Think back to spring 2016. 

President Obama’s daughter Malia announced she would take a gap year before attending Harvard. It made the headlines as positive responses poured in calling the decision a wise one. 

It marks a major shift in cultural understandings. Taking a gap year is no longer associated with being a slacker but recognized as a wise move- a chance to take a break, reflect and refocus your energy. The same response applies to mid and senior level professionals who decide to take a break to try something else.

A mid-career gap year is an emerging trend that is likely here to stay and a welcomed one. We’re beginning to recognize, support, and acknowledge that careers are not linear movements up, but can pivot and make lateral moves, or to even take a break for a while, and that’s okay.

If you are in a competitive, high burnout industry such as tech, permission to take a break is what many need for their emotional and mental health as well as personal growth. It’s time to give ourselves permission to forge our own unique paths and achieve in another direction or develop a different talent. In the end, it helps us get better in touch with who we are as people and connect with our inner drives, which makes us all around more effective people in every aspect of our lives, and at the end of the day more valuable to future and prospective employers.

Perhaps it’s due to the fact that we’re living longer, and going to school longer, where we are starting careers fully closer to 30 rather than 22 and expected to work well beyond 65 that we’re noticing the old pattern of work, work, work. Building a career and climbing a ladder in one profession isn’t working for most people anymore. It shouldn’t really be a surprise either. The idea of staying in one career for 20 plus years with little room to make changes isn’t true to the human experience and doesn’t leave much room for growth and stretching. It’s also not a realistic expectation in the 21st Century work experience, which will require multiple careers, pivots and a diversity of experiences to retain value in the age of automation and robotics.

More and more people are coming to their 40s, 50s and even 60s to realize they need to pivot, take a break, or do something different. They may wake up and realize that the priorities that fueled them in their twenties to get a graduate degree and pursue X career are just not the same anymore. They crave something different- a new adventure or perhaps an opportunity to serve at a deeper level. After all, people change over time. We are constantly molded and shaped by our experiences. Many people put dreams on hold for the sake of raising families, paying off student loans and taking on various types of responsibilities, and then one day to wake up finally free to do something else.

Enter the professional gap year for all of the above reasons.

By our 40s most people have achieved a certain level of security and the chance to take a breath is very much needed. It’s about doing something differently, be it traveling the world for a year, taking time out to do an MBA, getting certified as a yoga instructor, picking up sculpting, writing a book, or just spending more time with family. It’s like getting to take a much-needed breath. And for some, its just about preserving mental health where the drive to be a unicorn beats many talented people down to the point of breaking or quitting when they hit their early 30’s. A year off can be about getting restoring health and turning down stress levels too.

We see it more and more especially in high pressure, high stake fields such as tech, which have very high burnout rates. Taking a sabbatical can be just the thing needed to try something different or start a whole new career or reflect and get perspective.

As a career coach, we work with people all the time who make transitions from one area to another. We also occasionally work with people in the middle of breakdowns. Often taking time off is what is really needed to improve one’s abilities and re-energize and other times, it can be the decision that sets one off on an entirely new path. I see this effect all the time as a coach, and help many very talented people return from the breaking point, as well as helping professionals transition into new careers.

I can personally speak about making major course professional career changes too from PR to Marketing, to Producing to everything boiling down for me about bringing excellent talent to organizations that need them, and helping individuals to lead and thrive. Each part of my journey had a life-beat to it. So, it’s a good thing. 

Allowing yourself the space and time to grow and change is fundamental. It is easy to get so lost in the routine of achieving something and the routine of daily life. Many people have an aha moment where they look up at 45 or 50 wondering where the time went, and what exactly are they doing. A gap year, or even a gap quarter can provide the needed rest to rejuvenate, recuperate and refocus. I expect that as life expectancy continues to increase and industry norms evolve, expect to see people experiencing second, third or even fourth careers and professional reinventions.

We are beginning to see people become more flexible in their thinking, and this includes corporations becoming more accepting of people making changes in their careers, taking time and not seeing it as a negative but actually as a positive move if they can demonstrate their own growth and metamorphosis from the experience. It’s positive because it creates a more interesting well-rounded employee and develops talent. At the end of the day it’s a choice to continue growing and thriving in your life, and the professional gap year can be just the antidote to move FORWARD.

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