07/29/2013 12:31 EDT | Updated 09/28/2013 05:12 EDT

How to Make the Most of Your Year Off

The excitement of finishing my Bachelor of Journalism was short-lived. I identified myself as "a journalism student at Carleton" for five years, then all of the sudden I was just a person sitting in Starbucks writing job applications. Twenty-three with a degree, I saw a few options: go back to university, work like crazy for the rest of my life, or go travelling.

Much to nobody's surprise, I chose the latter. My decision was based on a couple things -- I had the urge to live abroad while I wasn't tied down, and I needed some time to regroup/come up with a plan for the next phase of my life. I decided to move to Australia and see what happened.

Unfortunately, my adventurous decision-making came with a side order of anxiety and self-doubt. Once the excitement of the cross-Pacific journey had faded (much like the delight of completing my degree) I spent two months comparing my seemingly insignificant life to my friends in Canada advancing their careers.

Luckily my attitude has changed in the three months I've been in Melbourne. Aussies are big on taking a year off and working abroad, and the relaxing vibes down under have helped me chill out and enjoy this time I have without too much responsibility.

It's obvious why a gap year can be beneficial -- clarity, life experience, and a much-needed break post-university -- but picking up and leaving comes with challenges.

Here are some tips on how to make the most of your gap year without worrying too much about the future.

1. Choose a timeline and commit to it. If you're going to take a year to work and travel, just embrace it! My mom called it "pre-career retirement" and that really helped me calm down.

2. Enjoy doing work that allows you to go home and forget about it. It's likely that in your future career you'll take work home with you. I really appreciate that once my shift is over, I don't have to think about it until I'm there again.

3. Stop comparing your life to everyone else. I happen to be friends with very motivated and successful people, so thinking too much about what they're doing just makes me anxious.

4. Focus on personal growth. I may not be getting a Master's degree right now or chasing news stories, but I know that every day I am learning more about life and about myself. The "growing up" that occurs when you live far from home is beneficial, whatever career you end up in.

5. Say yes, even when you don't feel like it. I normally have a regimented lifestyle, so breaking free of that and going with the flow has led to meeting many amazing people. My bank account is feeling it, but you have to invest money (along with effort and time) in experiencing new things. That is the reason you live abroad, right?

6. Prioritize your creative outlet. My natural instinct is to write everything down. If I can turn it into something interesting that others may want to read, great! If not, at least it's keeping me sane.

7. Channel Drake and remember: YOLO. I tried to get through this post without saying it, but couldn't help myself. If you have an urge to take a year off and have some time to yourself, do it. Some day your gap year will be a distant, fond memory that you wish you could re-live.

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