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  • Writer's pictureAlmeera Eman

The $83,000 gap year story with Karan Agrawal

Taking a gap year truly opens the door to thousands of possibilities! Some common ones you probably have heard include traveling, volunteering, or exploring personal passions. However, have you ever heard of someone working to save money to buy their parents a house and increase their income from $0 to $83k?!

In this episode of the podcast, the incredible Karan Agrawal shares his story of persevering through challenges and having the courage to make the decision of taking a gap year. We dive deep into everything Karan accomplished during this time, what is the “Gap Year Mindset” and benefits of taking a gap year for personal and professional development.

Topics Discussed

  • The deciding factors that lead to Karan’s gap year.

  • How Karan grew personally, professionally, financially and emotionally.

  • How a shift in mindset can lead to an even more successful gap year.

  • All of the possibilities and opportunities that are available to Gappers.

  • The importance of talking to an expert about your gap year (which you can do with us, book a free 30-min call:!

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Connect With The Canadian Gap Year Association


Michelle Dittmer - 00:00

Hey there and welcome to the Gap Year podcast. My name is Michelle Dittmer and I am your host and Gap Year expert. Today we have an incredible guest with us here. We have Karan and he is here to talk about his Gap Year experience.

Now what I love so much about your story is how you saw an opportunity in your life and you pursued it. Against some odds, but you have done some incredible things in your Gap Year. So much so that we actually found you by articles that were published in the paper and you've been featured in a couple of places which I think is pretty amazing, and now we're very honored to have you on our podcast today. So thank you so much for joining us!

Karan Agrawal - 02:20

No thank you for having me, I really very much appreciate it! Right when I was told that I was asked to be on this podcast, I had to take the opportunity to tell my story and hopefully inspire more people out there.

Michelle Dittmer - 02:33

That's amazing! Well, I know your backstory, but those listening and watching may not necessarily know. So why don't we rewind and maybe you could tell everybody a little bit about why you chose to take a Gap Year?

Karan Agrawal - 02:48

Yeah, of course! As an intro, my name is Karan, I'm from suburban Toronto based in Scarborough. I actually attend Toronto Metropolitan University, formerly known as Ryerson University, and currently within my Gap Year, I decided to increase my income from 0 to $83,000 a year, only working 37.5 hours a week within two sectors, in the banking sector and the construction sector, for a greater cause so I can help my family recover from the pandemic in an emotional and in a financial way.

It really starts way back from the time my parents actually immigrated to Canada. My dad immigrated in 1996 and then after he started working here without any formal postsecondary education and then he went back to India, met my mom, got married and then he brought her here and then lived here together happily with my other relatives.

The issues they faced were just like every other issue that immigrants, or immigrants in general face such as the language barrier, financial barriers, educational barriers and those barriers really kind of got them emotionally and on different levels. It really took a strain on them throughout their time in Canada.

I remember my dad had to take up a second job so he could make ends meet because we were just living paycheck to paycheck and I remember at the time I was a kid and I was just like you know, like I was just like thinking like my dad does not care about me. Why does he not want to spend time with me? He's always working, working and I got to see him only at night.

Looking back at it, in high school I realized the real reason why he did that. It was mostly because he can provide the best quality of life for me and my sister. When I realized that I was like Oh my God like you know, like that's amazing that he did that he sacrificed so much and I never like realized that.

As a kid I probably said so many things, I probably hurt his feelings. Then in high school, I thought to myself like hey you know I got to make him realize that his sacrifice will not go into vain and I gotta do something for him, that's why I decided that hey I'm gonna pursue a type of education that he wants me to pursue.

In a South Asian household that's either a Doctor, Engineer or Lawyer. I was like, OK. So Doctor Biology wasn't my thing. I wasn't too much into studying law or anything so you know I went right into Engineering because STEM was mostly where I was attracted to at the time in high school. So I took Engineering and then fast forward to the Pandemic in 2020 was my first year at Ryerson University and went into the Mechanical Engineering program and like it was really tough actually for three main reasons.

