15 Undeniable Merits of the Gap Year Experience
Going directly from college to career isn't for everyone.
For some, graduating from college and snagging a position with a top company is a dream come true — or at least they think so initially. Unfortunately, however, many people who go down this traditional path end up regretting their choice. After a few years of working for someone else, these people realize they missed a prime opportunity to discover their true calling. Instead of developing a career that enhances their strengths and fuels their passions, they are stuck in a dream job that has lost its luster.
The concept of taking a gap year is sometimes misunderstood, with critics who argue that people who choose this option are trying to delay adulthood. However, a gap year is actually a period — usually around a year — where people travel and otherwise experience life’s many wonders before settling into their careers. While some critics argue that taking a gap year is an excuse to delay real-world responsibilities, those who promote the gap year fire back that this year of freedom offers many advantages.
Let’s take a look at 15 reasons why more people should consider the gap year experience, despite the disparaging views of critics.
1. Gaining life experience
At age 22 or 23, many people have relied on others for everything from basic necessities to helping shape their beliefs and core values. The gap year gives you time to get away from your usual people, places and things and puts you in unfamiliar surroundings. In these different circumstances, you can discover new truths and gain valuable experiences that will sustain you for a lifetime.
2. Learning maturity
Similarly, taking time to be independent in less familiar places adds maturity. Relying on your instincts, making some mistakes, correcting those mistakes and moving on in a positive direction all supply a level of maturity apparent to others. And this maturity will be a valuable asset in your arsenal when it comes time to settle down and land that dream job.
3. Making do with less
Living with few possessions and making do with a tight budget is a humbling and valuable experience everyone should have. This meager lifestyle engrains a sense of understanding the difference between necessities and luxuries. Knowing you don’t need a bunch of things to survive will someday help prevent you from squandering a ton of cash on frivolous items that you don’t really need. And it will make the luxury items you do choose to purchase more enjoyable and valued.
4. Living poorly
Similarly, the gap year can be an eye-opening experiment in your finances. Understanding financial struggle and how it is an everyday occurrence for some will go a long way, keeping you humble and kind — two essential attributes for navigating life.
5. Understanding budgeting
Similarly, this nomadic lifestyle can teach you some budgeting skills as no other experience can. Sure, many people who get their first job might struggle with finances the first year or two. But traveling and not having a steady cash flow takes you to a whole other budgeting level that will be extremely helpful down the road.
6. Learning to be 100% self-sufficient
Taking off on your gap year, distancing yourself from your usual surroundings and being away from your support system is a perfect experiment in becoming self-sufficient. Knowing you can provide for yourself and exist solely on your own efforts is a highly satisfying experience and gives you the confidence to return from the hardships of the gap year.
7. Enjoying independence
Proving you can survive using your own know-how and ingenuity is an accomplishment. You owe it to yourself to try new things, make some mistakes and then relish in your successful independence. Developing this skill early on in your work-life is a real asset that creates the confidence level necessary to reach your full potential.
8. Developing emotional intelligence
Book-smarts and common sense are two well-known forms of intelligence. However, emotional intelligence is also a valuable skill to have in your tool kit and is a key leadership skill. A gap year provides unusual and sometimes stressful situations that you must learn to navigate appropriately with emotional intelligence. Knowing how to keep stress, anxiety, anger and other harmful emotions at bay will make you happier, healthier and more productive in both your personal and professional life.
9. Establishing a clear vision of your career
Too often, people settle for a job that wants them instead of holding out for a job that they want. Taking a gap year gives you time to understand yourself, what will serve you well professionally and what kind of career will stimulate you emotionally. Having a clearer vision of what you want your life to look like puts you in a better position to achieve your goals.
10. Experiencing self-exploration
Similarly, self-exploration makes you understand all aspects of yourself and helps you know what hobbies and other interests will inspire you throughout life. Your gap year might put you in a position to do things you would not otherwise experience, possibly introducing you to lifelong projects and interests.
11. Learning to be assertive
Traveling to other countries and immersing yourself in a completely different culture forces you to be more assertive. In addition, not knowing the native language and customs provides plenty of opportunities to ask questions, experience local traditions and put yourself out there. By traveling to other countries during your gap year, you can develop a more outgoing personality that will serve you well down the road.
12. Pursuing a passion project
Once you enter the world of work, you will be extremely busy, and your time will be monopolized, leaving little or no space to pursue a passion project. Therefore, the gap year is the perfect time to explore those experiences and projects that tug at your heart and give total satisfaction. Adopting a true passion during this time will carry you through life and give you a lifelong purpose beyond your work.
13. Helping others
There really is no better feeling than helping people. Using your skills, experiences and natural gifts to assist others during your gap year enables you to develop a philanthropic purpose before entering a career. This added purpose will help you maintain a giving and generous nature for the rest of your life.
14. Understanding other cultures
In our diverse world, understanding other cultures is a crucial skill that is no longer optional. Understanding different cultures by experiencing them first-hand is far more helpful than merely reading about them in a book. By immersing yourself in as many cultures as possible, you can relate to more people on a deeper level, making a future work environment more comfortable and natural.
15. Interviewing better
Speaking of getting that first job, your life experience paired with the added maturity gained from a gap year experience creates a more confident, well-spoken demeanor. This presence will be the distinctive quality that helps you stand out from the crowd when interviewing.
Although some people might feel the gap year concept is an unnecessary and maybe even selfish adventure, it does have several positive merits. For instance, it can be a life-changing experience for many people, especially those uncertain about what their life’s work should be and what their worklife should look like.
Choosing a career and accepting a position is a huge undertaking that should be one of the most rewarding experiences in your life. Taking a gap year to get it right might just be the best idea yet for ensuring emotional, professional and overall success.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor