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  • Writer's pictureAlmeera Eman

Why You Shouldn't Rush Yourself - With Jessica

Taking a gap year can be terrifying! You’re doing something completely different than your peers, there is so much uncertainty about the year ahead, and you may not be equipped with all of the gap year resources (check out our resources page at:

However, your gap year is yours to create and it can be extremely transformational! Today, one of our amazing alum, Jessica, shares her gap year journey. She was enrolled in our Gap Year GPS program, worked a variety of different jobs, travelled and most importantly, gained confidence in herself, helping her to achieve her goals!

Take a listen to Jessica’s story!

Topics Discussed

  • Meet Jessica (CanGap Alum) and what she is currently up to after her gap year.

  • Jessica’s gap year activities and journey, including working, moving to 2 times, and trying things she would have never done before!

  • What setbacks and obstacles she encountered and how she overcame them.

  • How the Gap Year GPS was a valuable toolkit supporting Jessica throughout her gap year (and how it can help you on your journey too!!)

Resources Mentioned In This Episode


Michelle Dittmer - 00:00

Hey there, everybody! Welcome to the Gap Year podcast. My name is Michelle Dittmer and I am your host and Gap Year expert. Today I have the fantastic Jess with us and I'm so excited. I love these conversations with people who are at the end of their Gap Year.

So welcome to the podcast, Jess.

I'm so excited to have you here. We've been working together throughout the year as part of the gap year accelerator program. So I know you but the audience doesn't know anything about you. So what are some of the highlights of you? And what are you up to these days?

Jess - 00:41

As you know, I'm just coming off of my gap year, which I really had a lot of fun with and I'm going into my first year of biology at the University of Ottawa. I'm really excited, I just finished doing a whole bunch of workshops, getting to know some new people and I'm just kind of working on getting out there.

Michelle Dittmer - 01:01

That's awesome.

And you've got even a little bit of time to chat with us even through all of these transitions. So I'm really grateful you're here because I think you've got some really important messages to share with people who are either considering a gap year or just starting a gap year.

You're now a gap year alum that has been there and done that. So you've got lots of things to share and we're going to uncover a couple of them in this podcast episode. Why don't you give us a little bit of background? What were the factors that made you want to take a gap year?

Jess - 01:38

So, a little bit complicated with that. I have always been that student who I was always afraid of failing, I had to get that A mark, I had to get an 80 or I'd be disappointed and school kind of took over in the last couple years I was in school and I kind of pushed having a life aside.

And I was always very stressed out so I decided that taking a gap year would give me the chance to take a step back from school kind of find myself away from school because I found that who I was and anytime I was talking with anyone it was always school I didn't have anything else to talk about I didn't have life experiences I didn't have much and I really wanted to have more and I wanted to try and find ways to kind of become my best self and that was the best way at the time I could think of to help me have a better sense of self and more confidence before I went to the next step.

Michelle Dittmer - 02:37

And I can say that with 100% certainty that happened because the jest that started almost a year ago now would not have been able to articulate all of that in such an amazing way. So leaps and bounds in terms of personal growth that has happened to you and you had a lot of self-awareness to recognize that You were all about the school, all about the academics and your identity and your worth was kind of caught up in grades and there's more to life than that and you took a very proactive step to choose to test some other things out and get out there and try some other things.

So what were some of the things? What did you do in your gap year? Everybody's always curious what people are up to?

Jess - 03:35 So I did a lot of different things. I moved twice during the gap year. I moved to a different city with my mom which was like four or five hours away so it was entirely new. It was a small town so you had to leave the town and explore the area to kind of see new things.

During that time period I also got a job at McDonald's. I know that it sounds very stereotypical but I have no regrets there. I learned a lot of life skills and met some really incredible people. Even one of my good friends now I met there and we still talk all the time.

I did the CanGap program and I really enjoyed doing that because it's like something to do on the side so I was still able to work and still kind of work on myself on the side.

I moved again in April and I took a bit of a step back from working until the school and then In summertime I worked as a program coordinator to summer camp so I got even more work experience which is always nice for resumes and just kind of actual experience in the world rather than just kind of imagining what you think it might be out there because at least from my experience it's not it's entirely different it seems very scary and hard but you kind of make it what you want it to be.

If you want it to be fun, there's ways you can get there. You just have to kind of will it into existence. Michelle Dittmer - 05:03 Yeah, and you worked hard for those things. You made them happen. And I think that you're very right. A lot of people just feel that they're kind of a victim of whatever is happening around them. And sometimes you've got to create your own magic and you've got to make things happen and you've got to Be the one in control and taking risks and putting yourself out there and trying new things and meeting people and talking with people that you maybe haven't historically done.

And I'm gonna push you to maybe share a little bit about the story of how you got your summer job because you didn't apply for a program coordinator job. But you did take a risk, so tell us about what you applied for and the risk that you took.

Jess - 05:54

Alright, so I was kind of in the earlier to mid-wave of applying for jobs and I was just looking for something easy to do in the summer, so I applied as a camp counsellor because I figured it's easy to become a camp counsellor, people will take you and it's just kind of the easy way to have a low-paying job that's still fun because I like working with kids a lot.

