Taking a Gap Year – Not Just for Young Adults Any More by Bob Lowry

Taking a Gap Year – Not Just for Young Adults Any More by Bob Lowry

It is not unheard of for someone graduating from high school to want to take a year off before starting college. There is the need for a break from twelve years of school, or a feeling that an adventure or life-refreshing experience would be beneficial before tackling college or other advanced education. Sometimes, a college graduate will have the same “itch” to explore the world before settling down to becoming a full-fledged “adult.”

A while ago the Wall Street Journal had an article  about Boomers taking a “gap year” during their working career. This is seen as the chance to “wipe the slate clean” by exploring different options for the next part of their life.

Most of the people who do this return to the working world, albeit in a different way. And, there are some who come back in a radically different form.  It may be tackling a long delayed dream, or a mix of part time work with a newly found passion for expanded leisure. It can mean a different living environment or location.

One of the people interviewed for the article summarized the most important step anyone must take: “Don’t be afraid. That’s what stops most people my age from making changes. Not only do they fear the unknown, but they fear letting go of the habits, comforts, safety and routine of their lives.”

That may be true but it is quite reasonable to worry about having to convince a present or future employee to take a chance on someone who decides to take a period of time off, especially past a certain age. Someone would have to arrange for a sabbatical, have a strong enough skill set that finding a new job would not be terribly difficult, or believe a career change is past due anyway.

While the thrust of that newspaper article was not directed toward a satisfying retirement, the mindset that allows for a Boomer relaunch is an interesting idea for someone who is fully retired at the moment. Taking time to strip away old habits or ways of living and then restarting the journey would work at any age.

If already retired, that drawback with taking a “gap year” is eliminated. Of course, there will be other upheavals, expenses, and maybe some strange looks from friends and family. But, worrying about employment isn’t as high on the list. And, any future work may take on an entirely different form: starting one’s own business, using skills in a different field, or consulting a former employer.

I did experiment with a mini “gap” concept and enjoyed it tremendously. After debating the pros and cons for at least a year, Betty and I finally bought an RV. After several short trips to figure out the basics of motorhome life, we took a few, two month-long trips to different parts of the country. They were refreshing, memory-filled breaks from our normal routine. Looking at the photos today brings a smile to my face.

Of course, they were not long enough to really feel as if we had stepped into an alternative lifestyle. For me, that would mean driving until I found a fascinating small town and stop for a month or so. I’d look for some one-time volunteer opportunities, eat at the cafes where the town gathers every morning, get to know the local characters, and adapt to the timing of that location’s lifestyle.

Then, I’d pack up and drive down the road to a very different climate or part of the country and repeat the process. After several of these stops, I think I’d be ready to come back to my safe suburban base with new perspectives on my life and the journey I am on. I think I’d be a better, or at least more interesting, version of myself, with stories to tell and lifestyle examples to copy.

On our two month trips we made a classic mistake: trying to cover too many miles and see too many things in the time we had allotted. We were never in one place more than 4 days – certainly not long enough to be more than a casual visitor. Also, we felt that being away from family for 60 days was about our limit. So, the conclusion for us was a full-blown ‘gap” experience was not really our style.

A couple I admire are in the midst of a serious gap year experience. They sold most of their belongings, moved out of their rental home in Hawaii, and began a one-year trip around the world with nothing more than a few suitcases and backpacks to sustain them. When their journey is over they will decide where to live, what place to call home.

Plenty of us are snowbirds, living for part of the year in a different climate. But, to me, that doesn’t qualify as a real gap experience. Based on the WSJ article, there would have to be a real disconnect from an everyday routine and familiar surroundings to produce the desired effect.

How about you? If you had the chance, what would you do with a “gap” period, to get a new perspective on life? Is the idea of a time away from the everyday intriguing? Or, are you a homebody who is perfectly content with short vacations and feels no need to hit the road or shake up what is a comfortable satisfying retirement?

Part of me wants a real break, a “gap” experience. The logical and realistic part of me tells me, “No.”  I will be fascinated to read your comments.

By Bob Lowry

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