The first, most prominent, thought that comes to mind when asked to describe my Year On is that it was the best thing I’ve decided to do in my life. The thought of doing such a thing was put in my head about halfway through my 11th std. by my parents. Though I was initially somewhat apprehensive, on thinking more about it, I agreed that this would be a good step to take. When I first began telling people that I was taking the unorthodox step of removing myself from the formal educational system for a year, I was told by some that I would be losing a year. I was told that I would feel a void of a year later on in life, and that I’d be better off just enrolling into the best possible engineering program. To be fair to those well-wishers, it hasn’t yet been that ‘later on’ in life, but at this stage, I can without doubt say that I feel as if I’ve gained a year. Now in college in the US, viewing myself in relation to my peers, I feel that I can look at the world from more varied angles, and look at life more deeply, than I would have otherwise. Pretentious as it may seem to someone who hasn’t experienced it, I truly feel that I have become more thoughtful, aware and generally enriched as a person in the past one-and-a- half years than I would have in another year within the system. But just because of the wide variety of people I exposed myself to and worked with, and because of the practice I gave myself in living independently, I feel that I am able to hold myself with more confidence and tactfulness in college. Such practical benefits aside, by living and viewing life outside the system from one year, I know that the path I’m on at the only moment isn’t the only way I have to lead my life, for both today and tomorrow.
The very insights about the nature of the Machine you can get from viewing it from afar are tremendous and profound. Though personal and ultimately somewhat different for each person, I’d be surprised to find anyone who could get such a bird’s-eye view of the system and not see it for the ridiculous charade it is. I’d visit school from time-to-time and instead of a student body working, I’d see a stampede of docile kids pushing each other to get to illusory goals that really don’t reflect any worthwhile merit. Be they exams or career options, most things related to the educational system seemed more unreasonable than they already had.
The insights you can get out about yourself are also very worthwhile. If you’re not bogged down by the expectations of being a part of the system and have enough free time, you’re bound to end up reflecting about yourself and the world for at least some time. For me, for some time, it became an obsession. Embarking upon on a journey of self-discovery and intellectual inquiry into abstract matters of the meaning in life and the nature of the self is something I unintentionally got into during my break.
Answers are not easy to come, at least with the questions I have been searching for, but the very act of searching is an act of mental vitality that simply was not open while being in the system. Though now back in the system and far from satisfyingly having found my answers, I am still yearningly pursuing them… and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
And if nothing else, even if you don’t learn more about yourself, you certainly learn how to deal with yourself much better. Just with the amount of unoccupied time you get where you’re compulsorily your only company, your mind takes you down lanes you may have subconsciously avoided for a very long time. It is impossible to hide from them now. No matter how busy you try to keep yourself, no one can do the job of disconnecting you from yourself like the frenzying system can.
Finally, there are the obvious gains in the physical realm of getting to see new places, of meeting new people, and of broadening one’s horizons. Of course, such physical experiences also are vital and complementary to the gain within you. For instance, I never did realize how important my mother-tongue was to me until I spent a month without a hearing a sound of it in the South. Moreover, the very possibility to engage yourself in activities and with people whom you could not have been exposed to within the constraints of the Machine can be boundlessly enriching.
Of course, no experience can be solely positive. There will for sure be some pitfalls that come out of taking a break. There could be times of loneliness, and some dis-attachment from the friends of your very recent past. This is unavoidable in a decision wherein you deliberately go one direction, and let all of your friends go the other. This, however, says nothing of the vastly more diverse range of friends you can make during a break. My experiences at Shikshantar <www.shikshantar.in> are testimony to this – where I not only made excellent friends of all ages, but saw a radically different groundwork upon which friendships can be created. And, as mentioned earlier, loneliness too can teach you an amazing amount of things about yourself.
Here are some lessons that I learnt along the way:
There were a number of junctions at which I was be tempted into taking decisions imprudent for all the fulfillment and productivity that a break can provide. These slippery slopes are the routine entertainment and addictive retreat-forms of our daily lives – television, facebook, etc. It’s immensely easy, with all the free time available, to while away time in such endeavours, but I regret the moments I did so. I spent a considerable time of my break enslaved by a couple of TV shows (luckily, I soon developed an ideological aversion to TV). Facebook, of course, is an everyday black hole. I’d call these and other such things mere distractions. Not even because of anything inherently wrong with them (though one could even make that argument), but simply because there are so many better things to do.
Also, one mistake that I’d warn any potential break-takers against making is to not plan. By this I’m not referring to planning out a hour-by-hour, rigid itinerary for your days. Spontaneity and flexibility are invaluable in their place. What I’m drawing attention to is to not wait till the last moment, or even past it if you’re like me, to plan an undertaking. Or an example in more direct terms… looking to volunteer with an organization in June, I should have started searching in March! Or even earlier. I learnt that I can’t twiddle my thumbs and wake up one day thinking that the world will fall into place. It doesn’t. Promptness, persistence, and starting early, that’s what does. As far as all affairs requiring engagement with the worldly world go, that’s my biggest piece of advice.
Such advice is not at all meant to be discouragement. The positives described here are intended to be very direct encouragements for the idea of taking a break. So, in conclusion, I offer my heartiest recommendation to take the plunge. You’ll come out revitalized and enriched, as if you’ve just been born. Or at the very least, you’ll feel like you’ve come out of a coma. If you decide to re-enter the system, you may not feel like being in it again… and that may not be such a bad thing. Who knows what exciting, dazzling possibilities that will throw forward in your life? And even if you want to stay in the system afterwards, you’ll be a whole new different dimension of insight and experience.
But in either case, it’s a good move. So go on… take a break. If you have any questions or need help strategizing your year on, feel free to write to me.