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Why You'd Be Crazy to Not Take a Gap Year

Luke Armstrong | Jan 6, 2022

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Why You'd be Crazy to Not Take a Gap Year
This blog post was updated February 26, 2021.


Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it,” said Ferris Bueller in his iconic speech.

From the moment I first heard this quote in high school, the truth of it reverberated deep in my being. I’ve lived my life accordingly and it’s led me to lead a life more enriching than I imagined was possible—a life where the hard-laboring  “real world,” high school teachers warn about turned out to be the “surreal world,” a magical place where all your dreams come true!

All our lives, we seem to be preparing for what comes next. We go to grade school so that we can go to high school. We go to high school to get to college. We go to college to get a job. We get a job to pay off the debt we incurred going to college. We, to quote Cat Stevens, “Find a girl, settle down,” and then make human beings of our own who repeat this cycle.

In all this rush to prepare for the next thing, when do we get to do what we really want to do? When do we ever have time to sit down and figure out what exactly it is that we really want to do?

The reality is, life does move pretty fast. There are so many pressures to accomplish a much. But it doesn’t matter what you accomplish if you aren’t connected with a clear vision of why you do what you do.  A gap year provides a space for a newly minted adult to figure out who they are.

It seems obvious—answering the question, “Who am I?” should come before the question, “What should I do?” A gap year is a rigorous effort at fully meeting that person you greet every morning in the mirror. And even though you aren’t in a learning institution, odds are you’ll still qualify for international student medical insurance.

What is a Gap Year?

A gap year refers to year break between high school and college/university. This year is aimed at growth and experience which will benefit higher education. The benefits though are well beyond academic.

I came from a culture that pushed me to success and rewarded ambition. This has served me well in my life. But there has also been times when it has taken over. There have been times when I have lost perspective as to what was really important and the hustle to get somewhere.

Henry David Thoreau is credited with having said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

Meaning—many people go to their graves with hopes they’ve never played out. Some go through life with dreams they will never bring into reality.

People look towards the future as if it wasn’t something we craft in the here and now. A gap year allows you to start your life as an adult taking your life into your own hands and beginning to build yourself using your own tools—not generic one-size-fits-all tools society will give you to work with.

I’ve learned that if you don’t carve out the corners of this world you want to inhabit, you will end up perpetually caught in someone else’s wind. Society’s wind will pull you from one education level to the next and then will push you to climb some career ladder.

Pretty much all of us will live in such a societal realm. But some of us will be able to live our lives more on our own terms. Some of us will be able to harness the winds of chance and use them to sail towards dreams. A gap year is a training ground for creating such a person—a well-rounded adult with an open understanding and multilevel perspective gained from learning about the world.

The Benefits if Taking a Gap Year

Did you know gap year takers have better performance than those who don’t?

One gap year concern is that a year off school will cause grades to suffer when you return to the academic grind. Research suggests the opposite. It’s been shown Gappers are more likely to get better grades and become more involved in college activities than non-Gappers.

Time out of school in the real world instills a great deal of responsibility. You get to make real life, adult decisions on your own. You can obtain real world practice that students going from one form of school to another don’t get.

Taking a Gap Year Gives you Clearer Direction

I have some friends who spent six to eight years in college. No, they weren’t studying to become doctors. They just weren’t sure what they were into because they didn’t have a clear idea on who they were and what they wanted.

The majority of students enter college without much idea of what they want to do with the rest of their life. That’s not so bad. College is a place to figure this out.  But it’s an expensive place for that—you pay in time and money for the majors you pursue only to change. Many students go from one major to the next without a master plan.

A gap year is a great way to get a clearer vision of the kind of life you might or might not enjoy. This experience saves you time and money.

What Should I do With my Gap Year?

I’ll give you some ideas in a moment, but the short answer is, anything you want! (Except something like sitting in your parents basement playing video games—if that’s an option on the table I think you should skip the gap year and go to school, you bum!)

There are many options on the table for you. There are folks schools, which are year-long programs where you learn all the awesome stuff they aren’t teaching in the western education system. You could travel. You could volunteer abroad. You could volunteer abroad and then travel. You could travel abroad and find yourself a cool volunteering situation. You could work to gain life experience (may I suggest working at a café on an island off the coast of Thailand!) You could study to become a dive instructor in Australia—this could go on and on. You could also Google what other people are doing on their gap year ideas. If you are in high school and reading this, I strongly encourage you to find a few blogs to follow of people currently taking a gap year in order to hear directly from the source what some people are doing with their year of self-directed freedom.

There is that stirring scene at the end of the movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button where Benjamin narrates a letter to his daughter that goes well with figuring out what to do with a gap year (and also is just a good perspective to take into a newly adulted life!)

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”

And if you are reading this past the age of a gap year, take heart. I say it’s never too late to take a gap year, or a sabbatical year, or a year off from life—whatever you call it. You’re free to live life by following your own heart map. You can always take a year to stop being caught up in other peoples winds to take a stab at harnessing your own to see where it might take you.

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