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A Gap Year for Mid-Career? It Could Make You a Better Employee

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Tufts University announced they’ll pay students to take a gap year between high school and college because the experience makes them more motivated and worldly.

You’re probably thinking: That’s awesome! I want to take a gap year to be motivated and worldly, too. But I’m not a recent high school grad. (Cue silent tears behind gray cubicle walls.)

When you’re established — or early — in your career, it can feel like the gap year ship has long since sailed. You’re officially in the workforce, cursing your cousin’s wedding for eating into your two weeks of vacation.

But no matter where you are in your career, it’s never too late for a gap year. (Click here to tweet this thought.) Time off for travel, experimental projects and self-improvement are important for being productive and creative. So grab your passport — it’s time to see the world!

Leaning back is the new leaning in

Travel helped Walter Mitty jazz up his online dating profile, but will it boost your career? Absolutely.

Learning new languages is a huge asset in the global economy. Taking a break helps you generate more ideas. You’re more creative when you’re exposed to other cultures. Equally important, travel helps combat burnout, which is common in ambitious young professionals, and provides a necessary recharge.

Naysayers will tell you a gap year is risky, but they’re just scared. You’re challenging the status quo. We grow up believing success means a good college, a high-powered career and retiring in luxury. Be bold and don’t be afraid to go against the grain. If investing in your growth, creativity and happiness is wrong, you don’t want to be right.

Find the guts (and the plan) to do it

If you didn’t have to work, how would you spend your time? Would you learn to play an instrument? Swim with whale sharks? Work on an organic farm? Ride your bike across the U.S.? Tutor kids?

Once you know how you want to spend your time, do your research. Others have blazed the trail and have advice. Matt Kepnes and Nora Dunn both traveled the world on small budgets. One couple turned to Kickstarter to fund their dream and hit the road in a VW van. Another cycled from Alaska to Argentina. Brazen Life’s own Alexis Grant backpacked across Africa.

Next, investigate your employer’s sabbatical policy. You may qualify for a sabbatical after a certain number of years of employment. Or, you may be able to take an unpaid leave of absence in return for a guaranteed job when you’re back.

No formal policy? No problem. Any workplace worth its salt will be open to a conversation about your future. Maybe you can freelance part-time from the road. Don’t be afraid to ask, and cite how the organization will benefit. If you want to quit, that’s valid, too. Just be courteous on your way out.

Finally, work on budgeting. Travel is cheaper than you think! You won’t pay to dry clean suits anymore and, unless you plan on champagne and oysters every day, you’ll spend less money on a daily basis.

Based on how you want to spend your time, make a budget and savings goal. (If you quit your job, give yourself a month or two of buffer for your homecoming job hunt.) Think about climbing Machu Picchu when deciding between a $12 cocktail and a $4 beer. Picture wading through turquoise waters when eyeing new TVs. When you make travel your priority, you’ll find it easier to save money.

Work travel into your career narrative

In between sampling exciting food and taking in breathtaking views, you’ll have plenty of time for projects. Find freelance gigs or take online classes to keep your skills sharp. Look for volunteer opportunities that boost your cred in your industry. Blog or write a book on a topic you want to be an expert in.

But don’t let your resume be your only compass; your personal interests matter, too. That’s the whole reason you’re taking this gap year, so use it as an opportunity to explore not only a different place, but also a different part of yourself. Andrew Forsthoefel walked from Pennsylvania to California at age 23 compiling audio interviews along the way. His question: What advice would you give your 23-year-old self?

Other opportunities may arise that you can’t imagine right now. That’s what’s so awesome about travel: It’s interesting and creates opportunity.

Employers will see that, too. In my exit interview before my gap year, my CFO revealed she also took a gap year — which turned into three years because she didn’t want to stop!

Her family asked: Who will hire you after this? What will you do?

People who think this is interesting — that’s who’s going to hire me, she said. The kind of company she wanted to work for would see her travel experience and think: That’s so cool.

And they did. Now she’s a CFO, with experiences and memories that will last a lifetime.

Ready to pack your bags? Share your questions or ideas below!

Tamara Murray (@tamaramurray) is a mentor, full-time traveler and author of Awesome Supervisory Skills: Seven Lessons for Young, First-Time Managers. In October 2013, she and her husband set out on a sabbatical to explore Latin America — which they’ve dubbed their “leap year” — with just two backpacks and their 15-year-old dog.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • http://www.bernardhealth.com/ Tyler Hull

    Great article! Now I want to take a year off for sure!

    • http://www.HelloImTamara.com Tamara Murray

      You can do it, Tyler! Seriously. It’s not easy — it took us many months from when we first thought about it, made the decision to do it, and were ready to leave. But it’s totally doable. :)

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        All that has been expressed above in some way pertains to being an asset
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  • pulgui

    Great article! My thoughts exactly when I quit my job and in a culture like the one we live in here in the US…I’m taking the risk because it’s worth it, and I’ll go against the grain because it will bring me more in the future!

    • http://www.HelloImTamara.com Tamara Murray

      Thanks for sharing! How is it going for you so far?

  • Chockalife.com

    I agree completely! In fact, take a gap year right after high school & give yourself a chance to find out who you are – then you can do it again later in life too. Each will offer vastly different experiences & growth.

  • blossomsquare

    yes i am agree with this point of view to take Gap after completion of high school. blossomsquare.com

  • Katie

    I read this at the right time. I took a gap “year” after working a couple writing jobs after college and I was terrified because of all the naysayers. Then I realized that they were just saying the things they did because as you said, they were either scared or they were mad they didn’t do the same thing. My gap year turned into two and I found a job in my career while living abroad. Now I’m getting ready to come back to the states for grad school but am already thinking of where I’d like to move next. If I have kids, I’m definitely going to encourage them to take a gap year after high school — it could lead to admission to a better university, more scholarship opportunities, and most importantly, figuring out what they want to do with their life BEFORE they’re paying $10K per year to do that. Thanks for a great read.

  • Bruce Jones

    Great article! One way to take a gap year is to get paid to teach English abroad for 6-12 month. You can get trained in TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and work in over 80 countries around the world. Take a look at International TEFL Academy http://www.InternationalTEFLAcademy.com as they train over 1,500 people a year and assist them to find paid jobs worldwide.