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
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.