Good Reasons for Taking a College Break:

  1. Money: You need time to save money because tuition is expensive.
  2. Priorities: You're pursuing a degree for the wrong reasons.
  3. Health: You have real-life prevailing health and wellness setbacks (this includes mental health).
  4. Career Change: You're pursuing a career path that does not require a degree. (examples: missional work, Mark Zuckerberg)

Bad Reasons for Taking a College Break:

  1.  It’s too hard.
  2. Your professor is a jerk and no one is nice.
  3.  It’s not fun.
  4.  You’re bored.

2.      I learned how to identify what I want in life.

My husband and I joke about the fact that I always want to go on adventures, but I never ever know how or where I want to go. The same could have been said about the first half of my college experience. I had very broad desires for my college degree. I wanted to help people and I wanted to enjoy my career. When asked about how, when, why, who and what, I had no answers. Maybe I would end up somewhere doing ministry with someone maybe writing books—I didn’t know.

When I dropped out of college, I began to intentionally identify the things that I liked doing, and the things that I very much did not like to do. Once I had an understanding of the things that I actually like, it became so much easier to be intentional about the time I spent developing my interests. I studied, and studied and studied the little things that truly gave me joy. Now, two years later, not only am I back in college studying Graphic Design, but I’m also working as a junior graphic designer while getting to learn from more experienced professionals in my field.

3.      My degree is not my identity, nor the scope of my intellect.

When I took a break from school, I often avoided questions about my occupation. I wasn't sure what to tell them, and I did not want to feel the shame of fitting into someone's stereotype, being treated like a college-drop-out-stereotype, or like a disappointment to society (or my race, or gender, or community, or culture, et cetera). If you've ever taken a break from school, you might know just how excruciatingly uncomfortable these conversations can feel.

During this time, it was difficult to not focus on the fear of people seeing me as a failure. I grasped to find truths to hold on to. Ultimately, once I figured out the direction I was going, those fears didn't matter any more because I realized that my degree is not my identity, nor does it determine the scope of my intellect.

4. I could always go back to school.

And I did. I went back to school. No one was affected. People told me, "that's nice," and we all continued to drink our coffee and put on pants the same way. Somehow I've gained a bit more respect from my professors who know that I'm not the traditional four-year student. Sure, I had my freak-out moments, but it was all very easy. This is to say that taking a break from school is okay. It isn't shameful. It doesn't make you a failure. It doesn't make you wise or foolish. It does not affect your identity in any way. But if you need to, do it without the shame. And be okay with working hard. In the end, you'll be glad you gave yourself the space to breathe and think. You'll be excited for what's to come, because you'll make it worth it.