Most people at some stage in their life reach a point where they need to take a step back and consider the next move. Ploughing ahead and never really taking them time to really think about what you are doing or where you are heading can come back to haunt you.
Who can take a year out?
Anyone can! Your personal circumstances will determine the sort of “gap” break you take. You may decide to travel the world, commit to a hobby or do other work for a few months. I have picked three situations where people may consider taking a gap year but of course there are lots of other times when people might choose to take some time out. Keep in mind nothing says it has to be a year! It can be as short as a month, as long as you’re are consciously deciding that this is a break and a change from your normal routine.
- Taking a break after the leaving cert
For some this need to take a break comes after finishing secondary school, when trying to decide what to do in college. For such a big decision its surprising more people don’t take a year after their leaving cert to really think about which course (if any) they want to do. Those who are unsure usually just choose something, anything, so that they can continue on their path. They might choose arts so they can leave their options open. Maybe we should be convincing more students to take a year out before plunging into college life. This idea seems to terrify people though. The usual questions are: Will I end up falling behind? Will I find it more difficult to get back into education? Will people judge me? Etc. etc. It might not even be the student that has these fears but their parents.
Making a teenager choose at the age of 17 what they want to do for the rest of their life is a big ask. Asking this at a time when they are stressed and overwhelmed with studying is a near impossible ask. Filling out the CAO and sitting the leaving cert coincide. How can we make informed, well thought out decisions in such a hyper stressed state?
- Taking a break after college
Even if you choose a course that you are certain you want to do, things change over 4 years in college. From the age of 18 – 22 we all change and we can’t expect that our 18 year old self knew exactly what was right for us. So after college we need to re-evaluate and ask ourselves “Is the path I’m on the one I’m supposed to follow”. You may instinctively say yes, hesitate or give a firm no. If the first applies to you, you’re lucky…and in the minority from my experience. If you’re in the second or third maybe a year out is a good plan.
- Taking a break in the middle of your career
These doubts won’t stop…ever… and you may find yourself questioning your decision again even 15 years into your career. For some this doubt could be solved by a break of a few months and then returning to your career. For others taking some time out may let you change direction, change career and start again.
What sort of gap year can I take?
- Travel the world (a country, a continent)
If you have built up some savings taking a year to travel would be an amazing experience. Whether it’s to travel within one country, around Europe or around the world, travel opens your eyes. Seeing new cultures, trying new foods and meeting new people can completely change your outlook on life. It may help you decide on what you really want to do or it might just help you continue what you were doing. You’ll go back to your life with a fresh perspective, new ideas and more confidence. You may have eternal wanderlust after the experience but I don’t consider this to be a negative thing! It will encourage you to work to save for trips away or it may even encourage you to move countries completely!
- Invest in your hobbies
Do you have a hobby that you love but don’t have time the time to dedicate to it? A gap year is the perfect time to do this! Maybe you want to finally write that novel, start that blog or learn to cook. Whatever it is, if it’s something you love its worth investing in and seeing where you can go with it. Of course not everyone is in a situation where they can stop working for a year but if you are or can work less you never know what could come out of your hobby. Maybe this is something that you can start planning for now, i.e. really spending time on your hobby while working so that maybe in future you will be in a position to at least try make your hobby your job.
- Study something new
I chose to study as part of my gap year, yes this does make it less of a “break” but as long as you are studying something new or studying in a new environment it counts.
For me I wanted to move to France and the easiest way to do this was to study. It gave me the structure and challenge I needed while at the same time giving me a chance to learn something new. I chose to study in Sciences Po, a Grande Ecole in France, through French. I ended up taking many masters level classes and having to write essays and give presentations along with exams and study. However I chose to look at the year differently than I would have at home. I focused less on grades but on the experience. I made sure to travel, socialise and generally soak up the French life. I had time to start my blog, research Masters and careers and identify a new path. I gained more confidence, learned new subjects and met new people. I became more independent and became more of an ‘adult’. My French improved more than it ever could at home and its something I will have for life.
How to make sure you don’t waste you gap year?
My main advice would be to keep focused on your goals. If you just want to relax for the gap year make sure you do! If you want to find a new career use the time to research and plan. If you want to develop a hobby devote your time to it. Keeping focused on your goal will make the gap year worthwhile. The worst thing to do is feel at the end that it was a waste of time. Don’t let this happen, reassess your goals regularly and stick to them.
Have you taken a gap year? Is it something you want to do or wish you had done? As usual be sure to comment below, I’d love to hear from you!