I had two gap years. Throughout them, people kept telling me I must travel. At the end of the second gap year, almost 21, I went travelling – and came home after nine days. It wasn’t for me. A month later, I moved to London for conservatoire study. This time I lasted nine months, most of which were fairly unhappy. Despite this, it felt like going against the grain (dare I say failing?) to leave early, rather than complete the four-year course I’d begun. But once I realised that I actually wanted to be a school music teacher rather than a tie-dyed backpacker or a concert-blacks orchestral bassist, it was fairly easy to view university as a means to an end rather than the “time of my life” that previous ventures were meant to have been.
A few years later, I began MA study in order to demonstrate that I had the subject knowledge required to further my career as a music teacher. Ironically, it re-ignited my interest in research and writing, prompting a departure from teaching in order to study for a PhD. This time only one person suggested going abroad, and it was a huge surprise to most people when I decided to move to Canada. Compared to my earlier attempts at adulthood, I was now far more confident, worldly, and realistic about my plans and their relatively short-term impact on my life. Yet many friends and colleagues told me how brave I was being, an adjective that I didn’t recall others using about my previous forays into travel or study.
Do we describe people who have children as brave? People who get married, or who change jobs after a decade following one particular career path? These are all things that my peers are doing and I am in awe of the braveness that they demonstrate in making these commitments, yet such decisions are often presented as just part of the typical routine for thirty-somethings. Similarly, we rarely acknowledge the bravery of 18-year olds who begin university or go travelling because it is common amongst their age group, yet we are perhaps more likely to comment on the 18-year old who has a baby, even if she is an equally competent (or better!) parent than those who have children at a more typical stage in their lives.
Jotting all this down, I found myself humming When a knight won his spurs. Cast your mind back to sitting cross-legged on the floor of the school hall, singing about shields and steeds. The second verse confirmed that bravery could be demonstrated despite the lack of actual giants, knights and dragons in the playground. We should remember that, just as it’s ok to be bold and slay dragons (or make a lifestyle change) at different times to other people, dragon-slaying always requires bravery.
If you’re 18 and getting ready for a new adventure, do acknowledge your bravery for doing so, even if others appear to see your decisions as normal, mundane. And if you don’t know the words to When a knight won his spurs, then google it. The final verse speaks of faith, joy, freedom and truth. Cultivate them. They’ll make the dragon-slaying bits easier, regardless of whether your dragons appear in the same order as those of your peers.