There are (hopefully) number of good reasons to take an extended sabbatical or ‘gap year’, perhaps not just once, but during key junctures in your life. Gap years are usually about the process of coming of age, of getting out there and experiencing the world before starting University or a career. They help individuals develop self-sufficiency, independence, decision-making and maturity. Plus you get to see a good chunk of the world which is probably good for everyone as it helps build undertakings between individuals and cultures.
But there are also good arguments for taking ‘gap years’ at other periods of your life. A gap year or ‘sabbatical’ can be a means of ‘book-ending` certain chapters of your life; of taking some time to develop new perspectives on what has passed and what is yet to come. There is a skill that is often lost in the day-to-day demands of mouse-wheel Modernity and this is the ability to contextualise and navigate oneself within the great mountains and valleys of life. Context appears to be the great deficit of the emerging information economy and unfortunately, reductiveness, superficiality and banality are moving at frightening speed. A year isn’t such a long time in the great scheme of things, and hopefully through doing something different for a year, new insights, choices, creativity, and abilities will emerge. At least this is what I tell myself!
1. Time is your most valuable asset
There is a parochialism that has enveloped day-to-day life, but this parochialism isn’t geographical, but temporal. It is the ”parochialism of the present”. Millions of people are now trapped in the loud and raucous NOW, primarily driven by the hysterical and trivial demands of cheap communication devices (I am making an incursion here). This NOW can stretch for many years, until one day you may realise that every day looks the same as the past day and the view may from the hill up the road was possibly better. In other words, significance is contextual and layered and the Modern world has many iron cages of insignificance (and some of them digital).
A sabbatical is time to do new things, to clearly re-think your goals and aspirations, and these don’t just come to you in the form of a lazy text message, you have to look for them.
2. Do a project that you have always wanted to do
Independent long-term travel is one option for a sabbatical year, but there are, of course, many others (as travel may not be for everyone). There is volunteer or paid work in various parts of the world where one can learn new skills and develop new perspectives. But it is important to plan sometime in advance and be flexible enough to let the plan or project develop along the way. The project might be writing a book, learning a sport, or building a tree-house. Depending on what you plan to do, taking a sabbatical year is a fairly demanding endeavor as it may take up to a year to organise (and tie-up the mouse wheel), a year to actually do it, and then a year to readjust when you come back (and I haven’t figured out the last bit yet, but maybe this is the whole point!).
There are options available to take time of work (unpaid leave) and return to the same job, but I not sure this is a good idea (unless of course, you own your own business or work for your self in some capacity in which you have to ability to take your hard-earned perspectives and use them to shape you immediate surroundings). It may be a better idea to start something new when you return based on what you have learned.
3. Travel now, it is better than later
Travel is all about engaging the ‘big picture” and given my understanding of the past century, I don’t think that the present geo-political and economic arrangements will last. Even if you didn’t study it at university or school, history didn’t end. History isn’t politically correct, it’s not about shopping, it isn’t black and white, and it is bigger than you. The world is fairly peaceful and we are in a golden age of air travel and now has never been a better time to see the world (as it may not be possible in 10-20 years time). When I first started travelling in the early 1990s, huge parts of the world were inaccessible due to divergent political ideologies, economic expense, or lack of infrastructure for travelers (like hotels and roads!). The 21st Century may not be that different to the 20th, at least in terms of the great ebbs and flows of humanity occasional fracturing into misunderstanding and conflict. There are already signs of this occurring and history has never unraveled in a polite and orderly manner. The most important ingredient for independent travel is peace and hopefully through building bridges with other cultures, you aid in this process in a small but meaningful way.
Accordingly, perhaps the most satisfying thing about traveling is meeting new people, some of whom may become life-long friends. Sure, you may not see them that often, but still, there is a wonderful travel-narrative there with a few sparks to light it. It is the connections between people that is the most important.