Preparing For Your Adult Gap Year: Everything You Need To Know
Remember your last horrible day at work? The day you wanted to go cry in the bathroom or throw someone off a roof? Did you think about saying "F@ck It" and never coming back?
Wouldn't it be great to have that option?
Have you considered taking a sabbatical from work? Taking an adult gap year? Quitting your job and joining the circus?
If you have, a thousand things are going through your head. How do people manage it? How would I go about it? Can I leave my kids behind?
An adult gap year is an option for you. Even if it doesn't feel like it right now. Even if the thought seems overwhelming. It just takes some patience and preparation.
There are so many things to consider when thinking about a mid-career gap year, but everything is figureoutable, so let's talk about getting ready to take a break from your 9-5 and spending time doing things that light your life up.
There are a few different considerations when preparing for an adult gap year, and most of them involve how "complicated" your current life is?
It's easy (easier) to walk away from your current life when you don't have a lot holding you back, but if you've got a lot of moving pieces, this gets more complicated.
The first thing that comes up for most people is family. How can they travel for the long term and leave their families? Of course, this depends on your family...Single woman/man with no kids - start packing your bags now! Married parent of four kids under 6...now that's gonna require a little more strategizing.
We can't cover all the familial structures here, but we can talk about navigating some of the available options.
Traveling as a whole family.
Taking a gap month (or three) during the summer
The partner in need of a sabbatical taking a break while the other partner remains at home. (Again, different structures will work for different families.)
Whatever you choose, make sure you make choices that support your well being and the well being of your family. Now, that also means you have to figure out who's gonna have input in the decision. If you have family members who don't want you to go, consider whether their opinion matters.
I worried my mom would disapprove and try to talk me into not going, but mama doesn't pay my bills, so I knew I was going no matter what she thought. If I was married, and my husband didn't want me/us to go, that would require a different conversation.
If a mid-career gap year is your dream, carefully consider who you ware willing to let stand between you and your dreams. Trust me, somebody will try to place their own fears on you, to try to talk you out of it based on their mindset, without considering what it means to you. You need to figure out if that person has that power in your life.
One of the biggest things that comes up is money. Specifically, where will this magic money come from?
Three critical things to consider when preparing for a gap year:
1. Do you have consumer debt?
I'm not gonna tell you how to live your life (although, email me if you want me to :)) but if you have consumer debt, you should pay that off before taking a grown-up gap year. Gap years aren't cheap, and worrying about debt isn't going to make this the relaxing, life-changing experience you want it to me.
Debt hanging over your head is going to change the way you think about your year, and if you want the maximum number of options, you should work to get rid of consumer debt before you go. Now, if you're one of those people that have no problem with debt and considers it a part of life, keep living your best life.
Also, if you've got student loans and feel like you're going to have them forever (you don't have to, trust me) maybe you don't let that stand between you and your gap year.
2. How will you pay for this gap year?
Do not sell a kidney! Short of that, get your hustle on! It's time to figure out how much debt you have to pay off, how much money you need for the year, how much of a financial cushion you want when you return and work your butt off to fill your account with the magic number. Side jobs, cutting expenses, selling things you don't need - now is the time. But don't rush it. Don't feel stressed about this part, it will ruin the overall experience.
It took me ten years to get ready to go. Now, I wasn't actively preparing for a gap year for ten years, I was saving "f*ck you money" for ten years. So when I got laid off, I didn't have to stress, I knew I had set myself up to take a year or two off. Ten years probably isn't the runway you're looking for, but what if you could save for two years, and take one year entirely off of work? Wouldn't that make the savings worth it?
3. What will you do for money when you get back?
Advice from an old soul: Try not to come back from your gap year flat broke. Flat broke is survivable, but it will require more effort than you're ready for, and potentially make you regret your grown-up gap year.
When figuring out gap year expenses include a cushion for when you get back? 3-4 months of living expenses is a good rule. Maybe you know you can return to your job or a comparable one immediately, so you're not worried about money. Well, GOOD FOR YOU! But to be on the safe side, consider funding this part of the journey as well, in case things don't work out as planned,
Employability on Return from Sabbatical
When I decided to take my gap year, one of my biggest concerns was if I would be employable in my niche industry if I took a year off? Would I be behind on current trends? Would I be competitive in the job market?
And now, a year later, I'm 100% sure I do not want to go back to that industry. No thanks. During my gap year, I realized I had no interest in going back to the industry that used me up for over a decade. No interest in going back to work with the same people, on the same projects...I didn't fit in that box anymore. I had no interest in fitting in that box anymore.
If you know you want to come back to the same industry, stay up to date on industry happenings. Maybe you can attend some conferences remotely. Keep up with your LinkedIn contacts. Don't show up a year later, expecting to be top of mind. Actively participant in industry conversations whenever you can. But also remember, you took time off of work for a reason, don't stress about the industry or jobs when you're not there.
Do you love your current job? Would you feel better with a safety net? Why don't you find out if you can take a sabbatical from your job, or work part-time until you are ready to come back full-time? If you're sure you want to take a gap year, there is nothing to lose from asking the question.
Ask your manager/HR and see what they say. You might learn a lot about how the company values you. You may decide it doesn't matter what the response is, you're going. I always say you shouldn't be more loyal to a company than they will be to you, so don't put your dreams on hold for a company that wouldn't risk their bottom line for you.
Do you own a house? Rent? Another round of considerations is what you will do about your living situation before you go. I left for my gap year a few days before my lease ended - impeccable timing. If I had another 6 months to go on my lease, I might have used that as an excuse not to go. But, as I always say, be better than me. Sublet your apartment. Get a trusted property manager and rent out your home.
Don't love your house? Sell it! This is a time to get ready for a new life. It's the runway to a new life. Don't let things you don't love hold you back. I put all the stuff in my apartment in storage under the expectation I would move back to Oakland, and now I can't even imagine a life where that is the option I choose. But I'm still paying for storage, so that's another cleanup item on my to-do list. Anyone want to buy a bed? Softest mattress ever.
Working through these issues will get you mentally prepared for a grown-up gap year. And after getting mentally prepared, it's time to start the detailed planning process. For more help with the planning process, you can pick up my adult gap year planning checklist, or schedule a consultation call with me for adult gap year planning sessions.
Whatever you do, don't end up in the bathroom crying again before you've started planning for your future.