Gap Year at 35 – Why Now?

When I decided to take this year off from a career, that was on an upward trajectory, a life that was fairly settled and a routine that was generally comfortable, many people asked why now? Why would I want to do this in mid thirties  why would I want to risk a career I have worked hard to build, a network of people I invested time in developing and a life of comfort that took years to get to.  I have a mortgage, had a steady stable job that most people would love to have and that I worked hard for and literally fought to get, so! Why leave all that now?
My answer was always – Why not now?  I would be lying if I said it’s not scary or I am not nervous but I have always been a kid who loved the Ferris wheel purely because of the feeling you get in your stomach when you are on your way down. May be I am a thrill seeker, may be an adrenaline junkie or just lost, you can call me whatever you want, but being nervous feels good, it feels like I am on a Ferris wheel of life.  I am venturing in the unknown, uncertain path where I need to pay attention to every moment, I can’t just cruise. Since I left work I have no routine, I need to build one.  I have no structure but may be I will need some, not sure yet. Here are 6 reasons I think this is the best time to make this leap –
  1. Because I am 18 with 18 yrs. of work ex – At 18  you are carefree, have nothing to lose and whole life ahead of you, it probably is the best time to go explore the world.  In fact if I was born in a different era or in Canada I might have done that.  At that age you can be whatever you want to be and you can take risks, but you are also broke and young, still trying to figure yourself out. Traveling then is a different experience a different adventure.  I have 15 yrs. of work experience under my belt, spent my 20’s getting an education and then paying off student loans.  Coming from a middle class Indian family in the 1990s we were taught early that the best investment you can make is in education and experience, ROI is always positive, as no one can take these away from you.  So, as nervous as it makes me to take this break, not having a steady income, hitting the pause button on a budding career, my investment in my education and career and a desire to constantly learn, gives me some level of comfort on my ability to make it work. Unhinged
  2. Network – If there is one thing that I have completely changed my perspective on, after being in Canada for the past decade, it is the importance of ‘Networking’.  Having grown up and worked in India, this was a foreign concept and extremely uncomfortable one.  So much so, that I still remember a discussion on the topic at my Grad School with the career management team and me standing firm on my opinion that networking was fake, artificial and forced and hence not worth my time.  But boy have I changed my perspective or what, now when I mentor new graduates, this is the first thing I talk about.  After learning the true art of building connections, I stand humbly corrected.  I still do not believe in fake and forced conversations, however over the past decade have invested much of my time in building  connections via my work, mutual interest and genuine curiosity.  And, as I step away from my corporate world and move across countries, I trust in this network I have built and hope to maintain and stay connected no matter where I end up.  This network gives me a sense of confidence in being able to stay connected and get support when needed.  Network
  3. Relationships – An extension of the network but deeper and more personal are Friends & Family.  Won’t lie, I am lucky to have the family I do and friends that are more like Family too. One great thing about you being in mid thirties is that most of your friends are right there with you :), but an even better thing is that unlike me being single, unhinged, a bit on the usual mid 30’s path, most of the friend circle is well settled with houses with extra bedrooms 😃 and I am banking on crashing in some of these rooms when I need to.  This is one of the big differences in hitting the road at 18, when all your friends are as broke as you are 😃 vs. now! 😃 GO!!! Friends & Family.  Relationships
  4. No I did not win a lottery – The first thing I get asked is if I won a lottery, and the answer is no. There is no doubt that money and finances are probably the first concern when you are taking a leap like this. But there are certain things in life that are never going to make sense on an excel spreadsheet. I am not saying that I didn’t run the numbers. I did! I am also not suggesting that one should not plan or think about how to fund something like a year off and travel plans but I truly believe it gets down to priorities and what you value in life. Decisions like having another kid, investing in education or taking a career break to travel or spend quality time with family or pursue a passion are never all about money and usually have a negative net present value. These come down to why you want to do it and what you want to get out of it, after that it’s about being prudent and having somewhat of a plan before taking the leap. At least that’s how I am approaching it. Unlike what people assume I don’t have a ton of money lying around, but a ‘ton’ means different things for different people. One good thing about doing this in your mid thirties is that, if you are anything like me and have invested better part of your 20s and early 30s in your career, you would have some savings and the question you need to ask yourself is, if what you have is enough. I don’t know 🤔 if I do, I guess I will find out. The other trap that a lot of people get into is the salary you won’t make, many people have asked me about that and it’s not that it’s not real. Opportunity cost is very real but, I will be honest, the thought didn’t weigh me down, I was so focused on what I had to gain that what I was giving up didn’t seem to matter as much. The way I think is that if I was to go back to that same job at the same salary a year from now, in 10 years from now I will remember the gap year a lot more than the salary I didn’t make.
  5. Table for 1: Although, I don’t believe you need to be single in order to pull this off, as I know friends who have done it as a couple and even few who have done it with kids, but I would admit it makes it easier in some ways.  I am by myself 😃 and that makes decision making both easy and tough, easy because you only have yourself to consider and tough because you have no partner to lean on when you have doubts.  Not having dependents makes the risk a bit less overwhelming, because you can get by somehow. table for 1
I am at the start of this journey and I am hopeful, excited and nervous.  And this is part 1 of the a 2 part blog, the 2nd part I would like to write a year from now, on the other side of this journey.  I would like re-visit my expectations and reasons above and see which ones worked out as expected and which ones were more a view from my rose eyed glasses. But right now as I look forward to the next 11 months, the quote above echoes and reminds me that in life leaps and risks work out one way or the other all you need is to ‘Believe in yourself’.take the plunge
So, if you have been thinking about a leap of your own I say ‘take the plunge’ and believe in your ability to fly.

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