Last year, I wrote about why you should have a gap year.  And, went on to embark on one myself.
Since I quit my ‘real’ job in December 2016, I have been on a sabbatical or rather a gap year, while trying to heal myself physically and emotionally.
For the past 20 months, I embarked on a personal discovery journey to search within for what I want in life moving forward. I explored career and personal interests among others. I also struck off some of my long overdue want-to-do lists. Basically, doing things that I had wanted to do previously but had no time or opportunity for. I also explored career and personal interests among others.
So, what have I done?
Solo-travelled around Central/Eastern Europe for a month
I backpacked nine cities across five countries just to fulfil my dream of visiting Europe. There, I visited museums, palaces, parks, galleries, attractions, salt mines, concentration camps. I took trains, overnight buses and walked miles. I stayed with local hosts, watched how locals spend their days, tasted local food, watched local musical/play and walked with local guides. Most of the time, I was by myself but I never felt alone.
It was a trip I had to take, for myself.
Spent more time at home with my family
Having been overseas for more than a decade, I felt not only guilt but also regrets of not being able to spend more time with my ageing parents. Even when I relocated back home for a year in 2015 for work, I was constantly busy working and on my phone most of the time.
I went home for a month just to spend time with my parents. We didn’t do anything exciting or special, but it made me realize that although the things we do on daily basis were pretty common and routine, it is the presence of those whom we love and care about that matter the most.
At the same time, I also picked up some hands-on skills and tips from my parents like woodworking, making hammocks, etc.
Exploring Interests
When I left my previous career and industry, I had some ideas on the new career directions that had been on my mind for a while. Over the last year, I explored and experimented with the various career interests I’ve had in mind. I was able to review and re-evaluate what I really wanted in a career.
I wanted a new career path where I am able to make a difference in people’s lives while being able to sustain myself. In other words, I was looking for purpose, passion and profits all tied-in together. Some of what I have tried included
  • Trainer for a local motivational training company
    I applied for a trainer role at a local motivational training company, hoping to gain some skills and experience in public speaking as well as to lead training sessions. However, as the interview went by, I was offered instead a sales role where I had to pitch the packages to clients. As the training schedule was not out yet, I said I could try out for a while. As one who lacks sales experience, I eventually dropped out.
  • Running interest based workshops like brush lettering and modern calligraphy courses
    In mid-2017, I started off giving affordable brush lettering and modern calligraphy courses with the aim of empowering children and youths to build their interests and confidence in themselves. By the end of the year, I had already conducted about 7 workshops. It was a satisfying experience to be able to share my knowledge and pass down what I know to the younger generations. Often times too, the works of my students amaze me.
  • Teaching
    Teaching young children has also been a gratifying experience for me. Over the last year, I had been giving classes to students. While the timing has been tedious along with travelling time, every lesson left me feeling like I have added value to these children’s education.
    While it’s not all glorious as there were also times when students could get on your nerves or when you received disappointing results or having to deal with expectations, it only taught me to be more patient, tactful and empathetic towards every individuals and also, the learning process.
    Not all children grow and learn in the same way or pace. The same as not all individuals achieve success in life by following the path of one successful person.
  • Selling goods online
    I also tried my hands on selling products online. While relatively simple and profitable, I stopped after three months as I didn’t feel much fulfilment in buying and selling. Instead, I was constantly feeling low-balled, questioned and pressured to respond on time while having to deal with last minute cancellations, or worse, non-responses after confirming their orders.
    This was actually the same feeling I had when I started my marine trading company a few years back. Though profitable, I was soon feeling drained doing works that seem repetitive and without challenge.
  • Digital marketing works
    More recently, I started taking up assignments on building websites and managing social media content for other businesses. I even learned to create a digital online portfolio for myself. Despite being able to earn an income from these, I still felt like a rookie in almost every aspect. I have learned much from this experience as well. Nevertheless, it doesn’t seem like a career I would want to build on.
  • Coaching
    Having dabbled in the above works during my gap year, I find myself coming back to a full circle of wanting to coach again. Coaching has always been a valuable, eye-opening and refreshing experience for me. Each client I talked to always brings me new perspectives and refreshed sense in myself.
    I learned that no matter who we are, we all face difficulties and challenges in life, at some point. It is how each of us manages and responds to these life situations that differentiates our bad past from the positive future.
    There are many of us who prefer and sometimes, persistently want to work things out by ourselves. However, more often than not, we end up being and feeling stuck for lengthened periods of time, sometimes even years, before we really see light. A coach not only helps to bring different perspectives but also asks you questions you might never have asked yourself at all.
Learning Journey
On top of picking up woodworking and hammock making skills at home, I also recently started learning how to do portrait drawing out of interest.
Over the last few months, I have also started my journey in online learning from various platforms, among them Edx which I feel is the best so far. So far, I have completed close to 10 courses online ranging from FinTech, to Retail and Operations Management to Psychology-related courses.
