Why the Gap Year Is a Good Idea

The purpose of life is not to be happy--but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you lived at all." - Leo Rosten

The idea of taking a "Gap Year" between high school and college has been a trending topic since Malia Obama announced her decision to take a year off before she attends Harvard.

In light of graduation season, this topic seems to be sticking in many hearts and minds. I got firsthand proof of this last week when I was interviewed about my new book ON FIRE; The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life on St. Louis Public Radio with Don Marsh at a live, broadcast event. Audience members in studio and online were able to ask questions. In 60 minutes, we took five questions and two of them pertained to Gap Year.

Here is one question from listener Maryann and my following response:

"As a longtime educator, I find that college students are showing [signs of] enormous pressure and very little resilience. I'm concerned...I'm wondering...in the past there was much more opportunity for personal investment, for example going into the service, that gave them perspective. [Can you talk about the] purpose of right of passage [today, between adolescence and adulthood] and its importance as far as having a sense of investment in life and an understanding of the preciousness of life."

My response:

"I understand that the president's daughter is going to Harvard, but first she is taking a gap year. A year that you take off to find out who you really are and what you're really about. Many of us race into trade school or college without any idea about who we are. One of the best things I would encourage any 18-year-old, no matter who he or she is, is to take a gap year. Take two years. But don't do it where you camp the entire time; and shoot baskets in the backyard, and drink on the weekends and hangout in your parents' garage.


Serve. Go to South Africa. Go serve in the Appalachian hills. Make a difference. Discover who you are. Discover what turns you on. Discover how fortunate you are. So that when you return you know what matters and you know what you really, ultimately want to do.

What most of us do is we graduate with degrees in finance and have no clue what we want to do with it. And then we wonder 'Why am I so bitter working at Starbucks right now?'

Well, if you had taken a little bit more time to be reflective on really what matters and why, it may make that big, huge cash investment and time investment worthy.

The other thing we do too frequently is get too busy with the unimportant. We race from practice to practice, I think as much for the parents' needs as for the child's. And I think we could have these kids doing community service when they are young and ripe and ready to make a huge difference in St. Louis.

Maybe one less practice a week one, one more trip towards a soup kitchen. Let them get some real world experience that will prep them for the real world beyond soccer practice and beyond college graduation."

Then another listener, Glen, began his question with this statement, "I appreciate your comment on the Gap Year. Saturday I will watch my son graduate from college with two majors and a minor. And he's going to work as a sheep herder on an organic farm in Canada for the summer. And it may be the best 'course' he ever takes. Although sometimes I don't always feel that way. Thanks for the perspective..."

As we near graduation season, I hope this gave you some reflection on the benefit of taking an alternative path to immediately jumping into higher education.

Regardless of where you stand on the Gap Year topic, if you've ever thought of the question "How Do I Find a Career that Makes Me Happy?" or know someone who has, read my blog on that topic here.

Today is your day. Live Inspired.