Go to high school, graduate, go to college, graduate, get a job. It’s a pattern that most of the population is familiar with, but it’s not necessarily right for everyone. While some people, especially those who have a clear picture of where they want to go in life, may be able to jump right from high school, to college, and then into the career of their dreams, others may need time off to do some searching. The “gap year,” as it’s called, can help people define the rest of their lives.
“I’d like to say it was because I was super-motivated, but I was really drifting aimlessly,” recalls Dan Clements, author of Escape 101 (The Brain Ranch, 2007), about his first gap year spent working as a scuba instructor in Mexico. A recent university graduate with a degree in business, Clements shucked the post-grad career search and answered a newspaper ad that instead sent him to Mexico for six months. “It happened so fast. I think I didn’t have time to hesitate.”
Returning home from his sojourn to the south, Clements was surprised to find that things hadn’t changed much in his absence. “It was like the whole world had stood still,” he explains. “Everyone was exactly like I left them sitting on the couch with the remote in their hand.” Clements, meanwhile, had undergone a change for the better.
Building Confidence and Finding Your Way
“The act of doing something different from the rest of your life; it gives you confidence,” says Clements, who believes that six-month sabbatical shaped life for both him and his future wife. “I think how different my life would be if I hadn’t taken that break and how much different for the worse.”
These days, Clements works as a speaker and writer about topics like business, health, and life design, and recently had his first foray into book publishing with Escape 101. Essentially, it’s a guide for everything you need to know about planning and following through on a gap year, career break, or sabbatical. “Between college and work is the easiest time to get away; your obligations are at an all-time low,” asserts Clements. “Don’t be too hasty to jump into work. That gap year is a year out that could turn out to be 50 to 60 years of work.”
If you’re considering taking your own gap year, Clements suggests taking small steps to set yourself up. “Sometimes it’s as simple as making a gap year fund,” he advises. “And start telling people. For [my wife and I] the social commitment has become sort of powerful. You start to make connections.” That could mean something as simple as a friend knowing the best places to go during your trip, or as helpful as a relative finding someone willing to hire you in another country. The point is to commit to what you plan to do — just remember to eventually return to your roots.
Says Clements, “Home is pretty fun too. It’s not about escaping forever.”