Why Taking a Gap Year Could Help Your Career

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Many of us discover early on what we’d like to do with our futures. As we grow older, we learn to tread the path necessary to get us closer to our goals, often following routes charted by those who came before us. From the time I knew I wanted to be a college professor, I understood the route to be this: obtain a Bachelor’s degree in my field, then a Master’s and finally a Ph.D. Through most of my undergraduate years, I was dead-set on moving straight on to graduate school after getting my BA.

In my mind, the normative and essential path to my desired career did not leave room for rest stops, lest I fall behind – or worse, lose momentum and stop altogether. But, because I was running so quickly and fervently toward the next step in my plan, I was unfocused. I hadn’t taken the time to decide on a path of study, nor to confirm that my desires for the future were still the same. So, around this time last year, I decided to press pause on my future plans and take a year off from school after graduation. Despite my worries about falling behind, I wanted to step back, not only to allow myself time to confirm my desires, but also to choose a topic of study with the potential to sustain me through many years of research.

For an achiever, it’s common to see one’s career journey as a race. At first glance, it appears that there is one path to the finish line and deviating from that path would only bring delays. While this is not the case for all fields, it is for some. Thus, the most reactionary part of us might think that slowing down – even for a little while – would be postponing our dreams, and to do what?

gap year

For recent college graduates and humans in general, time not spent in active pursuit of our dreams can feel like time wasted, if we let it. But, just as race cars need pit stops for repairs, humans in pursuit of their dreams can benefit from a break, to step back and take stock of where we are, where we’re going and how we’re going to get there. Whether this time of waiting is voluntary or not, eventually, we must choose between despairing over time “wasted” or committing to making something out of that time.

What each of us makes of a gap year will vary, but there are tangible ways to be productive even when it feels like our dreams are on hold.

1. Invest time in caring for your health.

For college students, it can feel like there just isn’t enough time to spend at doctor’s appointments, at the gym, or in the kitchen cooking nutritious food. For this reason, the postgrad stage is the perfect time to pause and devote some time to our health, both physical and mental.

Whether we’re seeing a doctor for the first time since starting college or embarking on a new exercise regimen, a gap year (or any stretch of time before entering our respective industries) provides the perfect opportunity to work on our health long-term, which will only make us more able to take on new challenges that future careers might bring.

2. Learn a new skill or hone an old one.

The post-college period is also a great time to practice our hobbies or explore new ones. In some cases, the skills we work out in practicing our hobbies can translate directly to the work we will do in the future. This does not have to be the case, of course, but focusing on a skill that will help us in our future careers is one way to combat feelings of un-productivity.

… just as race cars need pit stops for repairs, humans in pursuit of their dreams can benefit from a break, to step back and take stock of where we are, where we’re going and how we’re going to get there.

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3. Reconnect with old friends.

Finally, postgrad is an optimal period for reconnecting with old friends, especially for those of us who are readjusting to life in our hometowns after graduation. For postgrads that move back home, the absence of an abundance of nearby college friends can leave us feeling lonely. On the flip side, moving back home allows us the chance to reach out to old friends that are still local. Whether it be one of our closest friends or someone from our larger circle of acquaintances, revisiting those friendships (or acquaintanceships) can help us feel more connected to our hometown and less lonely in this stage of life.

Taking time off from the race towards career goals can make us feel lonely, restless and maybe even depressed. However, through investing time in ourselves, our skills and our relationships we can turn this season of waiting into a season of rest and repair, a season that re-energizes us so that we are more equipped for the next leg of our journey.

Have you ever taken a voluntary break from your career path? If so, how did you make the most of that season of waiting?

Images via Esther Baseme

Rachel holds a B.A. in French with a minor in Linguistics from the University of California-Davis (2016), and will begin graduate studies in Romance linguistics and second language acquisition this fall (2017). Rachel’s hobbies include reading books of all genres, hanging out at coffee shops, and having deep discussions with friends over brunch.

11 COMMENTS
  • Jessica April 27, 2017

    At 29, I decided to take a “gap year” and went to Prague to get my TEFL certification to teach English abroad. I ended up teaching English for the following two years! It was absolutely amazing and I really recommend this to anyone who wants to take “time off” from work, while still being able to earn a living abroad.

  • Anonymous April 3, 2017

    As long as your parents don’t have to fund your time off, go for it! Otherwise, you really aren’t making things better for anyone…

  • Anonymous April 2, 2017

    Thanks for this Rachel,

    As I’ve found with many darling articles this found me at the perfecftc time – on a morning when I felt like I had been “wasting my time” after having taken some time out which wasn’t totally voluntary. The article has reminded me to enjoy the process of considering what step to take next and to fully enjoy the hobbies that are making my heart sing. I made the mistake of racing towards a career that didn’t fulfil me, and having this time will hopefully guide me in a more purposeful direction
    X

    • Rachel Weiher April 3, 2017

      I’m so glad this resonated with you! The more I talked to friends of mine not yet working in their field, the more I realized this wasn’t just me, and that many other postgrads might feel this way too!

  • AuntJ April 2, 2017

    In answer to some previous comments: Once you’re on your own financially, it can be hard to take a year away from work–unless you’ve saved a nest egg to cushion your gap time. If a year without working isn’t feasible, consider a change–different job with the same company, same job with a different company–or both! If there’s work to which you are leaning, see if you can volunteer or do an unpaid internship–many places value those that give of their time. They see that you have a vested interest and they likely will give you extra consideration when a position is available. It’s never too late to go back to school–I’ve got 2 advanced degrees–each was chosen when it was the right time for me. For one, I saved up money to attend full-time while working part-time. For the other, I worked my full-time job and did grad school over a 3-year span. I think a gap year is a wonderful idea–get out and explore!

    • Rachel Weiher April 2, 2017

      This is wonderful, practical advice! Thank you!

  • Anita April 2, 2017

    I’m seriously considering it, as I don’t know what the next step is for me. I have a good job and do well for myself, but I feel VERY unfulfilled. I can’t really see the forest for the trees, so to speak. Any advice for taking a gap year post college and in the middle of adulthood?

    http://vignettesavannah.com

    • Anonymous April 3, 2017

      Set yourself up to fund your own gap year by eliminating debt and living well below your current means. It is entirely do-able, but you don’t want to just walk away without a plan to sustain yourself at a lower ending rate. Another option is to do something entirely nuts and start a side gig doing what you love. I built an online business over the past four years and have also cut spending way back. I will (hopefully) be walking away from my day job for good next spring. It takes time, but you can do this and do it well! Also, if you enjoy Starbucks, food trucks and dinner out with friends, kiss those goodbye for a while while you save for your dreams :).

  • Natalie April 2, 2017

    I;m at a stage where I would really like to take a gap year. I’m at a bit of a loss with my career/mental health and I’m not sure where to go next. But, unfortunately, it’s not really that much of an option right now but this has given me a lot of food for thought

    – Natalie
    http://www.workovereasy.com

  • It’s not often that people in my culture take gap years, because most here see it as “wasting time”. I wish I’d taken a gap year though, it would’ve been so fulfilling to travel or to work! I’m glad that people are beginning to see gap years differently now.

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
    http://charmainenyw.com

    • Rachel Weiher April 2, 2017

      I’m glad it’s becoming more socially acceptable, too!

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