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One month into my adult gap year, and here's how it's going
A bit more insight into how I'm approaching my time off and structuring / not structuring my life
This week marks almost a month since my adult gap year started, and I wanted to share more on how I’m thinking about my gap year and how it’s going so far. I feel very fortunate that a lot of my friends have also been on similar adventures and I’ve had a lot of opportunities to get inspired and hear their tips and tricks, some of which I’ve incorporated into this newsletter!
Updates on month one
So far, I’ve read a few novels (cheesy romantic ones are my preference), though I also just started reading Four Thousand Weeks and will share some thoughts on that in future newsletters. I’ve watched quite a bit of Friends and Big Bang Theory, and just finished watching The Bear. I’ve cooked up a lot of fun dishes and started to bake more as the weather gets cooler. I’ve done a few small trips here and there and recently attended a conference put on by the Harvard Asian American Alumni Alliance. I also recently got an air fryer and am in the “air fry everything” phase of air fryer ownership. I haven’t had any major breakthroughs yet when it comes to figuring out my life.
And onto how I’m approaching the year
Not everyone embarks on an open ended gap year – some have a deadline for when they want to look for work again while others have a plan lined up already. In my case, I really wanted to push myself to think outside the box because I’ve always had a plan. In high school, I knew where I was applying to university. Once in university, I knew where I wanted to work and live after graduation. I had a series of summer internships that led into full time work, and then only left my first job when I had another job lined up. I’ve never given myself the space to explore the infinite possibilities for what I could do.
This is a big part of why I’ve tried so hard not to commit to any professional plans. I have a large trip planned for early next year, but other than that, I’ve only let myself explore possible paths at a high level. I’ve consciously held back from applying to jobs (“just for fun”) or having very serious career conversations with anyone. For the first time in my life, I’m really indulging in the thrill of uncertainty and not knowing where I will be a year from now. I promise that I haven’t made any secret commitments! I’m keeping doors open, whether for a foray into Biz Ops at a large tech company or to kick off my own Fractional COO business, or something else entirely. Who knows what it could be?!
Beyond not quite knowing where this year will lead me professionally, I am also spending a lot of time thinking about the structure of my life more broadly. I’m trying to better understand what makes me happy or fulfilled, what I am able to do meaningfully better than others, and how I gravitate towards spending my time. I’ve learned so far that despite having lots of hours at my disposal each day, life admin and chores can easily eat up all of my time. (I was warned about this, and I’m trying to actively timebox the life admin and chores that I am responsible for into specific days each week.)
I’ve learned that I’m a big fan of feeling productive, whether it’s through social, professional, or personal pursuits. I’ve been working on redefining productivity in different domains – spending a few hours on a puzzle can be productive for my wellbeing, just like getting groceries and cleaning up the apartment – but also trying to grow comfortable not feeling productive sometimes.
Things that I’ve noticed
First…with all my freed up brain capacity, I’ve become very attuned to the small moments when a problem or topic really lights me up.
Sometimes it’s business ideas that my friends share, a new recipe that I want to try, or a particularly good novel that just resonates. I have a hunch that if I can find a way to align what I do with my “work” with something that gets me really excited, I’ll have unlocked something crucial for my life. I track these moments in a little spreadsheet – because of course I have one – and I’m interested in seeing if there are trends in the longer term.
Second, I’ve also grappled a lot with money.
First off, being able to give up my income is most definitely a privilege for which I’m very grateful. Before I finalized my decision, I spoke a lot with friends who are on similar gap years about how they think about money. There’s definitely a balance of not digging into savings too much while not making money, but also trying not to set too low of a budget and inadvertently restricting yourself from certain experiences and learnings while on your gap year.
Other than budgeting for rent and my own ongoing living costs, I made the choice to set aside a “gap year budget,” which is earmarked for travels and daily costs that I might incur because I suddenly have free time to go do things. On days when I wander the city and sit in a cafe, my coffee comes out of this budget. When I travel to see friends and do activities together, it is also funded out of this budget. It’s been very powerful to set a separate budget because it means that I’m taking my time off seriously, as an activity that deserves funding of its own. It’s not zero sum with the rest of my life and doesn’t impact what E and I want to do in our shared time.
Over the past month, I’ve caught myself being very reserved with the budget and I’ve tried very hard to embrace a “use it or lose it” mindset so that I’m not holding myself back. In second gen immigrant culture, there’s a strong tendency towards a scarcity mindset – the idea to always sit on your money for a rainy day. I’ve been trying to embody the belief that my savings in the bank can’t do anything for me as just savings, and I need to be comfortable digging in from time to time to empower myself to have new experiences. In fact, if I don’t do that while I have the gift of free time, I’m also not making the most use of the time that I’m fortunate to have. When I find myself reluctant to spend, I remind myself, “This money won’t do the same thing for me ten years from now when I may have a mortgage or kids or other Responsibilities and am unable to just go and explore the world and spend time in such open-ended ways.”
Lastly, I’ve thought a lot about the Latin word otium.
It is the counterpart to negotium, which loosely translates to “busyness.” In my days filled with otium, I feel excited and sometimes in disbelief at how free I am.
The concept originally expressed the idea of withdrawing from one's daily business or affairs to engage in activities that were considered to be artistically valuable or enlightening (i.e., speaking, writing, philosophy), and had particular meaning to businessmen, diplomats, philosophers and poets.
There is something about this phrase that so well reflects what I want to do with my gap year. I have yet to take up anything creative and that may be at the top of my list for the next few months alongside more baking and cooking.
On the flip side of all of this – in many other moments – I’ve also felt extremely untethered from the world. In Four Thousand Weeks, the author talks a lot about how society often associates value with busyness. As a person who isn’t busy – let alone responsible for being anywhere at any given point in time – I’ve often felt a bit invisible or undefined. At the conference a few weekends ago, when asked to introduce myself, I found myself at a loss for how to answer. I could share my name and where I lived, but then what else? I started to tell people I was on an adult gap year where I would have shared my professional identity before, but realized that I gravitated back to adding that I used to be a management consultant and most recently worked at a startup, in order to give people more common ground to connect with me.
I’ve wondered a lot since then about how someone stays connected to society when not working. I’ve always felt a certain disconnectedness with the city around me since I moved to New York as a remote worker, and now as a part of the adult gap year cohort, I feel even more disconnected from the world around me on a higher level. I think there’s something to be revealed in juxtaposing how I feel against how full-time parents perhaps feel, though I can’t quite put my finger on it. Perhaps it is on me to find more of a community or to even create that community for myself. If anyone has any wisdom or thoughts on this, I’m all ears!
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Lots of questions raised and musings mused, but no answers yet. I’m trying to keep things open-ended as much as I can to fully explore the infinite possibilities before me.