This post is 2 weeks late or a few weeks early depending on how you see it. 2 weeks ago I went back to work after a year long sabbatical or as I have been calling it #garimagapyear. Last year on September 1st I started this adventurous year off (hence the 2 weeks early part :)). I remember writing about why I took this, as some of my friends like to call it, ‘plunge’. That too at a time where I could be going for the next level in my career. You can read all about that why in part 1 of this blog (Gap Year at 35 – Why Now?) It feels like yesterday, sitting right here in this very chair in this very coffee shop just around the corner of my house, that I wrote about all the hopes, the adventures and the expectations. Today, I write about the year after…
Let me start with some numbers, hard to resist given my background.
Flights taken – 33
#of books read – 20
Cities explored – 19 (not including where I am a local DEL|TOR|CHI)
Instagram posts – 153 with over 700 pics 🙂
I did set some other (lofty) 🙂 goals that I fell totally short on like blogging, number of paintings (totally underestimated the challenges of traveling and painting 😬) and one that I am most disappointed about – learning a new language (but I have given myself another year to do that :))
Now to the fun stuff. The Highs (all that the year was).
It was full of new experiences like Volcano boarding, didn’t even know there was something like that – Exploring old places with new perspective and new places with old curiosity. Whenever I used to dream about a sabbatical or time off or gap year or life, Travel was definitely a part of that pipe dream. The idea of not having time constraint, the thought of ‘I can go anywhere’ in the world, the potential of all that you could see and experience was just way too exciting. Traveling the world with no clear plans, lose itinerary and one way tickets was eye-opening, nerve wrecking, exciting, liberating and downright awesome all in one. It’s as amazing to explore places you have been before, be it the pious city of Amritsar or part city of Goa, as it is to learn about new cultures and countries and I got to do both.
It was full of real, quality time with Family – My quest for independence and desire for exploring the world landed me in Canada a decade ago. Faraway from the comfortable cocoon of my family. At the time I was more excited for the adventure that lay ahead than sad about what I was leaving behind. Here, across the other side of Atlantic Ocean,I built a life, a career and a home. I found friends who soon filled the empty spot of a family. Life was good and busy but there were days that I missed the comfort cocoon of family, missed the usual banter, and the passionate debates, the no pretend (ok, may be some pretentious) conversations. I had forgotten the last time I had celebrated a festival with all of my cousins and the number of family weddings I hadmissed. I had met new family members over a dinner on a flying 2 week trip home, but never really got to know them over chilled bottle or bottles of wine. This time off gave me the opportunity to go back home not for a few days but truly go back home with no scheduled agendas or quick dinners but with the gift of time. It gave me a chance to know the new generation of kids who I barely saw since they were born, I got to plan birthday dinners and thoroughly enjoy weddings, I got to party with the young ones and travel with the old ones. What this year off was? It was an opportunity to make the investment of time in the relationships that matter
Celebrating festival of Holi with Family “We may not have it all together, but together we have it all”
It was eye-opening and full of great encounters – Packed with solo travel and an open mind the best part of the year was meeting new people. If you let it, it can blow your mind how different yet alike people around the world are. It opens your mind to possibilities of life, variety of cultures, point of views & lifestyles. I have always believed Travel is not a hobby but an education, especially when you do it solo you are more open and tuned into your surroundings. During my travels in this year I went kayaking with medical students from Germany, heard stories over drinks of a fellow traveler of his adventures across 40+ countries, got invited to a circus island for a full moon party, spent a day exploring a city with someone who worked in social services sector halfway across the world. I hiked a volcano and bonded with another dutch woman on our apparent out of shape bodies and fear of actually boarding down the volcano. I shared a drink and a dorm room and later a cab ride with fellow Canadians. I got to share stories with a PhD student from England over a glass of wine high up on a Thai mountain that lead to me getting a tattoo and check out the cool Jazz bar in old Chiang Mai with a fellow Indian from Singapore. I got to play games with an amazing Chinese couple running a beautiful hostel in the hills of Thailand and got to learn random facts about Moose in New Foundland while sharing a meal at a bar with a stranger. All these amazing experiences, these encounters with seemingly different individuals from around the world made me realize how diversity is not limited to color of your skin, the country of your birth or the year of your birth but its a lot more in fact if you really think about it no 2 people are the same and yet my experience has reaffirmed every line from this beautiful Maya Angelou poem.
We love and lose in China,
we weep on England’s moors,
and laugh and moan in Guinea,
and thrive on Spanish shores.
We seek success in Finland,
are born and die in Maine.
In minor ways we differ,
in major we’re the same.
I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.
We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.
We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.
For full poem <=<https://allpoetry.com/Human-Family>
If there is one thing that all my random encounters have proven to me is that people are more alike than unalike.
