Change has long been a common theme for Gen X, whether voluntary or enforced. And as the first group of Gen Xers turned 50 in 2015, change has been even more at the forefront in recent years.
What better way to change one’s viewpoint—both literally and figuratively—than to pack up and take off? Whether it’s in search of culture, adventure, philanthropy or something else entirely, travel provides the ultimate sense of change. In fact, 49 percent of Gen Xers are motivated to travel by the need to relax and rejuvenate and almost half plan to take a trip in 2017, according to an AARP survey.
But for some, that enticing trip is turning into an extended life experience, spanning several months or even a year. While a gap year was once the domain of teens toggling between high school and university, adults are increasingly jumping on the bandwagon of this much-needed “time out” to reflect, regroup and recharge.
“People are burned out; they’ve been at it since they left school and they take it as a chance to regroup,” Keith Clarke of Life Coach X explains as prime motivation for a gap year. Prior to launching his business, Clarke himself took a sabbatical after a layoff, and spent five months traveling through Southeast Asia. “I loved every minute of it,” he says.
For others, perhaps they’ve paid off the mortgage and now have a nest egg to indulge in an extended getaway. Maybe someone has been laid off, given a generous severance package and takes the opportunity to reflect and recharge. Or their kids are grown up and off to college or first jobs, leaving parents with the question of, what now?
“A lot of Gen Xers roll with the punches and then we think, how did I end up here? Knowing your values and what is important to you key,” Clark says. “What kind of legacy do you want to leave? What regrets do you not want to have?”
Preparing for a gap
Before booking a ticket, first address your finances to determine how you’ll budget a few months in Mallorca, but even more importantly take some time to reflect on why a sabbatical is on your mind. Clarke says to ask yourself, is this drive inside you about running toward something or running away from something?
If you’re running toward something, the pre-gap year period is the time to address how to eliminate any lingering fears and better align yourself with your long-term goals—including what you hope to get out of the sabbatical, whether it’s stretching out of your comfort zone to gain better appreciation for the world around you, learning a new language or honing skills through a volunteer experience.
“For those who just needed a break and are already happy, they come back with more grounding, commitment to what they do and the ‘why’ behind it all. People come back with a sense to fine-tune their life and make it even better,” Clarke says.
However, if you’re running away from something—a stressful job, relationship or family problems or financial anxiety—a sabbatical is not a magic cure-all. “All you’re doing is putting a finger in the dike; you can’t run away from yourself,” Clarke states.
Re-entering the real world
How you plan to transition out of a grown-up gap year is just as important as the transition in. Consider how hard it can be to come back to “real life” after a two-week vacation; now, think about the re-entry process after a year, when people, procedures and policies have likely changed—think about how you’ll change, too.
“For the people who just switch their mind off for that period, it all comes crashing back and makes it harder to re-integrate. They’ve now spent money and time, and nothing has changed,” Clarke says.
However, those who go in with a sense of purpose ultimately find fulfillment. “The ones who are reinvigorated have a sense of excitement and fear,” Clarke notes. And that just might be the perfect combination of emotions to spark everlasting change.