Often, as an American growing up in an immigrant household, the thing we always heard is that we need to work hard. Study hard. Do your best in everything, because an A is the only thing that will get you a job. You don’t want to be like your parents, who worked their lives away. Your parents sacrificed for you and thus you must honor their wishes.
My father immigrated from Iran a year before the Iranian Revolution. He was attending a community college in Maryland when his father, in the midst of the revolution, had gotten into a car accident and passed away. My father was the eldest son, so the responsibility of the Iranian family back in his hometown as well as the new family he had—my mother was pregnant—in America fell on him. And so he made the ultimate sacrifice: he dropped out of college. For years, he had a series of odd jobs, often coming home once every three days to sleep. He was the ice cream truck man, the taxi driver, then he landed on restaurant owner, which he still is now. We never saw much of my father growing up—he was always working.
For the longest time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I went to the top fashion school in the world, but as I became more educated about the industry and received my degrees, I realized that this just wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t want that cushy government trade job where I’d receive a pension and a high salary, but I also couldn’t imagine myself working in showrooms with buyers. As an introvert, I welcomed some aspects of the pandemic, because, for the first time, I could do everything I wanted from the new desk I found at Goodwill. With all this time to sit, think, and create, I realized I didn’t want the life I had imagined for so long. I was idealizing and romanticizing it. They say we have to have things figured out by a certain age, but I’ve slowly come to understand that this, too, is just another expectation by society.
I believe that often in life, we think we don’t have a choice in what we do, despite the fact we claim autonomy over many decisions. And so many people, despite hesitation about their careers, jump straight into a job that deep down they know that they’re going to hate. We fear the gap year, because we are told gaps in your resume look bad and that you’ll never be able to find a job if you back out now. I have many friends who went into careers for the high income and are now miserable because it just wasn’t what they were passionate about.
My father cried when I went to fashion school instead of law or medical school. And when I told him I was not getting a normal job like the other kids in our immigrant community, he didn’t understand it. The words “gap year” had never come into his vocabulary, and it seemed to him that all of his hard work to pay our bills was a waste. He was successful in what he did, however—all three daughters went to college and got to live better lives than he did. We were spoiled to death, be given Webkinz whenever we begged, and got to eat out at a fast food place once a week. I think we should start normalizing this discussion of agency over our own lives in a world that’s full of greed–one’s personal success isn’t a measure of how much money they will make.
Slow living has become popular lately, especially with the onset of the pandemic. Hustle culture, where we had to work our lives away, came to a standstill, and so we were forced to look at our lives through a critical lens. I hope that one good thing comes out of this and the pandemic: kindness. We have to be kind to ourselves before we can be kind to others.
And I’m going to start being kind to myself. I’m taking that gap year. And I hope you, dear reader, are kinder to yourself as well.