DO YOURSELF A FAVOR, TAKE A BREAK.
I'm talking about why I took a break after graduating from RIT before grad school - and why I think it was my best career decision to-date.
It's eye-opening to look back at how much a life changes after only a year or two. Reflecting upon the last three, I've realized that my life has advanced dramatically. Personally. Socially. Professionally. It's strange to imagine a time I was living in Baltimore without my current circle, a tribe of people with whom I share similar values and experiences. The connections I've made during my time here have shaped my current day-to-day, and of that, I am proud.
I consider myself to be thriving at 25, but I can't help but consider where I might be if I never moved to Baltimore. At the beginning of my undergraduate career, I really thought I had a clear path for the future. And after two years, all of those suppositive notions drastically changed. My personal life took a significant blow as my long-term relationship ended; and as a result, my professional aspirations were put into question. When you lose a cornerstone of your support system, it's easy to undermine your worth.
While I recovered from the grief of losing a boyfriend and best friend, I began to spiral into another version of Taylor. Some jokingly refer to her as partayrockin. It took a one-on-one meeting with my sorority advisor to put my career aspirations -- and myself -- in check. I've experienced quite a few personal struggles, but I always found solace in school and my education. I had a 4.0 GPA for my first two years of college because I enjoyed learning and was dedicated to excelling in courses. After this bump in the proverbial road, classes got harder and spontaneous 3PM margaritas populated my social calendar. Admittedly, I stumbled to find the balance of excelling in both my academic and social endeavors. But by my senior Fall (my last semester, I graduated early), I figured it out.
As Kris would say, "I don't know her" anymore. I've detailed my transition through career aspirations in science in the Science behind Stylishly Taylored, but my Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship at Mayo Clinic was a transformative experience. Not only did it give me insight into my interests as a researcher, but it taught me that I was capable. It came during a vulnerable time in my personal evolution, and with the experience came reassurance at that I was, indeed, making moves for my future. Let me reiterate, my future. At the beginning of the summer, I questioned how I fit into the world as a broken half of a once-intact whole (relationship). At the end, I realized my livelihood as a single, capable woman took priority over all-else.
Sir Francis Bacon told us "Knowledge is power," and while I gained new knowledge about myself, I exercised my power to make decisions about my future. I've always been a hard worker, and to say I hustled in college is understatement. I was far from perfect, but I graduated early from the Honors Program with magna cum laude distinctions. I had a job. I was President of my sorority. I served as a TA for 3 classes. I took pride in doing it all, all of the time. But knowing myself, and how much pressure I placed on myself to succeed, I wasn't comfortable jumping right back into that environment. Instead, I decided to take time off, gain research experience, and apply to medical school. I hauled ass for 3.5 years, and I needed a break. I wanted to make sure I had a strong application for furthering my education, and although I didn't end up going the medical school route, taking a break couldn't have been a better decision.
I know family and friends questioned what this "time off" would do for my motivation. The Holidays were filled with status updates on the GRE and my application process. But in my mind, taking a break never meant remaining stagnant. I wanted to use the time to advance and enhance other aspects of my life. And above all, recover.
'....and although I didn't end up going the medical school route, taking a break couldn't have been a better decision."
We all burn out, and there's a strength in recognizing when we've hit our limits. I could've pushed myself to graduate school right away, but I know I would not have been happy. In the same stroke, I knew when I hit my limit in the Cutting Lab. I was fortunate enough to integrate myself into multiple projects, but I felt myself approaching a plateau. It was at this point, I knew I wouldn't be happy remaining dormant professionally. The next step seemed inevitable.
I'm forever grateful to myself for self-gifting this time for development.
My time as a research technician allowed me to acclimate to life post-undergrad. It taught me to balance my finances and gave me the opportunity to explore Baltimore outside of my 40 hours. And as I started consistently producing content for Stylishly Taylored, my job provided me with logistical leniency which helped to enhance my time management skills. It's turned this transplant into a Baltimorean, comfortable in her skin, her duality, and her new home. Above all, it taught me that I thrive professionally and socially with a work-life balance that encourages parallel advancement. Yes, I understand it's a give and take relationship, but I've learned that both avenues need to be present in my life to feel fulfilled.
I'm in no way telling you breaks are necessary for success, I think that's a personal choice. But if you're considering making the leap, do yourself a favor and consider your needs - and priorities - before rushing into decisions. If it feels forced, maybe it is. If you feel like you've reached a plateau, consider new opportunities. For me, taking a break to work in research gave me exposure and experiences that have only benefited me. Honestly, it's been less than a week in graduate school, and I'm already seeing a return-on-investment from my three and a half years of work experience. I feel less pressure to be perfect, but instead, learn. From my classes, from my classmates, from my professors, from my failures.
At the end of the day, investing in yourself is the gift that keeps on giving - and recognizing your personal and professional needs is a selfish task worth performing. Pride can often limit us from moving into spaces that educate us without a diploma, but what sets you apart from every other college graduate in the workforce is how you apply the lessons learned outside of the classroom. Paychecks were second to the recognition, resilience, and relationships acquired.
Until next time, keep learning.