Taking Time Away
Watch Your Step

Rhodes_Headshot_SketchI took last semester off. Not because I wanted to, but because I had to. In my case, it was a medical leave, due to joint pain so disabling I needed months to diagnose and fix it.

My family and I eventually found Celiac disease to be the cause. Who would have thought that gluten (think: bread, beer, pizza) could have that effect? I know — I never would’ve guessed it. By the time it was discovered and dealt with, I had missed enough weeks of class that my semester was over.

On the six hour flight home, I kept thinking of all the work I needed to do when I got back, the articles I needed to publish, the writers I wanted to meet with, the interviews I had planned to conduct.

Though I did not realize it then, in retrospect it is clear my life had inexorably become all schedule and no reflection. My unintended gap semester gave me the chance to remedy that, and I’m glad it did.

We sometimes worry about the negative stigma that attaches to time taken away from school, whether it be for medical leave, as in my case, or any other reason, such as the need to work or care for a family member. It should not.

The months away allowed me to step back from a fully scheduled life where days came and went without a moment’s pause. I had the chance to process the last two and a half years in college, to reflect on what I valued and recognize what I did not.

I came back to D.C. two weeks ago with a revitalized appreciation for having a lot to do, and a little more insight into what is worth doing.

To those who need to take time off, do not be afraid of what you will miss at school or the people you may not see for a while. The good ones will be there when you return. Embrace and savor the months away and know that you will cherish your work all the more when you come back.

If you need not take leave, then maybe find a reason. During or after school, take a semester or a year to work, travel, or just spend time on some activity you value. You will find that the result is invaluable perspective.

I can best speak to my situation, but I have connected with several others who have taken time away, and we all agree on one thing: it helped. Months off let us get better. It allowed us to mature. And it helped us become the people who not only jump at every opportunity we get, but who appreciate our ability to do so.


Samantha Rhodes is a rising senior in the College. Watch Your Step appears every other Tuesday.

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