Many of us have thought about it, mostly while daydreaming in our cubicles, or crying in the office bathroom: How great would a gap year be?
A gap year is a period to take a break from life to pursue whatever you want. Usually, it’s right after college, but some, myself included, do it later. Sometimes, it involves quitting a job and traveling, though that's not always the case.
When thinking about taking a gap year, usually, you start by listing the pros and cons. I have done it during office meetings when I couldn’t listen any longer to the same motivational speech the boss gave for the fifth time.
Many continue daydreaming about it when commuting to work; however, ultimately, only a few take a gap year. I was one of the few.
I had solid reasons (I mean, reasonable excuses). However, the glorious gap year buzz didn’t ensue. Here is why:
1. You thought you would travel more, but...
Oh, the naïve minds of cubicle warriors. You thought kissing goodbye the Monday morning meeting would equal the nomadic lifestyle you envy on Instagram.
Somehow, your brain forgot to remind you that picking up and leaving would also mean kissing goodbye the steady paycheck.
You saved money; you were prepared, but then, the bills kept coming, bigger and vaster than you anticipated.
Some were 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, which 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 grossly underestimated the cost of traveling and overestimated your savings after deducting bill payments.
Now, you might have to move back into your parents’ place, which at least that feels like a vacation, too (for a very short period of time).
2. You thought you would have started (and become famous for) your passion project, but...
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, my personal goal, writing a book, it’s essentially something you thought you would love to make and share with the world if you have all 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 she could have easily written a five-page book draft instead of spending half a day investigating the $2.84 discrepancy on her balance sheet. Three months and a zero pages later, I truly wanted to slap myself.
3. You thought you would finally be a social butterfly again or meet "the one," but...
I am sure many of you have cancelled your dinner plans with your friends more than you care to admit because you couldn't leave the office until late or just had another truly crappy day at work.
Now that you can’t travel anymore and your passion project is dead, you thought you would go out more to repair past social sins, meet that special someone or, my personal favorite, widen your network.
There is only one tiny problem with this idea: You are the only one who is currently taking a gap year.
Your peers and potential future spouse are still working. Some are getting promoted while others are moving to better companies. They are too busy and tired to meet you on weekdays, just like you once used to be.
4. You thought you would learn something new, but...
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 that would enrich your life personally and/or professionally, like French or cooking or coding.
You borrowed books from the library, checked out interesting courses at nearby community colleges and went deep into YouTube’s how-tos.
You were sure you could learn something useful; after all, there was a TEDx speech that said you can learn anything in 20 hours. Ha, what was 20 hours to you? You had 20 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 five 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 again, now. Wait, maybe you could create a Twitter trend, #SAbacktoTC. Yep, that would do.
By the 20th week you realized that two good hours of learning and an extra 10 minutes on Google to check how to say "au revoir" in a perfect French accent were not equal to French 101.
5. You thought you would get fit and toned, but...
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 snacking was due to your highly stressful job.
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 ran around the store to try out those ridiculously expensive gym shoes, which you bought to motivate you to run, which in turn, dented 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 twice about taking a gap year? Good! I don't think gap years are inherently bad, but they do require a lot of planning and preparation.
Hone your self-discipline, save up twice as much as you think you will need and lower your expectations of external factors.
Then — and only then — you might be prepared for a gap year.