This was because I had to take up six courses and I’ve never taken up so many courses in like one term and there was like plus the terms and university are much shorter than in high school. In University, it's like four months with six courses and all STEM science, technology, engineering, math, that's crazy! The workload was definitely one of the hardest parts. Plus, this was the first time we were completely remote. I never even got to speak with some of the people I met online, in person and having that interaction in person is really crucial to your mental health and it's making friends because that's what University is for.

Second thing was that I realized soon into my program and I disliked it. I really thought to myself, you know, if I stayed in STEM and within the STEM program or within mechanical engineering, I don't think I would live a happy, fulfilling life, but I still did it because I knew I wanted my dad to feel proud of me, feel happy and you know, again, like his sacrifice weren't going into vain and so like so that me not liking the program also had a negative effect on me because I was never motivated to actually go forward and do the extra things when it comes to studying.

Last but not least was just the family issue that I was bombarded with in 2020. Back in early 2020-21 that is when the Delta COVID had a massive outbreak in India and that caused about four to five relatives on my side both close and far who passed away for this variant and it was really impactful to my family.

I just remember this at times is like walking into the living room and like my mom was just not in the best emotional state and then you know like I remember my dad at the same time was not the best emotional state cause he lost brothers as well and plus my grandmother was really going through a really tough time at that time.

So that was another stress that was going through my dad and I couldn't watch them go through stress while I just at university and like it was very hard on me and all of that really built up overtime until that one event, one year ago in May when my grandmother passed away. I remember going to a funeral and I was in front of my grandmother's casket and my dad was there and it was really emotional for me and then afterwards I remembered this is making like telling like telling myself, like you know what?

Like if I go forward I wouldn't be the best son, I wouldn't be like the person who like it doesn't matter if I go forward engineering right now my family needs me the most, so that's why I decided I'm not take a Gap Year and I'm going to do my best to provide for them, love them, care for them and it's giving them my best my uttermost attention.

And you know what, that's why I took my Gap Year and. Ever since it's been a really, really fun ride. At the same time it has been really terrifying as well, but one that was definitely worth it.

Michelle Dittmer - 08:47

So you have so much going on in your life and over the past couple of years, so let's just call that out, let's just acknowledge that you had a lot of complicating factors going on in your life and congratulations for navigating that first of all, and I think a lot of our listeners also have that sense of overwhelm.

There is so much pressure in our lives, and I think often, like older teenagers, don't get credit for the stress that's happening in our lives and how the environmental stress, not just your school stress, but your family stress, that financial crisis in your family you had the pandemic in your family you were going against cultural norms for the South Asian community and this weight of disappointing your family.

All of these, all of these things are very, very heavy. So number one, you are incredibly resilient and I think a lot of people would resonate with one of those struggles. One of those challenges was before you let alone all of them.

So thank you for sharing and being so vulnerable and letting us know all of those things that were happening because that's a lot and pushing pause on formal education is a very wise decision when we get into that state of overwhelm when we have all of these things spinning out of control around us, just pushing forward for the sake of pushing forward and checking boxes can actually be more detrimental.

So I'm glad that you had the courage and the confidence to recognize that hey, there's another option here and it might not be the popular choice, but this is what you felt called to do, and I think that the fact that you were able to step up and support your family emotionally by being present for them and not just having your nose buried in a textbook.

The fact that you were able to go out and find employment that supported your family financially through a really difficult crisis, the fact that you were able to work with your family in making this decision and helping them understand doing something different, and I think also navigating a lot of that emotional stress that is on yourself too when you are bucking the trends. When you are doing something different or you are going against, we'll call them expectations from society and from your parents.

So all of these things can seem so bad, but now that you're here and you're smiling and you're looking back at it, yeah, I can see that now it's very clearly the right decision for you.

But maybe in the moment it might not have quite felt like that.

Karan Agrawal - 12:09

Looking back at it, taking a Gap Year was the best thing that's ever happened to me. There were different parts of my life that I was able to build upon and improve, and develop myself financially and professionally, as well as just kind of learning these very crucial life lessons that I wouldn’t have learned if I had not taken my Gap Year. Also my physical health. I was actually able to focus on that part because I never really looked at it before my Gap Year. Especially in engineering, what I find is that most students overlook their health and they're just eating whatever, and get back into like the assignments and whatnot. And so I actually got time to actually look at my health and kind of see where I can improve on and not just like my physical health but my emotional health. So like so one thing I first did was like I want to start off entirely fresh.

