How to Get from Gap Year to Growth Year, Step 1: Be Strategic

You hear the siren song of the road less traveled. Perhaps you want to teach English in Indonesia. Maybe you’ve resolved to join protests decrying a social injustice, or feel called to volunteer for a cause core to your values. It could be that you’re hungry for meaning, growth, and adventure, and are not convinced diving straight into college is the answer.

If you’re peering down the road not taken, you are considering a gap year (if you aren’t yet, you should!). The gap year – taking a year between student or professional stages, especially taking a year between high school and college – is an increasingly prevalent and popular option for millennials keen to see the world and change it for the better. Though you may be allured by the possibilities, how do you decide whether or not you should go for it? If you’re asking yourself “To gap year, or not to gap year?” use the questions in our blog to guide your decision process.

Whether you’re entertaining the gap year option or have already resolved on doing it, your next step is the same: Be strategic. This means identifying your goals and then defining your plan for achieving them. Here are the steps for developing your gap year game plan:

  1. Fast forward to the finish line. Spend at least 15 minutes writing about what it would be like to be at the end of your best-case scenario gap year. Describe it in as much detail as you can. What have you achieved? How do you feel about the way you’ve spent your gap year? What are you now like as a person? What are your capabilities? Where are you? Who are you with? Where are you headed next? Envisioning your best possible future self post-gap year, you can clarify what you’re working toward.
  2. Be able to answer “Why?” You need to be able to explain to yourself and others why you want to take a gap year. Write out or record what you will say when people (inevitably) ask, “Why do you want to take a gap year?” Remember to answer this question for yourself, too, using the visualization exercise from Step 1 as a guide. Prepare responses to your parents (who may be funding or subsidizing you), friends, teachers/mentors, as well as people who may be willing to award you grants or financial aid, etc. For each group of people, consider what their greatest concerns are and how you will satisfactorily address them. These will likely include safety, relevance to future career goals, and economic viability. Listening to understand will also help you to discern what matters most to the other person, with respect to your gap year.
  3. Break it down. Break your growth year goal(s) down into manageably-sized steps. What is “manageable” depends on your work style. Are you the kind of person who likes to cross items off a to-do list once an hour, or can you tape a motivational picture to the fridge and work toward it day after day, month after month, and even year after year? Many of us fall somewhere in between. A good starting point is to define some longer-term goals (which usually take one or more months) and some shorter-term aims (which usually take anywhere from a day to a few weeks).

Following these steps, you have a vision for what you want to accomplish, scripts for how to articulate this vision to the people in your life, and a basic outline for your goals. This will bring you closer to bridging your dreams to a well-defined and doable reality. Preempt your well-wishers’ gap year-related inquiries by sharing your gap year strategy with them! They’ll feel reassured and trusted, and you can gain energy and ideas from their responses.

Stay tuned for the next installment of “How to Get from Gap Year to Growth Year” blog series, coming soon!

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