December 18, 2013

The Gap Year

It is not uncommon for someone graduating from high school to want to take a year or two off before starting college. There is the need for a break from twelve years of school, or a feeling that an adventure or life-refreshing experience would be beneficial before tackling college or other advanced education.

A few weeks ago the Wall Street Journal had an article on the concept of Boomers taking a "gap year" during their working career. This is seen as the chance to "wipe the slate clean" by exploring different options for the next part of their life. While most of the people who do this return to the working world, albeit in a different way, there are some who come back in a radically different form.  It may be tackling a long delayed dream, or a mix of part time work with a newly found passion for expanded leisure. It can mean a different living environment or location.

While the thrust of the article is not directed toward a satisfying retirement, the mindset that allows for a Boomer relaunch is an interesting idea for someone who is fully retired at the moment. Taking time to strip away old habits or ways of living and then restarting the journey would work at any age.

One of the people interviewed for the article summarized the most important step anyone must take: "Don't be afraid. That's what stops most people my age from making changes. Not only do they fear the unknown, but they fear letting go of the habits, comforts, safety and routine of their lives."

That may be true but it is quite reasonable to worry about having to convince a present or future employee to take a chance on someone who decides to take a period of time off, especially past a certain age. To not feel fear someone would have to arrange for a sabbatical, have a strong enough skill set that finding a new job would not be terribly difficult, or believe a career change is past due anyway.

If already retired, that drawback with taking a "gap year" is eliminated. Of course, there will be other upheavals, expenses, and maybe some strange looks from friends and family. But, worrying about employment isn't as high on the list. And, work may take on an entirely different form: starting one's own business, using skills in a different field, or consulting a former employer.

Personally, I would love to take a gap year (or at least the better part of a year) to wipe my slate as clean as it can be at this stage of my life. What would I do? I would get in the RV and just drive - drive until I found a fascinating small town and stop for a month or so. I'd volunteer, eat at the cafes where the town gathers every morning, get to know the local characters, find a small church to feed my soul, and adapt to the timing of that location's lifestyle.

Then, I'd pack up and drive down the road to a very different climate or part of the country and repeat the process. After several of these stops, I think I'd be ready to come back to my safe suburban base with new perspectives on my life and the journey I am on. I think I'd be a better, or at least more interesting, version of myself, with stories to tell and lifestyle examples to copy.


My home for my "gap" travels
 
How about you? If you had the chance, what would you do with a "gap" period, to wipe the slate clean and get a new perspective on life?
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If you'd like to read the entire story in the Wall Street Journal, click here


30 comments:

  1. I actually did this, though not entirely by choice, when I was 40. I had a very successful career at that point, but was laid off as part of a large downsizing of a state agency. I could have stayed with the agency, albeit in a different position. Instead I used this as an opportunity to explore my options. With the wonderful support of my husband, I returned to school for my second bachelors and masters degree and found my way to a very rewarding career for the next 20 years.

    I didn't see it at the time that I was laid off, but the opportunity to "start over" was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Yes it was a struggle at first, but I landed on both feet, fresh and invigorated, excited to start my new career path.

    I'm new to retirement, so my perspective as a retiree is quite limited. But when I think back to my earlier experience, I think that the two major things that contributed to my success at starting over were the unconditional support and encouragement from my husband, and my willingness to choose to look at my lay off as an opportunity, not as something terrible that happened to me.

    I would suppose the same would be true in a retirement "gap year". To be successful, the support of your spouse would be very important (if married). In addition, looking at a "gap year" as an exciting opportunity to explore who you are, and what you would like to do. As long as the financial piece is solid, much less risk to do this while retired, as opposed to still working.

    Maybe I'll be ready for another gap year in a few years!

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    1. Your experience is the perfect first comment this morning, Carole. While what you went through wasn't called a "gap year" at the time that's exactly what it was. You took a situation that appeared to be a major negative and used the time and your natural abilities to turn it into a life-defining change.

      Your point about support is so very important. In the mid 90's I was feeling overwhelmed with my work commitments and life in general. My dear wife gave me her full support for a solo, two week trip to Maui so I could decompress. Three years later I did it again, this time to the Big Island to get my scuba diving certificate. On that trip the family eventually joined me so everyone could get certified and we could scuba dive as a family.

      Without her understanding of my need for extended "me time" I would have not had those amazing opportunities to come back to my life and job with a fresh perspective.

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  2. If I had the money, I'd travel the US and visit art museums. I would love to see more of the west and southwest. Afterward, I'd probably quit working because I could not imagine wasting anymore time pushing papers when there's so many things I want to do. Already planning for a gap of 3 years via an IRA.

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    1. I have figured out the expenses of such a gap year trip as I described it above and it is actually cheaper than staying home for the same period. But, even if it weren't, I'd see it as in investment in my self development and happiness.