And then as the time came closer I had some training that I did and then I had my first day before work started at my location and I found out that my program coordinator was no longer going to be working with us and before this I had already considered applying for the position but I didn't think that I would be good enough for it or that they'd take me and I was a little bit afraid of being rejected there. But, after I had someone there actually tell me you know maybe you should consider it and having someone kind of say again put that thought back in my mind really pushed me and then I was like you know what's the worst that's going to happen I keep the job I have right now.

I did apply for it and even the interview was almost fun. It was like a really good experience and I was really pushing myself and then I actually did end up getting the job rather quickly and it was definitely an adjustment because it was kind of catching up on where everyone else already was. But I have absolutely no regrets with it. I had a lot of fun and that was actually one of the moments that I noticed, you know, this gap year really was worth it for me because maybe even like September or the summer before that never would have happened. I would have just gone with the Camp counsellor job and just gone with it or even gone with just a volunteer position again as I had before because I was a little too nervous of not being qualified for the job.

Michelle Dittmer - 07:55

I love this story so much because it exemplifies all of the things that you learned about yourself and about challenging yourself and about taking risks and about the fact that you are talented and competent and valuable to other people and you were able to step out of your comfort zone and to take a calculated risk.

And I love the fact that you said that it was terrifying. And it was scary because when we are getting outside of our comfort zone it is hard. And you from a year ago never would have had the confidence to take that risk. And you were able to recognize like, hey, if it doesn't go my way, that's fine too. And so you've also adjusted your relationship with failure a little bit from that A plus or bust to, hey, if I don't get it, I'm still going to be okay.

So maybe you can tell us a little bit more about what you think some of the things that led to you becoming more confident or led to you being more willing to take those risks. What did that, how did that evolution happen?

Jess - 09:24

I really think it was a lot of different things. I know the program helped a lot like having someone to talk to every week and then also the mentorship one which was I think like Five weeks, six weeks or something. Just kind of listening to and talking about things like their life experiences and things that they've been through was really helpful to just kind of get a bit of a different perspective on everything and being in a new place was already pushing me outside of my comfort zone. Working at McDonald's you're kind of in a very fast-paced environment where you have to make quick decisions, you have to know what you're doing and you have to learn quickly.

That also really did help a lot and just kind of a mix of everything. I also had a period of like a month and a half where I was living alone during the week while my mom was in the city and that was also kind of pushing my limits a bit.

So really taking those chances just throughout the year even if they were small things like I always used to be the kind of person who like I wouldn't even mix my food. I was very set on it to be a certain way, I'll only eat certain foods. And then I decided, you know, well, what if I'm missing out on something that I'm going to love or really like? And I started trying something as trivial as trying new food is where I started with things. And that pushed me to be like, okay, well, I actually started liking things that I didn't think I'd like, and that kind of pushed me to start taking slightly bigger chances and then as things were like working out or even if they didn't some things was like yeah no maybe I shouldn't have tried that wasn't so good.

I still kept kind of pushing myself with stuff and just trying new things no matter how small and trivial they might have seemed at the time really kind of piled up to help a lot and even after my gap year I plan on continuing to try new things because It's just such a great thing and it's such a good feeling when you go and you're like, okay, I'm going to try this new thing and it works out.

Michelle Dittmer - 11:45

Yeah. And I like that you're sharing how you can take little baby steps. You're not going to transform overnight. It's not one of those Cinderella moments where like your fairy godmother waves a wand and poof, you're a different person. It's a slow process.

And it can take a while and it can take all those baby steps to compound one on top of another. And sometimes you look at yourself and you're like, nothing's changed because you don't notice those small changes minute by minute, day by day, month by month.

And then all of a sudden at the end of the year, you look back and you're like, wow, I did a lot of things. I'm really proud of myself. I've grown a lot. And so some people can get frustrated in the first month or two when they feel like they're not making progress in a way that they thought they did regardless of what their definition of progress is. So what was your take on that in terms of like when did you feel that this gap year was actually a good choice for you and actually worth the time that you were putting into it?

Jess - 13:00

So it did take me some time. I had this idea in my head that like, you know, first month I'm going to have it all figured out. I'm going to be like, yes, this was right for me.

And honestly, in the first maybe like a few months before the new year, I was like, maybe this wasn't the right decision because all my friends were going to school.

They were talking about school. They're talking about all these things and how great it was. And I'm like, well, maybe I should have done that instead. And then it got better as time went on, as I was starting to do more, try more. I'm like, well, I was in school, I wasn't gonna be able to try this. I wasn't gonna do all these new things.

And then in the summer, like I mentioned with the job especially, but kind of in that time period, I was really noticing a lot of changes in myself. And then that kind of put in a bit of that idea of, well, you know, it really was worth it because I'm like a totally different person. Like the people around me, I've changed a lot and in my opinion a lot for the better and it takes time to notice it and for me it was like two months before the end of my gap year officially so it was a long time but that's also because you don't necessarily notice it in the moment it takes time like you mentioned.

