It’s a Small World After All
When I first moved away to seek working and learning experiences outside my regular life it was fifteen years ago, and I was one of an increasing number of teenagers opting to take a ‘Gap Year’ before university study or settling down to work. The concept of a Gap Year was just getting established, and has since become more popular, both for teenagers to travel and explore, but also to save cash for their future studies during times of economic turbulence.
A shrinking globe
At the time I took a Gap Year, I was one of only a relative few. In the past decade and a half, however, the world has got a lot smaller. Technology and budget air travel have made it easier than ever to explore new places. The internet has democratised information and images, and provided a window into lives and places that would have been beyond our understanding previously. It has become more common to consider a fulfilling life as one incorporating a healthy chunk of exploring the world.
At the same time as our expectations of travel and lifestyle choices are changing, so is the nature of work. Work is far less bound by the nine to five, and for many industries, location is more flexible than ever too. A new wave of digital nomads have been the trailblazers for those of us who wish to combine a satisfying working life with embracing the opportunities to travel and explore that come along. With the arrival of wireless internet, smartphones, voiceover IP and cloud based technology, there are many knowledge workers and freelancers in different industries, who could work effectively from anywhere on the globe, sharing their skills with a worldwide audience.
Gap Years — wasted on the kids
The final, and perfectly logical, leap is for the Gap Years taken by teenagers to become more common among those some years into their careers. This is where sabbaticals and career breaks come into their own as an attractive option and a valuable employee benefit. And truthfully, despite the fact that my teenage Gap Year adventures helped me find my place in the world back then, there were experiences that I had neither the confidence nor the cash to fully appreciate and exploit. In the same way that youth is wasted on the young; Gap Years should not be seen as the sole preserve of teenagers, but rather a refreshing and enriching experience at any career stage.
You don’t have to move to the other side of the globe to get a fascinating experience and great insight on another culture (not to mention your own, which somehow looks different when viewed from overseas). There are few experiences that can match living abroad for shaping how you think and act; and with the arrival of sabbaticals into mainstream employee benefits, the opportunity to combine career and lifestyle choices is available to more of us than ever.
Benefits for all
Possibly the ultimate advantage of this developing narrative, is that the benefits of this shift to a more globally mobile and flexible workforce, are available for both employees and employers. Whilst employees get the chance to gather armfuls of new experiences, employers have the opportunity to recruit mid-career professionals to work with them during their sabbaticals — after which, the employee can return to their original day job refreshed and ready to share the benefits of their learning experience there too. With a potential win win outcome like that, perhaps in another fifteen years, Gap Years for grown-ups will have become as commonplace as those for school leavers.