Okay, I confess…deep down, I may have some regret lingering about not jumping on the chance to work in Italy for two years when I graduated from college. That was a long time ago, but with big decisions like that, it’s always funny to think about how different my career path would have been if I’d have accepted that job and taken a gap year (or two). What made me say no? I worried about not being as relevant as my peers in the industry when I came back. I thought my experience wouldn’t be viewed as significant as those who got their foot in the door here first.
My decision back then wasn’t really about taking a “gap year” per se, but it was a big decision with some of the same potential ramifications. There’s quite a few people within my professional network who’ve made the decision to take time off and step away from their chosen career for a “gap year”. Sometimes it’s to find themselves or re-invent themselves professionally, while other times it may be related to their growing family. Regardless of the reason for doing it, taking time away is not something to rush into. Here are a few general things to consider if you’re thinking about stepping away for a bit:
1. Your Finances – This should be one of the first considerations. Money troubles can so easily wreck marriages and lots of other relationships for that matter. Are you stable enough financially to have what you need during this time? Are you prepared if there’s a market shift that makes re-entry more difficult than expected?
2. Your Performance – Have you given it your best in the roles you’ve held up to this point? Internships and interactions with peers and professors count if you’re about to graduate and are thinking about taking a year off before going into the workforce. Have you left a lasting impression of your capabilities?
3. Your Network – It’s always important to build a strong network of the right people, but it’s even more important that you’re willing to continue to interact and serve your network while you are away.
Two of my close family members have taken a gap year, and they’ve fully succeeded in re-inventing themselves professionally. So….I have two successful case studies to point to as I wrap up my personal views on this topic. Now, I certainly wouldn’t change a thing about my personal journey and where I am today, but looking back (and knowing more about life and opportunity now than I did back then), I think I would tell the younger me to go for it. At the end of the day, I believe it’s your work ethic and how you interact with the people around you that really matters in professional growth. You will always have professional opportunity if you invest in those two things.
By the way, if you do decide to take a gap year, you’ll have to address it in an interview at some point; here’s how.