On Taking A Gap Year From Your Life: The Truly Rich Lady Weighs In
Dear Truly Rich Lady,
Asking for a friend: Is taking a gap year a good idea? Also, is it okay if my friend—not me!—does a gap year even though she is no longer fresh out of high school or college or in her 20s. Adults can also be confused, you know, and she just needs time to put her head down. Yes? No?
Waiting for Life
I will direct you to a long-ago conversation I had with my Truly Rich Father about the very matter:
Young Si-Si: “Father, I, Si-si Coo, would like to take a year off before I go to uni. I am thinking of backpacking across Africa. I would like to get your blessing.”
My Father: “No.”
And when I appealed my case to my Truly Rich Mother, this is what she said:
“Backpacking? You? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.”
I don’t need to tell you that I did not take a gap year between high school and college. I did not go backpacking across Africa. I did not get kissed by a tall, dark stranger underneath the stars.
Instead, we all went on a very long vacation to Europe, tracing the journey of ancestors across the Old World. Father had his suits made on Savile Row in London. Mother picked up her haute couture ensembles in Paris. Then we were off to Geneva, Florence, Rome, et cetera. It was so hard! In some cities, I was forced to share a hotel suite with my parents.
I am guessing you, advice seeker, are a young lady on the cusp of womanhood. You just want to see the world (or delay the real world) before jumping into grown-up responsibilities, and that’s not a crime. But is a gap year a good idea? Is a pause from life worth it? Or are you just wasting your time?
A gap year is the worst
“Don’t waste my money,” said my Father.
Can’t argue with that. A gap year is essentially a vacation funded by your parents, who, after several years of early, primary, and secondary education, not to mention all the additional schooling (French and Chinese languages, ballet, harp, karate, gymnastics, swimming, piano), can only see this as a loss, an unneeded expense in an already long list of expenses. If you haven’t figured it out by now, the expenses to rear a child are quite astronomical.
You know what else is expensive? College. Instead of sinking a great deal of money toward travel, why not put it aside for tuition? But you say, “Si-si, I am a cunning young woman, who has saved enough coins to fund a year-long expedition into the unknown. I will make my own way, thank you very much.”
Then you don’t have to mind any of that, but you do have to consider another valuable cost—time. It will be a year, in fact, that you will lose to doing whatever your heart desires. That year, as your parents will point out, will be better spent already in college or university. While your peers are making their way through freshman year, you are maybe battling diarrhea in a city without running water. While your peers are already working, you still have one year left in school.
A gap year is the best
My friends who elected to have a gap year before university sing of its praises (how they convinced their parents, I do not know) and all of them swear that the experience helped them grow up, as in it forced them to become adults right away.
Young people (I am shaking my fist like an old lady as I write this!) are coddled to death today. Some don’t even know how to get around without a car or an Uber or a parent to tell them exactly what to take and where to get off. A gap year is like a cold shower that will you up to the shocking realities of life. Someone stole your purse? Well, you’ll need to figure it out yourself because, guess what, mom and dad are a million miles away.
This also leads to a more nuanced life experience as you learn how to interact with different kinds of people. You, a shy violet, will need to blossom right this minute if you want to get through the year. By the time you get home, you will most certainly have more confidence—you’ll have more experience in the art of conversation and maybe you’ve even picked up a foreign language. “Je voudrais du beurre.”
I must also tell you that my gapper-friends are as successful as I am, if not even more. A gap year, they say, gave them a wider perspective of the world. It encouraged an outward point of view and just really made them more aware of the bigness of the world. I must admit that sometimes we do not venture outside our bubble, a Truly Rich Bubble, and seeing how other people live just pierces that barrier we put around ourselves.
As for me, let’s just say I took my gap year later on. By this time, I had already finished university and had a little money saved up from odd jobs (yes—I had part-time jobs!), so I figured I should take that backpacking trip from long ago.
I loved it. Another thing a gap year offers is the chance to really think about your life. What I learned on my sojourn is that my Truly Rich Mother was right. Backpacking and I did not mix well, so I made the adult decision to upgrade all my accommodations and transfers. It certainly cost more money, but I paid for everything myself, because by then I was already on my own.
Gap Year for Adults?
No need to tell you that I fully support this idea. Whether your reason is as mundane (or dramatic), as in “I'm so tired of all of this. Of all of you!” or more profound, as in “I want to rediscover myself!” the benefits of taking a pause from life also applies to people north of their 20s.
I, myself, have taken a few gap years during periods of uncertainty. One time, I made my way to a winery in Tuscany because I am highly impressionable (have you seen one of my favorite movies Under the Tuscan Sun?) and was also a feeling a bit out of balance after being cast aside by a cruel man. I spent my days doing my best impression of Diane Lane—except that I was more clumsy than sultry. I stomped on grapes and drank the foot juice. I learned how to sew my own clothes. Who knew it was that easy? I also met a man... who sold the best cheese.
What I learned during my time away was that I don't need a man to be happy. I can just drink wine all the time. Everything is happy!
Another time, I just wanted to completely switch off. Sure, I had a wonderful high-profile career, but though I was doing something I loved, I had the nagging feeling that I was just a shiny cog in a big machine. It chugged and chugged and I spun and spun. I booked my flight to an off-the-grid (but luxurious!) location. I told my Boss: “Good bye!” I told Mother: “Bye!” I told my non-existent lover: “Hope to see you there.” And there, in the splendor of nothingness, when days are only full of possibilities instead of things-to-do, I was able to realign myself with the help of a yogi master and this thing called an ayahuasca ritual, which is something potent and therefore not for everyone.
In the haze of a dream, I saw my future: I was in a big house and someone was standing beside me, gently holding my hand. I could't tell who it was, but the shape of the mystery person looked suspiciously like my mother's. Eep.
What does it all mean? I do not know. The point is: I was there to stop. I was there to figure out what new roads lay ahead of me, and the perfect road for me just maybe the very one where I started on. Nothing wrong with that!