Though I may not have mastered or absorbed everything in the courses, the time spent on learning has broadened my knowledge in one way or another. For instance, I now know more about Blockchain, TechFin and TQM than I had previously.
With the time I have on hand, I spend most of my days reading as well, be it online, or physical books. Reading has always been my favourite past time. I enjoyed reading so much in my teenage days that I could skip sleep for it. Unfortunately, I had dropped this habit after being caught in the rat race and with the emergence of short articles online.
And, fortunately, I was able to pick up this interest again. I managed to catch up on the fictions and non-fiction that I had kept on my list for years. My annual goal is pretty simple, to read 15 books per year. Last year, I managed to complete 12/15 books. This year, I have completed more than 15 books by July.
Volunteering works. I also spent some time in doing voluntary works for causes that I believe in, mainly for youths and women in general.
I participated in mentoring programs for youths in schools and became a befriender for girls at risk residing in homes. For the adults, I spoke to women facing challenges and transitions in social enterprise, and crafted and run adult literacy training program for a local voluntary organization.
Although volunteering brings no income, the efforts you put in and the appreciation you receive from the beneficiaries are worth more. People don’t remember what you give them or make them do, they remember how you make them feel.
At the end of the programs, I have had beneficiaries coming up to me all smiles, thanking me with gratitude because not many people would have done these for them willingly.
So, What Have I Achieved with My Gap Year?
Over the course of my two years of gap year, it felt like I have done a lot of things and explored various areas where I hadn’t had the opportunity to earlier on. Yet, I realise am still on the journey to discovering more of myself more.
You know what you don’t want 
Every day, I am uncovering bits of myself that I don’t know. While embarking on this journey, I challenged myself to take on new roles and ventures, and found out for myself whether I enjoyed them or not, as compared to having assumptive thoughts playing in my mind, “I think I like training”, “Maybe online retailing will work”, “Probably I should try out running some workshops”.
Which means, you are a step closer to what you think you want
I now know what I don’t like, and what would not work for me simply because these are not aligned with who I am. By striking off those that didn’t work for me, it also brings me closer to shorten the list of what I think I’d like.
Then again, there are those that I am neutral about. For instance, on teaching and running workshops. I enjoyed myself most when I am teaching and sharing with others, but I also relish opportunities to learn and challenge myself to be better.
There have been ups and downs during this process too. There were times when I was confident I could do this for a long time, only to find myself dropping them off after a few months. And there were times when I was disappointed for not being given a chance or finding out I didn’t enjoy what I was doing as much as I thought I would.
There were projects that I had let go as well. I had contemplated taking other courses e.g real estate, jewellery design, MBA during this period but in the end, I decided to let go of them. Sometimes for practical reasons, as I was living off my savings and not earning as much as before. Other times, for psychological reasons, as I could be quite reckless in my decisions sometimes. These courses that I wanted to take involved a certain amount of investments, financially and physically.
While I was sitting on the fence on these, I went ahead with those that I had more confidence and deeper interests in instead, for example, travelling and teaching.
You are now more connected with yourself
While taking my gap year, I had pretty much a lot of time and flexibility on my hands. I was able to spend time with myself just looking inwards most of the time. On top of exploring my interests, there were certain internal emotional challenges that I had to work on and overcome. I had to work on debunking some of my limiting beliefs, dealing with disappointments and being more with myself. I am more connected to myself today than two years ago.
Also, I know what I value more in my life now. Rather than chasing the next career path or goal, I now know the direction on how I want to lead my life. I also know who and what is more important in my life now.
You learn to manage your priorities and expectations
With the loss of income, I had to learn to manage my priorities and expectations, living within my means. I learned to simplify my lifestyle and wants. Then, I learned to live simply with lesser expectations. I started living with less, doing away with luxury items and expensive outings, focusing more on time and experiences shared with my loved ones instead.
Also, I began to relish in simple life pleasures such as reading good books, enjoying simple meals at home and exploring places and interests that wouldn’t cost much.
Rather than chasing excitement, I enjoy immersing myself in life’s simple moments.
You learn to appreciate your closest relationships
When you take a break from your career or stopped working, many of those around you would start questioning your decision.  Soon, perhaps, the gap between you and those in your social circle may eventually grow apart because you are now searching for different things in life, with different goals. Your directions may change. You might drift apart from your ex-colleagues as you leave your industry. Friends might think you are wasting your time away. Some might even stop contacting you after a while.
It is this time when those who support you, encourage you and stick by you that makes the relationships most valuable. You learn about true relationships and friendships.
Parting Thoughts
While I am still on the search for self-discovery after being on my gap year for almost two years now, I am deeply thankful for being given this opportunity to do so. Every day, I am finding out more about who I am and who I want to be. I am grateful each day for being able to tweak my lifestyle more and more towards the type of life I want to lead. I am also very appreciative of the understanding, support and encouragement of my loved ones during this period.
There will definitely more moments in life when we would be questioning even our own decisions and whether what we are doing is right or not, but if not now, then when?
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