As you can read elsewhere in this paper, in an article written by a brilliant writer, there is such a thing as a gap year. It usually lasts only one year and it usually lands between high school and college. This story is not about the usual.
I started college in the fall of 1996 at New Mexico Tech. My major at that time was computer science, which I had chosen because I enjoyed playing around on my computer and figured I could make some decent money. What I didn't figure on was the allure of watching TV, drinking, and sleeping – really anything other than going to class.
Tech and I parted ways after the spring semester of '97, when I racked up a stunning GPA of 0.46. I took a few classes at the community college in Albuquerque that fall, but I still couldn't drum up interest in going to class, so I didn't bother wasting any more of my parents' money the next spring.
I spent the next 10 years jumping around to many different jobs. I was a long-haul truck driver for about eight months. I managed to last for a whopping three months as a janitor in an adult movie theater – great paycheck, lousy everything else.
My high points were, sadly, a two-year stint at Target unloading trucks and stocking shelves and a four-year period where I worked in a urethane-molding factory. Target was the first time that I worked somewhere for more than a year. The molding of urethane, which is done with industrial ovens and a lot of toxic chemicals, was my first and only union job and also the highest paying.
These years were far from miserable – I met an amazing woman that I married and I learned far more about life than you can pick up from a book. It's one thing to read about Kerouac's road trip across the U.S. and appreciate what he was saying about society in general, but if you actually drive back and forth across this nation and see it through your own eyes, you can add so much more to the reading of On the Road.
Through all these years, I always toyed with the idea of going back to school. My wife, who had also not finished her degree, encouraged me in this idea as well as thought about it herself. My main concern was figuring out what I wanted to study. I always figured on something tech-based, because that was where the money was, but I couldn't really drum up the interest to head back to school.
Another interest I had was reading and writing, though I had been convinced that there was no money to be made in these fields unless you were really, really lucky.
When I lost my job at the beginning of 2007, I was fed up. I had had nothing but dead-end, crappy jobs and I was done. I didn't bother job hunting – or anything, really – and my wife and I made do with what we had. I decided this was a good time to head back to school, when—toward the end of summer—my wife told me to go check out Erie County Community College since it had open enrollment.
With little more than a vague idea that I wanted to study creative writing and literature, I enrolled at ECC in the fall of '07 and started my new academic career. I was a little worried about heading back to school after so much time off; I hit my 30th birthday in the second week of classes, but it turned out I had nothing to worry about.
I excelled in my classes and finished that semester with a 4.0, a definite improvement over my last semester in school. I graduated from ECC in the spring of '09 and came to UB with a major in English and a concentration in creative writing. My wife joined me at ECC and transferred to UB a year before me. She, too, is doing quite well.
While my time off can be seen as wasted time in which I was not working on my career or even getting my degree, I see it as simply the time that was needed for me to—cheesy as it sounds—find myself.
My plans after I graduate and beyond are still nebulous, but I love what I'm doing. I know I'm in the right program and I also know that I can make more money with a supposedly moneyless degree program than I ever did with no degree at all.
I would not suggest that anyone take as much time as I did, but I do recommend that you do take at least a moment to ask if you're on the right path. If you are struggling with the classes in your major, then maybe that's not the right major for you. If you are only here at college because that's what was expected and you're miserable, then maybe you should take some time off.
Or not. I realize that I could also be the exception to the rule. But I still suggest some time devoted to experiencing the rest of the world; you will appreciate college so much more, if you're like me at all.