Minding Your Gap Year

By Scott Schimmel

Oh, the gap year. Now made cool by the Obamas, the gap year has become a huge fad in recent years, gaining supporters and proponents, especially in recent months. The idea makes sense: if you’re not yet ready to choose a course of study in college, take a year between graduating High School and enrolling into college to pursue experiences that will help you find the clarity you need to avoid wasting any extra time or money. Invest in life experiences now, so you don’t waste time and money later. 

It’s pretty brilliant, actually, and quite sensible. A gap year flies in the face of conventional wisdom that says you can’t actually figure out who you are or what you want to do with your life until you’ve been through college, had a couple (or a few) jobs, and settled down with a family. Go out into the world, perhaps travel, maybe find an internship or apprenticeship (a cool term for a job where you learn stuff), and reflect on who you are and where you want to head in life.

But, we’re a bit skeptical that an extra year of experience will help any young person discover who they are and who they want to become. Why? Because unless you are guided by someone through a process of self-discovery, with thoughtful and sequenced questions to gain self-knowledge, and travel along with a trusted group of life advisors to reflect back to you what you are learning, the chances of you stumbling onto your life’s purpose is really small. 

That’s why we’ve put together the YouSchool to do just that- give you a guided process to discover self-awareness, self-confidence, and self-direction as you go through major life transitions. Here are a few thoughts and questions to guide your gap year experience:

Recruit a team of life advisors. Who do you trust? Who knows you well? Who lives life in a way that you find compelling, attractive, and somewhere deep rings true with how you’d like to live life? Specifically, invite three or four people to walk alongside you as you go through your gap year. Ask them to give you feedback as you go, regarding your strengths, your life challenges, and your opportunities. Invite them to share their own stories of self-discovery, what they think about as it relates to values and principles and purpose in life, and to share their triumphs and failures along the way.

Pick a set of questions to think through. A good question will help you ponder life and find meaningful patterns. A great question, though, will agitate you and make you feel uncomfortable. Refine a set of great questions that you can return to consistently through your gap year to write your thoughts down and share with your advisors. 

Find a guide. A great guide is one part scientist, one part artist. They have a process they can guide you through to get to self-awareness, but they also know how to pause and help you connect dots that you wouldn’t be able to see on your own. They are trustworthy, have gone on their own journey, and they listen way more than they speak. 

We think a gap year is a fantastic idea. But we highly, highly recommend that you tackle it with utmost care and intentionality. Be as deliberate as you can about the experiences that you have, but even more deliberate for the reflection process you go through. Figure out who you are and who you want to become; it’s all right there inside of you.