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Ideas your parents will hate – like taking a year off school

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Mark Twain famously observed, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So, throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

So why, you may ask, do I bring this up now?

I think the pandemic has presented an opportunity for all of us to pause and reflect on where we are and where we want to be.  This applies both to the larger society and us as individuals.  Having spoken to a few people about this “pause,” I discovered that some students are rethinking their path.  

Some have returned to college for the first time in several years, either to enhance a career or start a new one.  Others are reimagining their educational and/or career path in light of lockdown requirements and the opportunity to work and study remotely. 

Many are seeing new vistas created by digital commuting or the lack of work in their chosen field, while others are just beginning their educational journey and are unsure of what college means for them in this new and uncertain world. 

Student or not, we have all been given a unique, albeit fleeting, moment to facilitate a review of life, to regain or capture perspective, and develop or reimagine a sense of purpose and reassess our path.

Life after college often comes with a heavy dose of monotony, as David Foster Wallace suggested in his 2005 “This Is Water” commencement address at Kenyon College and a life without purpose and passions to motivate us can sometimes be overwhelmed by that tedium.

So here’s an idea: how about if we use the aforementioned “pause” to extend the “pause,” and give ourselves some additional time to think about the ideas and ideals with which to create our futures?

My suggestion is to “pause” school and focus on travel for a year, or two, or three.  This practice is common in Europe and Australia and in recent years has gained popularity in the United States: it’s called a Gap Year.  There are established programs that allow you to just go, or you can create your own. I recommend the latter.  School will be there when you come back and, in some cases, can even go with you. Either way, travel is its own kind of education. 

As Martin Buber said, “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” 

My prediction: You will have a much better idea about what is important to you, you will discover a more resilient self in your independence, and as a bonus, you will have some amazing stories to tell.

Here is inspiration to get started

I really like what fellow Cuestonian reporter, Joseph Acquafresca, said in his article: “There’s always going to be some old person telling you, ‘Travel while you’re young!’ I mean, it’s pretty redundant, and I was the first person to roll my eyes at something like that, believe me. But here I am, a 20-year-old, telling you that you should travel. It changes your life.”  

As for Acquafresca’s mention of the Drake lyric that “we only live once,” I couldn’t agree more but I thought he was quoting Francis Drake, who is best known for circumnavigating the earth, from 1577 to 1580, not the Canadian rapper.  But then, as Acquafresca also mentions in his article, I am one of those old guys who encourages the young to travel but I’ll redefine “young” as still vertical if you get my meaning. Having said that, I totally agree with his conclusion that travel will change your life as it continues to change mine.

In the spirit of full disclosure: after I graduated high-school, I not only took a gap year, but stretched it to two-and-a-half years of travelling and working in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. My parents didn’t hate the idea or try to stop me, but I’m not sure they ever understood my motivation. Also, both of my now 30-year-old sons have been traveling on and off since they were 18, and my now 22-year-old daughter studied abroad for almost two years as a high schooler.

As for my take on the idea of a “pause,” I will leave you with this… Around the World in 80 Days was my favorite book as a child. It’s still my favorite.  Jules Verne wrote about high adventure, at once physically challenging, cerebral, and exotic. Every story filled me with a longing to explore the world as his protagonists did, with wonder and enthusiasm, fueled by unquenchable curiosity.

Travel is in my DNA.  It was, and is, my favorite method of learning, not just about other cultures, and places, but also about myself, my passions, my strengths, and preconceptions.

What will “pause, travel, learn” mean for you?

The author on his first adventure abroad – somewhere in the Mediterranean, 1977

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