RIP to my "bum" year.

I was always the kid that was far ahead of the rest, so not being that person for once felt like a fall from grace, at least in my own eyes. For me, to not be a high-achiever was to be a bum. So I spent a long time away from the professional world - mostly out of embarrassment. But I am no longer embarrassed. For the first time, I was learning and seeking out my passions on my own terms. In fact, I felt liberated. This past year has been one of the most happy, fulfilling, and formative years of my life, and I am proud of everything that I learned and accomplished. This is the account of my journey.

Some people are really fortunate to know what they are passionate about. Or at least what they want to do in life. Some people are also really fortunate to find out what they are passionate about at some point during their academic career.

I was not so lucky.

I did my undergrad in mathematics, but it was never a passion of mine. In fact, I picked math when I started at UNLV because it was (in my eyes) the hardest thing I could choose to do. But I tried really hard to be passionate about it. And then I tried really hard to be passionate about insurance. And then I tried really hard to be passionate about statistics. At the end of four years, the only thing I was really doing with a passion was trying hard. After graduating with my master's degree, I felt like I had worked so hard to get to a place that I didn't want to be. Plus, I felt pressure to keep moving forward, but with no idea where I wanted to go.

I knew that I wasn't ready to get a "big boy" job. I was scared of starting a career too young and growing up too soon, of not living my youth to the fullest. I was scared of getting a job that I didn't feel passion for and being miserable for years. I was scared of taking the wrong path.

I felt more lost than ever.

After some reflection, I came to realize that I was working so hard just to say that I studied the hardest subjects, got my bachelor's degree a year early, got my master's degree from a top university in one year, and did it all with a perfect GPA. I got the feeling that I was living for others, but not in the benevolent way. I was living to make my family proud, to impress strangers and friends, to dazzle potential employers, and to make sure people had a certain image of me. It finally dawned on me that I needed to start living for me, that I needed to start doing more of what actually made me happy and less of what I thought would make others say "WOW".

With the support of some of the people closest to me, I decided that I was going to take a gap year. Or as I called it, a "bum" year. I didn't know what I would do or where it would take me, but I decided to live my life with the following goals: being happy, collecting life experience, learning at every turn, and hopefully finding some direction along the way.

This pursuit took me far and wide. I ended up spending two months couch surfing in Utah, two more months couch surfing in Hawaii, and two multi-month stints living in Europe. I traveled far and wide. I saw the snow-capped Rockies, the crystal-clear blue waters of Formentera, and the seemingly-infinite dunes of the Sahara Desert. In fact, the majority of my time was spent away from home. Many people envied me because I was "getting lost" in all of these beautiful destinations. The irony was that I wasn't getting lost - I was lost and I was trying to get found.

But as cliché as it sounds, I found myself along the way. I found a love for learning, people, culture, travel, cuisine, kindness, nature, conversation, you name it. I realized that I loved living, and that was my passion.

Living life with passion taught me so many things about myself. I will keep the lessons broad in hopes of not going on and on. I discovered how to be happy and gained the confidence to seek out the life that I wanted. I also learned to build and maintain relationships, to seek out opportunities, to have an open mind, to understand and accept others, and to navigate the world - my world. All that being said, if you want to read some specific lessons, check out this blog post from my time in Barcelona.

At the end of it all, I came to see that I wasn't a "bum" for not continuing to "move forward", and nor was anybody else. I learned that we are all just trying to discover our passions and find our own paths, and that everyone has a different means of doing so.

When my "bum" year was coming to a close and it was time to make a decision regarding my future, I decided to re-try the whole school thing, but this time with a new-found enthusiam. I chose to do my PhD in hospitality because I feel it deep in my bones. After all, I was born in the city of hospitality. I love that it is a people-oriented way of learning about the world, and people make me happy. It can also once again take me far and wide, where I can continue to live and learn.

My end goal is to become a professor. I really look forward to sharing all of the knowledge and life experience that I will continue to eagerly attain. But most of all, I hope to help those who haven't found a passion, and to give direction to those who feel lost.