Many of us have thought about it, mostly while daydreaming in our cubicles, the rest while crying in the office bathroom: we need to take a gap year! Gap year is a period to take a break from life to pursue whatever that is you want, usually it’s right after college, but some, myself included, do it later; sometimes it involves quitting the job and traveling, while it’s not always the case.
The thing about thinking about taking a gap year is you start to list its pros and cons. I have done it during office meetings when I couldn’t listen anymore to the same motivational speech the boss was giving us for the fifth time. You think of all the good things versus all the bad things, if there even are any. And many people just keep daydreaming about it when commuting to work, while only a few actually take a gap year. I was one of the lucky few. I had solid reasons (I mean reasonable excuses). However, the glorious gap year benefits didn’t really happen. Now, let’s elaborate.
1. You thought you would travel more during the gap year saga
Oh the naïve mind of cubicle warriors. You thought bidding goodbye to the Monday morning meeting equals the nomadic lifestyle you have been envious of on Instagram. Somehow your brain didn’t remind you that it also means bidding goodbye to the steady paycheck. You saved; you were prepared.
But then the bills kept coming, this time bigger and more than you anticipated, some due to all that “I am free from work!” celebratory parties/drinks/dinner you threw and the rest because, well that’s just how life works. Also, you really needed to buy that travel pillow, luggage tracker and night vision goggles since you were jetting off to your FIRST travel destination the coming week. But this turned out to be your ONLY travel destination, because, hey, traveling is damn expensive. Somebody needs to update the book about surviving on one dollar a day in South East Asia.
It’s obvious that you had grossly underestimated the cost of traveling while overestimating your savings after deducting the bill payments. Now you might have to move back into your parents’ place, but hey, at least that feels like a vacation too*. (*For a short period of time.)
2. You thought you would have started (or even be famous for) your passion project during the gap year saga
Once travel was no longer an option, starting your passion project must have felt like the right move. Be it breeding sheep on a farm, building a black and white photography portfolio or, from personal experience, writing a book, it’s essentially something you thought you would love to create if you have the free time. Well free time you had, but a few months later you want to laugh at or slap yourself for seeing your previous job as the biggest hindrance for your passion project. It’s not your job. It’s you!
It’s me! The same person who once thought that I could have easily written a 5-page book draft, instead of spending half of my day investigating the $2.84 discrepancy on the balance sheet. Three months and a zero-page draft later, I truly wanted to slap myself.
3. You thought you would finally be a social butterfly again or meet the one during the gap year saga
Some time ago I read that office workers in America only work effectively for 90 minutes each workday. The first thing I thought when I read that was ‘What bullshit!’. The second thing was that maybe I should move to the US.
Having dealt with corporate life for close to a decade, I can honestly say that your job is only going to get harder and harder, which sometimes means you have to sacrifice your social life for it. I am sure many of you have cancelled your dinner plans with your friends more than you care to admit in the past years, just couldn’t leave the office until late, or when you had another truly crappy day at work and you didn’t want your friends to see this ugly(er) side of you on the same night. Let’s not forget about crawling into your bed instead of going on a girls’ night out, which is actually a privilege for both genders.
Now that you can’t travel anymore and your passion project is dead, well, you thought you could go out more, to repair your past social sins, to meet that special someone, or my personal favorite, to widen your network. There is only one teeny tiny problem with this idea: you are the only one who is currently taking a gap year. Your peers and future spouse candidates are still working. Some are getting promoted while others are moving to better companies. They are too busy or tired to meet you on weekdays, just like you once used to be.
4. You thought you would learn something new during the gap year saga
You are not traveling, painting a masterpiece, or meeting your friends more than usual, so you pulled your trump card when people asked you ‘Why are you taking a gap year?’. You told them that you want to learn something new, because you do. It’s something you have wanted to do for the longest time, to learn a skill that would enrich your life personally or professionally, something like French or cooking or coding.
You borrowed books from the library, checked interesting courses at the nearby community school and went deep into YouTube’s how-tos. You were sure you could learn something useful; after all, there was a TEDx speech that says you can learn anything in 20 hours. Ha, what was twenty hours to you, you had 52 weeks!
Your first hour of learning went well, so did the second hour, but by the fourth hour the Internet stubbornly became slow, and when you turned on the TV just to refresh your mind for 5 minutes, a Sex and the City marathon was on, all six seasons of it. Never mind that you already have the whole set of DVDs, you had to watch it, together with the whole world. Wait, maybe you could create a twitter trend, #SAbacktoTC. Yep, that would do. By the twentieth week you realized that a good 2 hours in the beginning and an extra ten minutes on Google to check how to say ‘Au revoir’ in a perfect French accent were not equal to learning French 101.
5. You thought you would get fit and toned, emulating Scarlett Johansson’s bod during the gap year saga
When you failed to squeeze into your pencil skirt, which fit perfectly two seasons ago, you promised yourself you would definitely train rigorously in the gym once you had the free time (read: gap year). You even convinced yourself you need to take the gap year for your health. All that binge snacking due to your highly stressful job: if you didn’t stuff that second donut into your face during coffee break, someone was going to get coffee spilled all over their keyboard. Yeah, your low-sugar-office-mind was evil, which was why you kept feeding it to keep it calm.
Once you took the gap year you started living a stress-free life. You could go to the gym, but a gym membership is too expensive for an unemployed person. Why not just do free sports like walking, running or swimming? And you did it, once, when you tried to run around the store to try out those ridiculously expensive gym shoes you bought to motivate you to run, which also caused a dent in your saving account.
Right after that day, the season changed and you stayed put, waiting for it be bearable to do any kind of sport outside, while eating junk food and munching all day. Hey, nobody should blame you. Now that you are not working, the only meal you can afford is the happy meal and two bags of tortilla chips. Every day. Four months and sixteen pounds later, you wonder what the hell you turned into.
Does all this make you think about taking a gap year? Good! I wrote each point from my personal experience, but does it mean that I think taking a gap year is a bad thing? Not necessarily, but there is a lot of planning and preparation to be done.
Hone your self-discipline, save up twice as much as you think you will need and lower your expectations of external factors, and then maybe you can take a gap year. If you can’t, I say stop making stressful life an excuse to live a healthier or passionate life. Also, continue to save and go travel every chance you have.