      There is so much to see and so many experiences to have, I'd exchange the money for it in a flash.

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  3. For younger people, especially males, the issue is not so much fear as responsibility. Who can take a Gap year when you've got kids to feed, a mortgage to pay, college tuition to save up for, retirement to save up for, medical insurance you have to keep? Now that we're older, it's much easier. We're actually considering going to live in London for a year, but we probably can't afford it (London, we found out, is ridiculously expensive), so we're looking into other similar alternatives . Great post!

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    1. I can see the value of a year-long break before starting college but after a career path has started it sounds quite risky to me. In situations like Carole describes, though, that ability to pause between jobs is a real blessing. And, now, as you note, Tom, a year that is a total break from the every day normal is very attractive to some.

      London is like parts of California and Hawaii but even worse. Unless you already live there it becomes virtually impossible to do so without huge sacrifices in lifestyle

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    2. Tom, London sucks the money out of you if you are a tourist. That said, I have friends on limited income who do live in London and on the outskirts. You just have to be willing to live like a brit instead of in a town house or hotel in Kensington..

      There are more than a few careers that encourage sabbaticals. You just have to get that written in as part of the hiring agreement I think.

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    3. Tom, look into a home exchange. We get inquiries most years from UK people interested in spending time in our part of the country.

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    4. Excellent suggestion, Linda.

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  4. A point to ponder for 30/40 somethings - If your company has a pension. Is the pension calculated on the "last # of years" or on the "#of highesting" earning years. While most 30 and 40 something's aren't focused on retirement, they may not be calculating the amount of lost $'s during retirement. Also, if there are qualifying # of years. Cutting your years short or altering your income level with the same company can have thousands of dollars per month effect furing retirement pension years.
    I see people within one organization I am familiar with walk away from thousands of pension dollars for a variety of "small issues." They are younger and I don't think they are thinking about the retirement pension. That being said - Seeking and finding happiness can be worth thousands. Just know the calculations.

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    1. Weigh the consequences and think long term, right Rake? Your point is important.

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  5. What a nice post to wake up to! I foresee a gap year coming for you and Betty-- you have the RV, the time, the inclination..??? Why not? Think of how many interesting posts you will have for us! Ken and I took the leap of faith (after a lot of planning!!) and as of January 30, we are retired, with a huge change in lifestyle in progress. Feels like a gap year ahead. We will be renting out our home in the suburbs, not selling it, so we can enjoy the mountain lifestyle we have dreamed of, and we have some RV plans on board,too.We both would love to spend a year decompressing from the stresses of managing a health care business for 30 years..time out for each other, for nature, for just meandering down a few highways and byways..we'd like to take the time to really enjoy visiting places like Bisbee, Rocky Point,Watson Lake in Prescott, and venture out to the coast and maybe see Oregon, Washington state, and other places we have not had time or energy to enjoy due to work commitments. We are leaving behind some old habits, furniture, and lifestyle and it's feeling better every day..the refreshment of a new perspective.. your thoughts and adventures have helped us along the way and continue to do so Bob..this is a great post with some wonderful thoughts..especially the FEAR part. I guess it's natural to be a bit scared to toss one's old life up in the air.. but the rewards of new discoveries about one's self and one's world are... priceless!! Thanks again and Happy Holidays to you and Betty--we're wanting to see some RV trip pictures soon!!!!

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    1. You and Ken are certainly about to embark on a great adventure. Just shifting to a home in the mountains a few hours from where you live now will trigger lots of adjustments. The freedom that you two will have will be somewhat overwhelming at first, but do take all the time you need to "shed' the old skins.

      Fear is an indicator of change. In your case that is good fear because it signifies a life shift is underway. I envy you your completely fresh start.

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  6. Regarding your originally described "gap year" of traveling in your RV, I love traveling, but I seriously need to come *home* between trips to absorb the adventure. We take three or four major trips a year, but still need time off in between them. But everyone is different.

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    1. Frankly, I couldn't do such an extended period at one time, either. But, how about 3 months away, 2 months home, rinse and repeat? !!!

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  7. Since I never had a direct and constant career path I think about a lot of gaps that caused me to change up the plan. I think our much anticipated move to Cape May will be the last of our adventures. But...you never know.
    b

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    1. I just read somewhere about Cape May and what a great place it is...all those old Victorian homes.

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    2. It is really beautiful! Can't wait for you and Betty to visit!

