Why Every 20-Something Should Take A Gap Year

by Taylor Stinson

In this economy, many employers are searching for applicants who have work experience that accompanies an outstanding education and other qualifications. Opting for more years of work experience means that more 20-somethings are struggling to navigate whether it is more beneficial to consider further education or to head out and make money. What some fail to recognize, however, is the value that a gap year can have in self-discovery.

The process of attaining a post-grad degree can shine light on one's ambitions in life, but formal education can also procrastinate the inevitability of taking on the real world. Generation-Yer’s problems stem not from lacking the necessary drive and determination to succeed academically or in the workplace, but in making a deliberate choice to explore opportunities that will teach us about ourselves.

The term “gap year” is commonly used to describe students who take a year off from life after finishing a degree. The reasons for taking a gap year vary greatly — desire to travel, desire to volunteer, or simply, desire to embark on an adventure — but it allows one to take a deep breath and recalibrate. Several reasons exist regarding why considering a gap year is a great choice:

Expand your horizons

Traveling is a great way to challenge your sense of privilege and re-evaluate your core values. There are companies out there that even invest in this sort of experience during the unique period of adulthood: The Real Gap Experience offers travel packages, internships, paid and volunteer work abroad. The company advertises “life gaps” that can range in time commitment from two weeks to two years.

Escape others' expectations

College (and the workplace) is full of expectations and competitive testing scenarios, which can be extremely stressful. A gap year is a way not only to counter idealism, but also a means to distance oneself from discouraging societal systems that sometimes set you up to fail. Taking this rare opportunity to go at your own pace and self-teach can be beneficial in terms of gaining more self-confidence. It can also help you to discover a true passion that doesn't necessarily fit with the norm.

Beef up your resume

Gap years are great for strengthening unused skills, especially the ones you didn't know you had. All the time away from a concrete schedule leaves room to volunteer, intern and attend workshops that will broaden skills outside of a formal, academic setting. Not only do these kinds of experiences enable a sense of pride and accomplishment, but they also help for networking. Landing a job is an increasingly difficult task and connections can make all the difference.

Discover your true self

Struggling to stay true to yourself during times of stress and pressure could be a result of not having the time to navigate values and life goals. A gap year addresses this; it is a time to be unapologetically selfish and explore what is important to just you.

Catch up on things

Our culture is a distracting one. From social media to smartphones, young adults are immersed in a society that values quick thinking and efficiency, which older generations can sometimes mistake for impatience. A gap year should be about stopping to smell the roses and catching up on those things that truly matter, like forgotten hobbies. Meaningful activities assist in constructing positive identities, which will promote positive life decisions.

It’s not uncommon to hear a Gen-Yer labeled as lazy, spoiled and selfish, but this is generally a huge misunderstanding. Today’s young adults seek freedom, which necessitates longer periods of exploration and delayed decision-making. However, this process of soul searching is helpful in the sense that it allows for a mature frame of mind when making important life decisions. A gap year helps to bridge the transition between being a student to establishing concrete aspirations that will dictate one's life.

Photo credit: blenheimgang