So I just created like a new set of principles to live my life off of and like the kind of start.

To get started off like these principles. I want to learn from the best, so like the best at like who I look up to or like these really prominent amazing figures and emotional and mental health and physical health like Tony Robbins, Jay Shetty, Lewis House.

These people were all people I looked up to and liked to listen to podcasts daily and I learned so many different things such as appreciating the moment, appreciating how life is pretty much a gift, if you really think about it.

Integrating that thought into my principles and how I live and go through life has really changed my perspective on everything actually. So one thing I like that's really helped me to do is integrate new healthy habits such as meditating, journaling, these are things I never thought deeply of before. Now looking back at it, I have become who I have become now with the salary that I have right now with my professional development and like how I've been the best I possibly can for my family. It's because of integrating these new habits.

Meditation has helped me kind of appreciate the moment, be focused within the moment, being able to give you my divine intention right now, as well as journaling reflecting on the day where could have gone better. What am I grateful for? Food on my plate clothes on my back group on my head. It's just a little things right and like that's one that's one of the small things I've heard in my Gap Year.That's one of the smallest things and there's so many other different things that I've learned.

Such as, before I got my jobs I had to first build myself professionally because before this I never knew I never had any principles of professional principles to live or to kind of get a job off of. So for example, my networking skills, my interviewing capabilities, as well as my resume writing.

When I first got my first internship Before this I actually had failed an interview with a different bank and it wasn't the best. I never knew what I was doing. I said something that didn't make sense, but not looking back after getting feedback from that previous hiring manager, I integrated that feedback and I did my research on YouTube. If I didn't fail it, and if I wasn't able to get that internship at CIBC, then I would have been able to integrate these professional habits that I've been able to integrate currently.

Lastly, it was just kind of with my family and understanding them in a better way. Before I thought I knew my family, but since I got time I was able to kind of get to know them. If you give your full divine intention to someone, you get to know more about them.

Taking a Gap Year gave me so many gifts. From building new financial habits, building personal habits and then afterwards as well as it's building relationships with us all something that are overlooked but like in life, that's the most important thing that you need to focus on, so that's what my Gap Year, looking back at it, it's been probably the best thing that's ever happened to me and like even going for forward in life like whatever I've learned, I'm going to take that to my last breath. So it's really a gift in disguise from God.

Michelle Dittmer - 16:10

I love that and what I really like about what you're sharing is these are all skills that aren't taught in a classroom and for whatever reason, society has prioritized the STEM subjects, so you can be an expert at integrating functions, but if you don't understand gratitude and you don't understand who you are and you don't understand how your relationships are working in the world around you, integrating functions is not going to get you very far.

Even if you want to be somebody who integrates functions on a daily basis for money. Just knowing that skill is not enough, there is so much more to being human, and I don't think the classroom always gives us the opportunity to explore those things.

And you have really embraced that from the reflective component. Doing the journaling and the meditation and being present. That is something that comes with the freedom from academic structure because you have more capacity, more mental space, more physical time to spend on these things and to really be that person that has those skills and those abilities and taking that again into the professional realm. Having that real world learning experience where you tried out something it didn't work out in your favor, but you learned from it and you applied it and you've made jobs accessible to you've been able to earn an incredible income to support your family like that in itself is amazing and then you fortified these relationships with your family.

And again, if you had your nose down in a textbook and were just kind of barreling on, you might miss out on a lot of those opportunities and I would hazard a guess that all of those feelings you had at the beginning about disappointing your family and not living up to that expectation of going directly through Engineering to be the top student, to get the top marks I would hazard a guess that your family is pretty proud of you with the decisions that you've made.

Karan Agrawal - 18:35

Yeah, they're very happy, actually, I've been able to do my best to improve our quality of life and that's possible to a certain extent that now I'm able to dream of like you know, achieving our dreams that we've always had. So for my parents their biggest dream has been to own their home like their own house and that's something that you know I never even thought of before taking my Gap Year.

At first it was just to get by and then after we started getting by, It's about like you know, maybe just doing a bit extra by like you know, providing with family with this little small little extra things like maybe an extra night out or something or eating out or something.

