This talk is worth watching, and it’s what got me thinking. But only press play when you can dedicate all 16:59 of your life to it, and be ready to respond with what you think in the comments below 😉
“The only option we’ve allowed you to get to know and discover the world that awaits is for you to read about it in a text book or listen to a 90-minute lecture. We’re forcing our young people to make decisions about life before we allow them to live life.”
I’m passionate about this subject and although it might be ballsy, I want to make you passionate about it too.
Professionally, I sell experiential education gap years. I’m telling you this because I don’t just market them, I believe in them. And that it seems is what is missing in 80% of peoples work lives. Turns out, four out of five people do not have passion for what they do. While I’m not much for numbers, I think a quick stroll through most office buildings would confirm that. As the Ted Talk below discusses, it’s not about bashing higher ed, it’s about what is happening to generations that have been nurtured in a cradle to college society, and about the lack of passion in our lives.
Let me be clear – I am part of the problem. I can speak candidly about the “cradle to college” movement because I am part of it. I graduated in four years with a double-degree, a higher-than-average GPA, and a list of cultural, community, and leadership experiences under my belt. I was in AP classes in high school and studied far too many hours for the ACT, on top of a rigorous athletic schedule playing soccer, tennis, volleyball, and still having time to get tutoring so as not to fall behind. I had a social life but dared not get involved in drugs or so attached to a guy that I would stray from my professional callings.
Let me also be clear that college years, were in fact, some of the best years of my life. It’s where I continued my families tradition of travel on an international scale, and is why I am where I am today. And while where I am may be a failure to some – on my fourth job withing two years of graduation, making just enough to get by, and knowledgeably ignoring a looming student loan – in many ways I have succeeded. I am doing what I love, discovering new cultures, learning languages, and slowly but surely, discovering my passions. The system worked for me, but not before I worked against it, and that’s where the problem lies.
Studies show that we’re rushing into college because we think we’re supposed to, not because we’re ready. And while that may not be shocking, the result of entire generations who are disgruntled with careers they chose when they were just entering adulthood is startling. In America, we live to work, and we often value professional achievements more than personal ones. We have turned “discovering your passion” into a status symbol and yet another wrung on the ladder – one which comes after climbing the corporate ladder, and is reserved only for the lucky.
That’s messed up.
And what’s more messed up is that we have normalized those startling statistics. *Divorce now occurs in 50% of married couples in the US, and infidelity is at an all time high. *Alcohol related deaths claim 88,000 people per year in the states, and 1 in 10 adults suffer from depression. No one blames these statistics on not going on a gap year by the way, and I’m not a fan of using statistics to drill a point home. But they’re worth noting, and if we’re being honest a lot of those statistics are likely tied to professional life, and lack of fulfillment. We could even venture as far to say that they are the down side of trying to fill the holes that empty careers have left us with.
So back to gap years. I believe in them for all of the reasons outlined in the Ted talk above. But the reality is that they are just one solution of many; they are the potential answer to reversing our priories and at the very least – settling into careers that we feel motivated to maintain. They are an opportunity to discover our passions before we enter college, so we have some more direction and motivation in those four short years. They are the chance to do something just for the love of it, to gain confidence in ourselves and our decisions, and to fail until we figure out what we succeed at.
Travel has done all those things for me. I learned a lot in my classes, but nothing could have opened my mind more to those bigger world issues – hunger, poverty, and crime – than experiencing them. Being served a meal from a hospitable family before the realization hits that they are serving the only food they own, or having a man offer to help me only minutes after his sister had been buried beneath earthquake rubble. And then there are the practical skills, the on-the-spot decision making that is the difference in catching your train or making that connecting flight. Learning to trust yourself and to weigh risk and reward (like deciding to jump on a wild horse and go for the ride of your life, before deciding later that it was not the smartest decision.) Travel makes you uncomfortable, which in turn forces you to tune into emotions, senses, and responses that are so easily hidden in a classroom. It sets your priorities straight and gives you a much bigger scale to judge your own reactions; frustration, patience, empathy just to name a few.
Colleges like Princeton and *Harvard fully support the practice for anyone with doubts on what they want to dedicate their life to, and taking time off to travel doesn’t mean you’ll never come back. In the best cases, you’ll discover new cultures and everything that comes with it, and in the worst case you’ll have had a taste of the real world before paying to read about it. You don’t even have to leave the US to benefit from some time off, but I advise that you do (you’ll appreciate it so much more when it’s time to go back).
And if you’ve already graduated, or are years into your semi-rewarding career, travel anyways. The benefits of getting out of your comfort zone don’t expire, but your years do.
In closing, some words of wisdom no matter where you’re at in life:
“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”
― Eric Roth