Monday, December 16, 2013

Why Take a Mid-Life Gap Year?

Many people take a gap year between college and their first job. I took mine after 5 years. Here's why I took a mid-life gap year.

What have I done with my gap year? 

I visited 3 countries, traveled the East Coast by sleeper train, visited 6 states (FL, CT, MA, CA, HI, NJ, NY), started a travel blog, volunteered at an after school program in Peru, worked at a hostel bar and restaurant in Cusco, rode horses in Ecuador, started selling earrings at a local salon, made new friends and connections across the globe, took cooking classes, photography classes, yoga classes, Spanish classes, and became conversationally fluent in Spanish.

It might seem like my super productive gap year wasn't really a break at all, but for me it was. The flexible schedule allowed me to explore my interests and to build stronger connections with those around me. I saw the time off as a chance to regroup and to make sure that I was on the track I wanted to be on.

Why did I take a gap year?

I worked constantly throughout college. I worked long hours not only in class, but in numerous work-study jobs to begin paying off huge college loans. I had a lot of opportunities to develop professionally, but fewer opportunities to explore my interests and develop personally. After college, I went to work (3 jobs simultaneously including one full-time position, a part-time sales job, and a small consulting and advertising company that I started) and had very little spare time. This cycle of working multiple jobs and having very little work-life balance continued for years until I stumbled into the opportunity to travel abroad to volunteer and learn Spanish.

How did it go?

For the first couple of days, I found the blank schedule to be daunting and was unsure of how to spend my time. I watched an entire season of Orange is the New Black in less than a couple of days. But I soon realized that this is not how I wanted to spend my time. I  took the same approach to my schedule as I always had. Fill it up with the things that interest me and the people I value. Soon, I found myself enrolled in numerous classes and planning various trips.

Time off isn't for everyone. I think it's great for people who are productive and find it easy to stay busy without a 8-6 work schedule. I don't think the gap year always has to be a year long, either. For me, 6 months was plenty of time. You also have to be ready to take on the costs and risks. I was lucky to have saved enough to take off 6 months of work and still be able to afford health insurance and to have a cushion if I am not hired for a full-time position immediately after the 6 months. But I think with planning, foresight, determination, and effort, these costs and risks can be mitigated and a gap period can be an incredibly valuable experience. Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

What would you do with a gap year?

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