In the context of career decision making, I once heard it asked, “Where do your greatest passions meet the world’s greatest needs?” It is a profound question, and one that we should be asking ourselves as we consider our futures. I wish I had been asked this question before University application time rolled around.
I ended up taking a “victory lap” semester in high school so that I could better consider what my future might hold and to increase my application average while I was at it. Taking a “gap” year is common these days and it can be quite helpful, especially if you’re somewhat undecided on what route to take in your future. It can be a pain (and a big expense) to change your University program part way through your degree, so making the best informed decision now is a better idea. Then again, I still ended up switching even with my extra year!
I actually loved my gap year for a lot of reasons. I made lots of money working, had some fun with friends, and enjoyed the courses I didn’t get to take in my grade 12 year. Of course, looking back now as a serious Christian with some more insight, there are some things I would do differently. Here are some thoughts on how to take a gap year to the glory of God.
Dig up what’s in your heart
In his book 9 Things you Simply Must Do, Dr. Henry Cloud describes an attribute of people who tend to be successful in life. His very first point struck me to the core: you must find the passions of your heart, the dreams and desires that are simply there, and dig them up. Bring them to the surface and cultivate them. Let them fuel you, drive you, and use those passions to bless others.
This made me realize that I was just following the path of least resistance in most seasons of life. I just kinda let life happen to me. It made me wonder whether life would have been a lot more fruitful had I made the effort to do the things I truly wanted to do with my energy and passion.
This isn’t to say we should not think practically about the career direction we choose. What it does mean is that our interests and passions should influence our direction in some way. Even if you end up pursuing a more pragmatic career (since you might not be able to make a living off of your paintings or your blog just yet), your interests and passions should be an important part of your life and can make your career a lot more fulfilling if they’re involved.
So in your gap year, dream about what you might like your life to be like and how your University choices might affect that.
Contemplate the possibilities
I wish I had thought more deeply about the things I cared about. I also wish I had bothered to research the career possibilities that I had in those areas. Though I had originally desired to study Kinesiology, I thought the only real career option was to work in rehab.
So I applied to general sciences instead, figuring you can’t go wrong with science and I was skilled in it. It wasn’t a bad choice, but I soon found out that I didn’t really like the job potential that came with a Bachelor of Science degree and no specialization. I made the switch back to Kinesiology in my second year. I could have saved some time had I done the research and thought through what I wanted!
As you begin to understand your desires more deeply, you’ll want to start thinking about the “what” and the “why” of your career choices. Sure, you have these interests, these parts of you that you don’t necessarily choose but they are there. They might even be spiritual gifts, and they’re definitely gifts from God. But how do you use them?
What field of study should you go into, if any, in order to cultivate your gifts and qualify yourself for the work you need to do? Try to spend some time thinking, maybe journaling your thoughts, and prayerfully discerning with God what steps to take. In all likelihood, you won’t figure it all out now – that’s ok. But you need to at least work towards getting your first steps figured out. If you have some sort of trajectory, even if it might change over time, you will be much better off.
Seek wisdom from others
You may or may not have talked to guidance counsellors during your time in high school, but you should probably take time to do so during your gap year. Also, take time to talk to your parents and friends and others (pastors, mentors) whom you trust and who know you. Process and pray with them – ask for their thoughts, their own experience, and what they think about what might be good for you. They may have insight, they may not. Either way, take advantage of the potential wisdom and insight you have around you!
Ask God for help
Spend time bringing your future career to God in prayer. Obviously, you are trying to make one of the biggest decisions in your life. If you are consulting yourself and others around you for wisdom, how much more should you consult God? Pray and grow in your understanding of God’s word. Does the Bible say anything about how to make a good decision here (see below)? Does it give any advice on how I should think about my life and career? About how I can make the best use of my gap year? You might also consider journaling as a way of recording what you are learning.
Have some fun
Relax! While it is wise to keep yourself working a job or studying during your gap year (it’s a great chance to save up while living at home!), it’s also prime time for some fun. Whether that’s some traveling or good time with friends, you should get some good soul-filling time in before the stress of University comes. Making sure you have fun and rest well will complement all of the dreaming and intellectual work that you are doing in preparation for your future.
Fill the Gap
While some students just decide flippantly to take the “victory lap,” you can intentionally decide to make good use of an extra year after high school before you commit to four years in university or some other career path. You can dream, think, and pray and be that much more prepared for starting your future off on the right foot. You can do some more valuable courses in high school, get a local job to make some money or get work experience, or go abroad for work if it suits your needs. What you do is less important than the intentionality behind it. If you are intentional, you can reach your goals and be ready for the future. And this is what God expects of you: that you are a good steward of what he has given you. This includes your gifts and your time, both of which can be cultivated and used well in a good gap year. If you take one, or know someone who is thinking about it, we pray it is to the glory of God!
Some Bible verses on decision making:
Proverbs 16:3, 9 – we plan but God ultimately makes our work fruitful as we trust him.
Matt. 6:25-34 – seek first the kingdom of God, and do not worry about your future since that doesn’t help in any way!
What are the passions and desires hidden in your heart?
What are some career options you can research that fit your desires?
Who are people you can ask for counsel in your career choices?
Who are people who can pray with and for you as you make these choices?
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