A gap year. A sabbatical. A career break.
Has taking a gap year ever crossed your mind?
Some weeks ago, I gave a short speech about taking a gap year.
It’s a topic close to my heart. I had been looking for an opportunity to take a break from my career so that I can take the time to figure out my next step in both my personal and professional life.
Gap years are relatively popular amongst fresh graduates. However, you can take a gap year any time in your life, whether you are taking a career break or sabbatical, while you can afford to.
If you are unsure what a gap year means,
Imagine, for a moment, what would you do if you have a year off to yourself, without having to work or study, or being tied down to your commitments.
Could you list three things that you have a burning desire to do?
  • Do they include spending time alone, or with your family?
  • Would you sign up for classes you have been putting off?
  • Would you satisfy your travel bug and visit new places?
  • Or perhaps you have always wanted to start a business venture of your own?
Wouldn’t it be (more than) nice to be doing things we enjoy instead of trying to stay employed to pay our bills every month?
Does it seem hard to give up what you have now to take a break? If it does, I’m gonna tell you the truth.
It’s going to be even harder in a few years’ time.
Unless You Already Know and Love What You’re Doing

 

Should you take a gap year

As I spoke about taking a gap year, quite a number of hands raised when I asked
  • if they didn’t know what they wanted to pursue when they finished school,
  • whether they jumped straight into a job right after graduation not knowing what they want in life then,
  • if they grabbed the first opportunity to say yes to the first company that hired them because of pressure and expectations at home.
Many resonated with these questions because heading straight for a job after completing school is still the mainstream path. Most of us stumbled into jobs that turned into our careers today, without actually knowing if we wanted them. Some of us simply went along and progressed from the first job we had, without knowing if our careers meant anything to us other than our paychecks.
And then, life happens, a few years down the road and everything we now possess just seems too much and too hard to give up to just take a break from work or life because we have more commitments on hand such as loans, mortgages, insurances, family to support and so on.
There is nothing wrong with going along with the flow of life or going after what you’re chasing now, except if you often wish you’d rather be doing something else while you’re at work, or when you wonder if there’s something else that you’re meant to do besides your 9-5 job even as you’re sitting at the management table.
I’ve been there, had the same thoughts and feelings, and attempted to walk out of it for ten years.
I was an eager 19-year-old who couldn’t wait to start earning my own keeps when I completed my tertiary education. My only thought at that time was to earn my own salary so that my parents would not have to struggle so much to send me monthly expenses anymore. 
Looking back, it felt like a mistake even though it did seem like a right thing to do.
I didn’t have the time or space to think about what I want to be doing for the rest of my life, or explore where my interests would be in. I found the first company that was willing to hire me and that was the start of my decade-long career.
Along the way up my career ladder, I explored the depth and breadth of the business and industry, built my portfolio and experience, and I enjoyed the challenge and learning process, but deep down I often wondered if there was something else I was meant to do.
I was good at my job, but something seemed lacking, even after I attained my goal to work for an MNC and became the client I used to work with.
Since the start of my working life, I have changed four full-time jobs. And each time when I quit a job, my last day would likely be a Friday and my new employment would be the following Monday.
The longest time off I took was two weeks but that’s the point. Why would two weeks or even a month break cause concerns, insecurity or even anxiety in us?
Are there more at stake if we don’t hold on to our jobs? Shouldn’t we be confident and free to decide when we want to do what we want instead of being afraid of losing out?
Career is not the only factor that affects some of our decisions. Over time, our personal commitments increase and we felt there is more to lose by pressing the reset button.
Furthermore, our competitive society has been trained and cultivated to think that not working = lazing our days away =  wasting time. 
We are taught and conditioned to do our best and be constantly working towards excellence especially in the competitive times today. Taking time off would make us feel we are falling behind or even lose out. Your family may feel an invisible burden to support you sooner or later since you don’t seem to have any income.
Even when we’re doing something that we like, or taking courses to upgrade ourselves, people around us would be curious and asking how are you going to survive for the next year or two without any income. And they begin to worry about us not getting a real job, even if we are enjoying ourselves.
There are other concerns that matter too. What if when we want to come back to work and we get rejected because we have a year of doing nothing on our resume?
But, what taking a gap year is not.
Taking a gap year or sabbatical leave is not about lazing our days away or waste our precious year.
You can take the chance to do what you have always wanted to do, be it to travel around the world, sign up for that degree course, pick up a new skill, do volunteer work or to simply explore and try your hands on what you never had time for before, or simply to spend more time with people who matter to you.
This is the chance for you to explore what you have always wanted, while you still have the time and energy, or even the capacity to start anew.
I wish I had the knowledge to gap year earlier so that I could have taken the year off after school because that was the time when I had the least commitment, responsibilities and restrictions. I didn’t have any mortgages to pay for, nor do I have to fret about losing my pace and position (career path) at work when I come back.