It was a time to self reflect– Mirror mirror on the wall – Once you shed the routine of life, once you open up the hours and minutes to anything and everything one thing that’s bound to happen is self-reflection. After the initial excitement settles down, after you truly checkout from the work-life as you knew it, once you have days sprawled in front of you and nights that can start and end whenever you want, one thing thats bound to happen is a wandering mind asking deeper life questions. To me this time to reflect was a definite high, some of the outcomes of the reflections might make it to a different list but that’s for later. I realized how being busy has become fashionable, I often hear people quote about ‘how busy they are’ because they have a vacation coming up for 2 days, or how there were hundreds of emails while they were away and there is a subtle hint of pride in that number. I wasn’t too different, but once the routine was gone the ‘not being busy’ made me extremely uncomfortable. Not doing anything was so unlike me, I had thrived on being busy. For 35 years of my existence I had a routine, plan, schedule. How was I supposed to deal with ‘doing nothing’. I was so obsessed with being busy that I forgot what its like to Pause. Breathe. Feel. As I write this I wonder, if one was to go through life ‘being busy’ without pausing and feeling the life until they retire; wouldn’ it be a bit too late to reflect then. Then, it will just be nostalgia and maybe but hopefully not, regrets. Taking time off from ‘being busy’ now when the reflection can help change or steer life in a direction of your choice is to me a Gift
The Low’s (What the year wasn’t)
I will be first to admit, when I jumped into this adventure I saw a year full of possibility, a year full of opportunity I had ideas and hopes. I have read a ton of blogs and articles around sabbaticals, quitting your job, gap years etc. and often the best advice is around having clear goals, I clearly didn’t follow that advice. What I had is a lose plan of everything I wanted to do and high hopes on what this time off was going to be, may be a bit too high.
But in all sincerity since I had not quit my job forever rather had taken ‘Leave of Absence’ with a defined deadline it meant there was an end to the ‘time off’ this at the time was good or could be bad. In my case, there were days when it felt like the worst thing, having the looming deadline, but in the end it was worked out for the better (or for now it has)
I might have been slightly naive in my plan for the time off, somewhere in my head this year was going to be ‘IT’ whatever that ‘IT’ meant:). I was going to learn new languages, I was going to travel the world, I was going to spend time with family, I was going to change the direction of my career, I was going to find love. It was going to be a transformative year of my life; and as I am writing this I feel it was all that but it wasn’t without it’s low points. Here they are:
What?It’s May already …but I haven’t even– I am sure everyone has heard the phrase ‘ Time flies’ well if you ever take time off (with a deadline) that phrase will truly ring true. A year as long as it sounded to me, went by real fast and all those high hopes kinda crashed (alright alright, that’s a bit dramatic). When I started out last fall the year felt like a long time, like I was going for a lifetime of freedom or that its like forever but guess what, it is NOT. Before I knew it, it was May I was 9 months in and the panic hit. This where the lows kick in, when the feeling of its going to be over soon and I haven’t done anything I thought I would. My gap year started with lose plans and now that I look back I think I did what I set out to do but there was a time when I felt I wasted precious time in life. I got caught up in the ‘what have I got to show for the time off’ how will I get back to work, where will I get back to work, where do I even begin on my resume, damn I don’t even remember what was I good at in my last job. And, shit I didn’t climb Mt. Everest, or star a gazillion dollar business or traveled the whole globe or learnt a new language. The more people I spoke to the more I freaked out.
Damn what am I supposed to do after its over – The doubts started settling in. When your are deep into a life routine you are working on a momentum and so was I. I realized how much I missed being productive, missed a work environment, thinking about challenging problems and learning. Sometimes you have to step 10 steps away from a painting to appreciate it. This time off was a great way to appreciate what I did enjoy about my work and what I didn’t but that’s not to say there were days I slobbed (like that’s a word) on a couch watching marathon Netflix with this nagging thought at the back of my head … what next. It was there but just not something I was willing to deal with.
Table for 1, please – A side effect of solo travel, a table for 1 please. This can be great most times but there are days it just sucks. As much as solo travel allowed me to expand my horizons, kept me open to interesting encounters sometimes it got lonely. While in a daily routine and living a busy life we often find ourselves filling our time with activities. Feeling bored – go for a walk, feeling lonely – call a friend, feeling sad – call mom :). Unless you travel solo you never have to go for a table for 1. I was reading about all these fabulous women who were traveling the world solo and their stories were inspiring and mine wasn’t too different but I would be lying if I didn’t accept that there were days where the ‘Table for 1’ just didn’t feel too good and a need for a companion to share the experience weighed heavy. Now the other side of that is by the end of the year of traveling solo, I could always find an interesting dinner companion if I wanted 🤪 that’s the upside of being a single traveler.
With all its highs and lows it was by far the most exciting year of my life, full of experiences and memories I will cherish forever. I decided to re-join the workforce,for now, and 2 weeks in I feel that nothing around me has changed but I have and the best part is that as I wrap up an absolutely amazing adventure of a year that was… I have a strong feeling that I am just starting a new one and… the best is yet to be.
“A picture is worth a thousand words” here are some that tell my story – more on instagram @gar1mart #garimagapyear
Looking forward a year ago…. a journey that started staring at Atlantic Ocean (NS & Newfoundland, Sept 2017)
Lightning up life on Diwali (Chicago, Oct 2017)
Hidden treasures at home in Delhi – Agresen ki Baoli (Nov, 2017)
Same country different world, taking in the tea garden state of Kerala (Nov, 2018)
Special sunsets in the city of dreams, Mumbai (Dec 2017)
Hugs up close and personal, Chiang Mai Thailand (Jan 2018)
Canyon in Pai, Thailand (Jan 2018)
24 hours of fun, family and food in the pious city of Amritsar, (Jan 2018)
Exploring the other side of party city Goa, (Feb 2018)
Black sand beaches in Nicaragua, Mar 2018
A journey that started gazing over Atlantic Ocean, wrapped up by volcanic rock in the pacific.