And then now that I'm being able to make this income and I've been able to sustain it long term, Looking back at it, I would have never been able to think like bigger to kind of dream this big of a kind of owning my own house at problem, maybe early 20s. Just with the income I have and then being able to buy that for my family like this early on as I've been able to do right now.

They've been really proud, they've been telling me that you know, like they really did not expect that from me. You know, even that first that they first thought like hey, like I thought you were making the wrong decision, pausing university for one year and now looking back, it was a really good decision for you because you know you've been able to develop yourself and help us as well so they've been really appreciative of that.

And even then, like they, they may not have thought about it then. But now they do, right?

So it's about that mindset. Like if you're taking a Gap Year or doing something big and you don’t have that much support you gotta think of like if this works exactly the way you thought of it, how are they gonna think afterwards, right?

And that's one thing I thought of as well, like I thought you know what like if I did this opportunity like if I did not do this it's gonna regret it like I'm gonna regret not doing this and I'm gonna like I'm gonna look back at it and be like Oh my gosh I maybe taking a Gap Year would have like maybe I would have done something differently.

But now taking my Gap Year, I have no regrets, right? So it's now I don't have any regrets and I'm able to think bigger now, so like you know, my life's amazing and I'm living a really great quality of life, just because I took that risk and I made that decision that you know what like I don't care what's gonna happen I'm gonna do my best and like I'm going to follow my heart and that's why I really pretty much did and like it and now look at me like you know I'm happy my family's happy we're dreaming big it's it's amazing it's wonderful it's a gift!

Michelle Dittmer - 21:00

I love that and I love that you talk about taking that risk and it's a calculated risk, but one thing that people sometimes forget is that university or college will always be there for you. So even when you're pushing pause that ability to return back to school when it is the right time for you, that's always an option, but taking a Gap Year isn't always going to be an option, so taking that risk now and dreaming big and working hard and it's not just about dreaming, you worked hard to find the jobs that you did to develop the skill sets that you did to grow your network professionally.

You worked hard to make that happen, but the university is there for you as well and when you're ready to go back in, or if you want to do part time studies along with what you're doing, that avenue is there, and it’s not closing a door, which I think a lot of parents and a lot of students even are concerned about that by taking a Gap Year, they're actually closing a door and it's not. It's not closing a door. That door can still open. You're just kind of like taking a little walk around the and going in the back door or just doing it a little bit differently, but you still have that option on the table. Which can put people at ease when they actually like take a breath, feel it, and realize that that's still an option for them, because sometimes we get so worried and so wrapped up in those emotions and that fear that we lose some of that rational thought about what is actually the best case scenario and what is actually the worst case.

Karan Agrawal - 22:44

Also, taking a Gap Year just opens up many different possibilities as well. So for me, since I didn't like mechanical engineering right, I was more into the financial aspect of everything and when I was in university actually was part of different student groups where I got to manage the financials, create excel workbooks where I got the kind of create a plan of like a spending plan.

So I was mostly interested in that, and that's really, really prioritized on my resume, and that's really prioritized, kind of speaking with the hiring manager on those specific skills so that I've gained and that's what really got me, my internship and my jobs because of prioritizing the skill set and like my personal passions and not really like having that degree just has something as my background and also leveraging my degree as well to a certain extent, but it's because of understanding and finding my real passion in finance and generally data now, so that's why I've been able to actually switch my major so that's why I'm not within mechanical engineering anymore. I'm in industrial engineering, so there's a big difference. Big as in Mechanical is more focused on like AutoCAD and whatnot, industrials more about eliminating the effects on automating processes. It's more of what I want to do is something and what I've learned from my Gap Year and I wouldn't have learned that if I hadn't if I hadn't taken my Gap Year.

So that's one thing as well, it opens you up to different possibilities that you may actually be actually interested in.

Michelle Dittmer - 24:07

Yeah, and coming out of grade 12. Like what do you really know about the world? I asked all the time young people who say they wanna be engineers I'll say what does an engineer do? They're like I don't know like make a lot of money. I don't get a lot of respect? I don't know.

