I’m here to tell you that gap years aren’t only for high school and college students! So before you stop reading because you are not in a position to take a gap year, this is not an all or nothing deal.
I am a big believer in taking small steps to test new ideas and opportunities. The “gap year” I’m advocating is possible for anyone because my definition of a gap year is not 365 days! It is a philosophy. It is recognizing that reflecting, connecting, listening, learning and dreaming are essential. So your “gap year” might be an hour a day, two weeks a year or periodic think days. Or it might be longer. It’s not the length that determines whether it is incidental to your life or transformative…it is what you do with that time!
As I’ve talked to others about my “gap year”, I’ve been struck by how many people have told me they wish they too could take a gap year. At first their comments just made me feel even more fortunate. Then I reflected on what they were saying and realized they (and I) were thinking too literally. That is when I started defining a “gap year” as a philosophy not a time period. Each of us must decide what our “gap year” consists of because when it comes to gap years, one size does not fit all! It might be an hour a day, a think week…whatever works for you.
I chose to hit the pause button on my career during my gap year. While this is not the right thing or an option for everyone, it was for me. What prompted me to walk away from something I loved? A confluence of things…my daughter was entering her senior year of high school; we were relocating to NYC after she graduated; I had just completed two major initiatives in my role as President of New Ventures for a women’s fashion company; and having made several other major career changes, I had the confidence to believe if I took this risk, the reward would be well worth it.
There is, however, nothing natural or comfortable about a Type A, driven, business person leaving one thing without immediately jumping into the next. Truth be told, had I let my fear stop me I would have either continued in my current role or jumped into an exciting new opportunity. But I believe we should never let fear stop us so I decided to “walk the walk” and jump into this uncharted and uncomfortable territory.
I first made a list of all the things I wanted to accomplish in my gap year. Here’s a partial list:
· Enjoy our daughter’s last year at home,
· Convert to a MAC user (while I pride myself on being a lifelong learner, technology changes are the one area where I would rather embrace the status quo!),
· Spend as much time as possible with my Arizona friends and doing the things I had come to love there,
· Find a place to live in NYC and make a game plan so I could hit the ground running when we moved,
· Binge watch Gilmore Girls (a promise I made to my daughter so we could watch the revival together this past November),
· Speaking and writing about leadership, empowering others and creating a life you love.
These things were easy to define and do. Harder to define, but the key to making this a productive time for me, was how to create and use time to think, listen, read, reflect and learn.
It started with saying yes to every invitation I could, whether business related or social. This led me to reconnect with many friends and colleagues and make new fabulous relationships. It has also taken me coast to coast as I’ve spoken to a variety of groups including Coach K’s Leadership & Ethics Center at Duke’s Fuqua Business School, the Western New York’s Women’s Foundation, Arizona’s Charter 100, Ash+Ames Female Entrepreneurs Rising and Women2Watch radio show.
I’ve put myself out there by sharing more on social media, including writing about everything from leadership to creating a love you life. Attending lectures ranging from Kathy Griffin to Thomas Friedman and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has been entertaining, inspiring and thought provoking. Likewise, reading a wide range of books has helped me think more deeply and creatively.
I’ve also ignored (or at least turned down!) that nasty voice inside my head when it warns me of what might go wrong or where I might fail.
While I haven’t decided entirely on my next chapter, I have affirmed that my greatest inspiration comes from learning about the journeys of others and that there is nothing I enjoy more than helping others create a life they love. This experience has also helped me recognize that my next chapter is less about what I want to do and more about what I want my life to be filled with. I know I want to be with people who inspire and challenge me to be better, think bigger and see things from a different perspective. I want to love what I do and do what I love, and continue to be open to new opportunities, relationships and experiences.
At the outset I believed that the rewards of this journey would outweigh the risks. However, the stakes were high as I left a company and position that I loved and that afforded me great opportunities.
I am glad to say I won this high stakes bet! This period has been the biggest gift I could have given myself and has forever changed me. In addition to entering what may be the most creative, fulfilling and exciting period of my life, I have learned new things; reconnected and connected with wonderful people; and realized I will never again think I am so busy that I can’t make time to think, read, learn, and reflect. Never again will I confuse being so busy with being my most productive.
Being as innovative in the good times as we are in the bad times is essential to reaching new heights. Taking a chance when things aren’t good isn’t that hard. Doing it when you’re at the top of your game is another thing. But this is when it’s most important to do so, in business and in life!
I hope wherever you are in your journey, you will stop and think about how you can adopt a “gap year.” Remember the benefits come from creating the perfect “gap year” for you, not from the length of time you devote to it. I have grown and been enriched by my “gap year” in ways I never could have anticipated and I am confident the same will be true for you if you give it a try!