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  8. When I was 24, my ex-husband and I quit our jobs, sold our house, put everything in storage and bought a used camper for our pickup and took off. We had no specific destination, time frame, or anything. We were kind of looking for a new place to live. We spent a lot of time in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Utah. After about three months, we came home to California. We saw lots of sights and got the traveling bug out of our systems. We resettled in CA, but 4 years later we moved to Oregon and started over. While our families were in CA, and CA had every type of landscape, it was indeed a different culture. We fit better in Oregon. Course, I wasn't done making changes. I lived in Medford OR 8 yrs, got divorced, re-married, had a baby and went back to school and grauated from college in Ashland, OR. Interstingly, we then moved back to CA for several years (like I said, our families were in CA, and we had a 3 yr old). Jobs and careers were also more promising in CA at the time. We always thought we would return to Oregon to retire. It was our daughter who actually led us back up here about 10 years ago. We are in Eugene now and were able to easily find jobs here (although not of the calber we had in CA, but adequate for that point in our lives). We have been retired for 3 yrs now. When we retired, we planned a 3 week trip. What we discovered is that we were actually ready to come home after 2 weeks, but finished our planned trip. We like to travel, but 2-3 weeks is the maximum we want to be gone before going home. Times change - I live where I used to go vacation. Just don't feel the travel bug like I used to. I think about hitting the open road, but then the reality of being gone that long sets in. If I had not gone till I wanted to come home in my twenties, I would still be dreaming of hitting the road in the RV, I am glad I did it when I was younger.

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    1. That's a great story, Donnine.

      You'd think after all the traveling I did for my work I'd be strictly a homebody, too. But, that travel was strictly to get from one city to another, not to really learn anything about the area or the people. So, now I am anxious to slow down and get into the pace as a temporary local.

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  9. We are in Ecuador currently, having the time of our lives, and are fascinated by the number of retirees that have immigrated here. While I can't imagine leaving the States permanently, I'm tremendously intrigued by the idea of living abroad for a year. Apartments in nice towns can be rented here beginning at $250 a month. Everything else is similarly inexpensive. Very intriguing.

    Our gap year will very likely occur when Mike turns 65 in six years. Our plan at that point is to buy a Class C motorhome and travel the USA and Canada for 1 - 2 years.

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    1. Hi, guys! I was hoping you'd check in. I'm sure there are lots of us waiting for pictures and stories of Ecuador.

      I actually think I have Betty warming up to a modified gap year....3 months on the road, 2-3 months home, then back on the road for 3 months. With my dad and our close family ties none of us would be terribly happy being separated for much longer. This summer's trip of 70 days or so will be our longest RV experience so far and give us a good handle on how we do for that long.

      I did solve one problem. If we get as far as Upstate New York, for example, and stay there for a month, rather than trekking all the way home again, we could store the RV and towed car for a few months, fly home, and then fly back when we are ready to resume the trip.

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  10. Bob, Malcolm considered a "gap year" when he turned 40. He wanted to go back to school for a JD, but I did not feel confident running the business without his daily presence and I was not convinced that he was fully committed. In retrospect, I wish we had given the notion more serious consideration and that I had been more willing to support his desire. We are happy with this stage of life, but both of us will always have a little regret for what might have been. Now, our gap year is likely to look more like yours, minus the RV. Lots to gain from exploring.

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    1. I had an enforced 'gap' provided by the U.S. Army for 6 months after college to complete basic and advanced training. Civilian life after that break never looked better.

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  11. We never had a gap year, particularly since I have been working in one capacity or another since I was about 8 years old. A few years ago we seriously contemplated selling the house, putting everything in storage, buying an RV, and traveling the country for a year. I did the calculations and found it would probably only cost us $5-10K above just living the house and maintaining it. Instead we embarked on a new adventure in our 50s of moving entirely to TN. While not a gap year, I guess it constitutes the "not being afraid to try new things" part, and certainly has re-energized us to an extent, besides setting us up for when I join Deb in retirement.

    One more plus over our friends still in NY - we have not had a speck of snow, while they continue to get pounded day after day.

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    1. Betty and I are ready for some sort of major change or shakeup. We aren't sure yet what that means, though it certainly doesn't mean moving fulltime from the Phoenix area with all our family here. But, some serious freshness is needed. 2014 could be an interesting year.

      I don't envy those back in my old stomping ground of Syracuse, NY. They are not having an easy winter, and it hasn't even officially started yet!

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  12. Now you have me thinking...even at my age wouldn't a gap year be fun. We have talked about spending time in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Maybe a snowbird season? Love it. Anybody want to rent a park model next year? :)

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    1. You guys liked the Santa Fe area so much maybe that could be a couple of months destination!

      Linda and Art may want to rent that park model from you.

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  13. If you can swing it, do it. What you describe sounds perfect to me. Don't give up your blog. I would love reading about the people in those towns you get to know. Do your remember Charles Kuralt? I always thought that his would be the ideal life. But for several reasons RVing is not an option for us. And other ways to roam the country would be too pricey.

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    1. Charles Kuralt always found the most interesting people and told the best stories. yes, all that travel would produce some tremendous profiles of people and places.

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