And I think getting that life experience can help put everything into perspective. And when you do go back to school, you're going to be looking at your studies through a different lens because you have life experience now, it's not just studying for the sake of studying now you can see how what you're learning applies to the real world and can apply to jobs and how you can leverage it in your future.

I know we could talk for hours and hours on the benefits of a Gap Year in your story, but if you were to give some advice to young people that are kind of weighing that decision to gap or not to gap, or should I work on my Gap Year? What words of wisdom do you have to share? What is Karan gonna share with the world?

Karan Agrawal - 25:24

First thing is first, like you gotta follow your heart and what you're calling is you gotta do what you like what you naturally think it's gonna result in your happiness and also result in your family's happiness and the people around you. So for me that was just taking a Gap Year so I can kind of gain some professional experience. Increase my income so I can give back to my family. That was the following in my heart. So I can give back to my family so they can have the best quality of life.

Your heart may take you to different places, which might be weird or like you may have some kind of regret or something, but it's about kind of like trusting in your heart and believing in it till the end and because like in the end, like you know, like life short like you want to live a happy life.

You know, like the Dalai Lama said, like the purpose of our lives is to be happy and the best way of doing that is following your heart, doing something and you naturally gravitate towards and sometimes you don't know that, that's hard to find that but that's why you gotta, you gotta try different things to find that. You if you don't know, and then you know go out there like try different things. Try the arts, try engineering, try finance! Do everything and whatever your heart likes gravitates towards more naturally, do that because that's where you gonna love doing the rest of your life.

And so when you're at the end phase of your life, you can reflect back on a happy, fulfilling life where you've been able to do your best for yourself and others. So definitely this follows your heart, because if you don't follow your heart you won't regret it.

Michelle Dittmer - 26:47

Those are huge words of wisdom and I think it's so important, this is your life to live. You're not living anybody else's life and while life is short, we hear that a lot like life is short, life is short, the other flip side of that is that life is long. Life is long to be doing something you are not enjoying or you're trying to find your place in the world.

You never find that place you spend your time searching for a lot for things in, in strange places, and when you take that time to explore earlier on, you get to discover what those things are and then get to put the next steps into place for yourself so that you can lead that fulfilling life and that you can achieve those big dreams that you've set out for yourself and I think you are a perfect example of somebody who was able to do that.

I'm so amazed by what you've done, I am so proud of you for the risks that you've taken and the amazing things that you've learned about yourself, the things you've learned about the world and the true gifts that you are giving to your family and the way that you are navigating the your life to not only lead a good life for yourself, but also to share that with your family. So I just feel very honored to have been able to have this conversation with you.

Karan Agrawal - 28:30

Thank you so much. I very much appreciate it and just having this conversation has really helped me just kind of put everything in an organized perspective.

Even for me Like talking about this sometimes, it's kind of hard to talk about this with other people, but then you've given me that platform you've given me the opportunity to speak with you, so I can kind of learn even more about myself in a way, because sometimes it's hard to know about if it's within you. But when it comes out of you like that's actually the person I am. That's so thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to understand that realize that and just like hopefully I'm able to inspire other listeners out there that you know taking a Gap Year is actually one of the best thing you can possibly do, as long as it's your calling. As long as it's something you gravitate towards.

Michelle Dittmer - 39:10

So yeah, that's amazing, and Karen, just what you said about talking to somebody about your Gap Year, I think is really important and what some people don't know is that we offer free 30 minute chats with anybody considering a Gap Year. So the Canadian Gap Year association. We know how important those conversations are, especially when we're trying to make difficult decisions so people can book a call with me at anytime

So if the listeners out there are thinking about a Gap Year, or if you're on your Gap Year and you need some suggestions, or you need a cheerleader, or you're just trying to unpack some of that stuff. That's what we're here for as an organization, and like coming from the mouth of somebody who's just experienced that, I think it's so important to know that those resources exist, so I would be happy to speak with anybody out there who's considering a Gap Year. You can just book that call with me and I'd love to chat with you.

But Karen, thank you so much for joining me on this podcast. It's been such a pleasure to talk with you.

Karan Agrawal - 30:18

Thank you for having me!

Michelle Dittmer - 30:21

I want to talk to you again when you buy your first house. Sounds good?

Karan Agrawal - 30:25

Of course, it definitely sounds good!

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