Michelle Dittmer - 14:28

And I think you're doing incredible things every day, but sometimes we don't recognize how incredible they are until you look back and see this list of things that you've done, whether it's books you've read or art you've created or friendships or relationships you've made or broken, jobs you've had, skills you've developed.

So it's really important to throughout your gap year take that time to pause and reflect on these things otherwise we don't notice them and that can be really helpful throughout to keep some sort of record of what you're noticing about yourself and that could take any form. Some people like to journal, some people like to take photographs of things that they're doing. Some people keep lists, some people update their resume every time they do something. So there's lots of ways that you can document all of these incredible experiences that you're having and the kind of micro changes that end up amounting to major changes. I'm curious for you, what were some of the best things that supported you throughout your gap year? What are some things you would recommend that other people on a gap year try to put into practice or they try to access different support? What would you recommend to them?

Jess - 15:54

I think that like this program specifically was really helpful. A lot of people do travel and go out and about and stuff. I personally didn't do that because I wanted more money for school so I can go further in that.

I don't know all of the resources at that per se, but I know like with this program just in itself was really helpful. I also turned to like family friends kind of talking to them. I also think a big part of it is kind of your attitude and working with that, um, and trying to kind of develop a mindset of you don't have to be like everyone else. At the beginning of my gap year, I was very, maybe I should have travelled like everybody else's.

Cause like I have some people that, um, I'm still on like social media with from the beginning of my gap year. And I see that they're like traveling the world there, meeting all these new people and sometimes it can get a little bit almost intimidating, it's like, well, maybe I'm not doing enough, but I mean, if you're doing something that works for you, that's all that matters.

And I think that a big part in helping me see that was just kind of my support system in general. Like I'm really close with my mom and she was a big part in that. Just like talking on calls with different people from this organization, with my mentor, It was very helpful to just kind of help get the best attitude possible when approaching the gap year and really developing that mindset of your gap year is yours. It's not, it doesn't have to be what the idea of you think a gap year should be. It's what's going to work best for you and what is realistically possible for you and kind of finding a happy medium between them while still trying new things and going for kind of what your dreams and goals are.

Michelle Dittmer - 17:57

You gave me goosebumps when you said your gap year is yours. Like that really resonated with me and I got like goosebumps all up my arm because that's exactly it.

There's a saying that goes, “comparison is the theft of all joy”. And the second we start looking at what others are doing whether that is going to school or having a more quote-unquote glamorous gap year or even comparing it to what you think you should be doing rather than what you're actually doing.

When you start to compare you lose focus on what's actually right for you and you're trying to live out somebody else's plan. But it is your year, this is your chance to do the things that you want or need to do. And I love that message, I think that's such an incredibly powerful one. That everybody should take to heart because no two gap years look the same and there is no wrong way to take a gap year. Whatever is right for you and people will always get on me, I always say if you're working towards your goals, which is central to everything I say, then you're doing it right. And I just think that message is so powerful.

And I'm also really glad that the Gap Your Accelerator program, which is now called Gap Your GPS, we just gave it a new name, was helpful to you, because that's really what our goal is with the program is to be that sounding board that those people to make sure that you're getting access to the support and the resources and you're having those conversations and you're being asked to go deeper and not just accept things at surface value and looking at things that maybe you wouldn't have ever looked at before.

So I think it's really great to hear that was a good support for you as well as your community. Like, oh my goodness, having that support and those people to turn to is just so, so invaluable. So if we're going to leave with one question, the question would be, what would you say to yourself from one year ago? So the summer before your gap year, if you could just reach into your ear a year ago and just whisper a little something, what would that message be to yourself?

Jess - 20:39

That's a hard question. I'm not sure. I, I tend to talk a lot, so the odds are good, it would be a little bit longer, but a little monologue. Yeah, most likely!

But it would probably be something along the lines of like, just kind of go with what happens. Like, you know, the cliche, go with the flow. It's a cliche for a reason. It's really, uh, I mean, it might not seem like in the moment that it's the, Most important or pertinent thing or it might seem like well why bother doing it I mean no matter how small it is it really adds up quickly and it makes all the difference and instead of worrying about this and that and that and this just kind of letting it happen and as it happens kind of adjust and kind of be flexible and I think that's really that would be really helpful and that probably would have helped changed.

I mean, I'm stubborn. I probably wouldn't have listened to myself, but that helped. It probably would have helped put that idea in my head to just kind of go with the flow. Don't worry about making it the perfect gap year. It's going to be perfect by the end because it's your gap year.

Michelle Dittmer - 22:00

I love that, such words of wisdom and I hope that everybody who's listening out there takes those words to heart regardless of where they are on their gap year, whether they're just heading into it or midway through or they're feeling that frustration that you were feeling that maybe you weren't, it wasn't worth it and but in the end that messaging really came through that this was a really good choice for you and you've grown so much.

I'm so amazed by you and the transformation that's happened and I know that you're proud of yourself and it was just such a pleasure to work with you this year and thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today, Jess. It's been a pleasure and I know people will take away so much from your experience.

Thank you!

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