On my first day in Yeshiva as a Shana Alef student, I sat down with my Mussar Seder Chavrusa to learn together for the first time. We each introduced ourselves, mentioning a little bit about where we’re from. And then he asked me, at least if my memory serves me correctly: When are you finishing Shas?
I didn’t know what he meant. When was I, a Shana Alef kid fresh off the plane, finishing Shas? He just as well could’ve asked a Little League pitcher when he’s getting called up by the White Sox, or when the science fair winner is getting his call from NASA. I replied that I had no idea. He pressed further – but it’s on the agenda, right? I confessed that I hadn’t really thought about Shas, as I thought a single Masechta was more where I was holding. He brushed me away – I don’t care about the pace, he said; the point is for it to be something you’re working on. It’s one of our basic texts; how can you not be planning on working your way through it?
That conversation stayed with me for a long time.
It’s difficult to get anywhere significant without first deciding you wanted to go there. We don’t take vacations by throwing clothes in a suitcase, driving for a while, and checking into the first hotel we see, hoping for some fun day trips and memorable sights. You don’t get a job by taking whichever college classes happen to fit your schedule each semester and seeing where you end up. The first step of a meaningful journey is setting meaningful goals.
What goals make sense for your gap year? In another article, we suggested that while most of your time is spent learning, Torah is only one part of what you can gain from a gap year. Holistically, a gap year is about growing – as a mature, religiously inspired, Jewishly knowledgeable young adult. Your list of goal should reflect each of those elements.
A small part of the year is the fact that you’re on your own, solving your own problems. Are there experiences you want to have, like experiencing new communities or meeting new people? Are you comfortable solving your own problems, rather than falling back on your parents to manage things from afar? What relationships, with friends and mentors, do you want to walk out of the year with? Use the year as an opportunity to develop your sense of self-sufficiency and take responsibility for the things you do.
You’re spending your entire day with God’s book. Don’t forget to talk to Him, to think about Him, and to wonder how He would answer the questions you’re pondering. Tefilla is a powerful way to take your pulse on religious inspiration. Are you excited for davening? Are there parts that come naturally, while others are difficult to concentrate for? Are you giving your audience with the Holy One on High the proper respect – fully dressed, showing up on time, avoiding distractions and shmoozing? Do you feel like Hashem is actually listening to you when you’re talking to Him? What about other Mitzvos – do you see them as opportunities, or disruptions to your daily schedule? Do you wish Shabbos could spill over into Sunday, or do you leave Shaleshudis to catch the earliest Maariv in the area?
This is the easiest area to measure and set goals for. In another couple of articles, we discussed the wealth of areas there are to learn. Think about how much exposure you want to have had from each one by the end of the year. How much ground do you want to have covered? How well do you want to know what you’ve learned? Maybe you want to write up or present something you’ve learned – how often, and in what context?
One method for setting effective goals is to follow the SMART acronym. SMART stands for:
Think about each area. Write down a few goals, discuss them with your Rebbeim. They’ve been around for long enough and seen enough gap year students to have a sense of what might be relevant, within reach, and meaningful. Once you have your list, post it on your Makom or next to your bed and get to work!
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