Monday, August 3, 2009

Gap year

I've recently heard the term "gap year" for the first time. A gap year is described in one article as "a time to explore, learn, travel, and test yourself". After looking around at the programs offered and the articles written on it, my interpretation of the "year" is a time where you do anything other than progress towards your intended career goal, which seems to be a logical rebellion of Millenials to the pressure put on us by the helicopter parents that were the topic of similar lifestyle articles a few years ago.

(Ironically, it is stressed in almost all articles that you should spend this year doing something that could become a selling point in a future interview, which makes it sound a lot like college to me. But I choose to focus on the year as one of self discovery, not resume building)

I think this phenomenon sounds amazing and I wish that I had known about it when I was graduating from college. Actually, I did hear of it once, from a friend of mine whose family had all taken gap years after high school or college. At the time I thought it was just an excuse of the lucky and wealthy to put off getting a job. While I was right about the putting off getting a job part, I now see the benefit to this year. Tired and "burnt out" by 26 years of school and 10 years of progressing towards an expertise that I wasn't in love with - just because I didn't know what else to do - I wish I had known that I could take a step out of the race to assemble my thoughts and discover my passions. I don't think you have to be lucky and wealthy, only resourceful, motivated, willing to take a risk and possibly willing to live in debt for a while. But, with that, you have the chance to learn and explore for a whole year (give or take), hopefully coming out the other side a reborn person who has discovered their passion, as opposed to spending years in week-long vacation increments doing small things to get there.

Personally, I've decided to make a bad situation good and look at my time left in the Ph.D. program as a gap year since it provides me with money, travel and a flexible schedule. But I wonder now what I could have done with a year of travel and exploration between college and grad school (not a year of work, I'll discuss that topic in another post). I have yet to find my true undying passion, and maybe that could have given me some clues.

And what about after grad school? If you think gap years are just for recent high school and college grads, think again. Apparently people are taking them in the middle of their careers or while switching careers. If things I'm working on right now don't work out by the time I finish the Ph.D. program, I'm considering doing a real gap year. I think it would be very soothing to the soul to remove myself from this hyperanalytic, high-stress world to focus entirely on improving the lives of others somewhere.

So what do you think of the gap year? Waste of time or needed break?