 

Related Post :   What If You Have No Talent?

Take a gap year

But not all is lost.
We have 40 to 50 years of our life working, or even possibly longer in time to come. Why should we spend our time slogging and waiting for retirement before we can start to enjoy our time?
By then, would we still have the stamina and energy to climb the Himalayas, hike the Macchu Picchu in Peru or travel the 50 countries in Europe?
If you are tired about your job or doing work that you hate, this is the time for you to take a break.
A gap year can be a great time to take and explore if you are still looking for that purpose or passion in your life.
If you are worried about not getting a job when you are done with your leave, the experience or exposure you gather in your gap year can add colour to your CV to gain relevant work experience in a different field.
Moreover, our career trajectory is constantly evolving. We may not even need to be employed to gain income in a few years’ time.
Most of all, you are allowing yourself the opportunity to at least try what you haven’t had the time or chance to do before.
Don’t allow yourself the chance to regret. As they say, you’ll only regret what you didn’t do and not what you did do, even if you failed in it. Or you might uncover a better portion of yourself that you or no one else ever knew.
If it doesn’t work out the way you want it, you can always go back to your 9-5 work.
Your life has its own way of manifesting itself. 
I tried to walk away from the career I have built over the years. I tried to find out what I was passionate about and embarked on the journey of my dreams. Yet, even after I know what I want to be doing, the best I could do was to travel on vacations and for work each year while still being employed. I was reading my emails during vacations even.
Much as I want to live the life of my dreams, I was fearful of the unknown and the uncertain. I was afraid of giving up what I have been working hard for so long. Afraid to start anew. And, I felt there was too much to lose after committing time and effort into my current lifestyle. I felt too much responsibility to simply walk away and make my family worry about me.
All this while, it seems just too much to give up, until I realise there is no right time to do anything you want for yourself, and until you are being forced out of a situation to take that action.
2016 was a hopeful and joyful year for me, until December when I lost my child. I had decided to leave my career to spend time nurturing my family at that time. I made big plans and I was truly looking forward to an exciting future, but everything turned upside down overnight. It was (and still is) the toughest and most painful period of my life.
I began to question the value of the goals I set earlier, the reason I strived so hard. I began to realise who really matters in my life.
Losing my child has been a heartbreaking and overwhelming experience for me, but losing my job is not.
I am taking this as an opportunity to reset and rediscover what I want to be doing.
Instead of diving into new job searches, I find myself exploring other options I have never thought of before. Rather than trying to control how things should be, I allowed myself to take things one step at a time. Instead of sinking into depression, I told myself I have to stand up again.
I signed up for classes, attended events and did a lot of reflections. I purged my schedule and re-assessed my commitments. Also, I stopped checking my phone, cooked dinner and made time for my family. And I started reading more, technically doing things that mattered to me but have never made time for before.
If you are doing your last year of study, plan for a gap year if you can afford to. Make the plan and save up for your gap year today.
If you are planning for a mid-career break, all the more you should give your gap year a chance.
As Geoffrey Chaucer puts it, time and tide wait for no man. 
Don’t wait till it’s too late to start doing and enjoying what matters to you. 
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