Gap Year For Grown Ups

Do me a favour. Imagine it is Sunday 1st January and you have had an amazing Christmas holiday season. You’ve caught up with friends and family, you attended some really amazing parties and for once, this year, New Year was not a disappointment but a really, really great evening.

Imagine you’re now sitting at home on that Sunday and it’s 7.00pm, it suddenly dawns on you that tomorrow, at 7.00am you have to haul your ass out of bed and head to work.

How does that make you feel?

Now hold on… don’t skip forward, don’t edit, hold on to that initial feeling right there. Yes, that one.

Scribble it down, describe it and let me ask you a simple question.

Was that feeling positive and expansive, like excitement? Or was it a negative feeling like angst, or deflation. Literally like someone just popped your happy balloon?

You, my friend, who is sitting with exploded rubber all over your lap, it’s time (before we head into the holidays) for a conversation.

I spent 12 years of my life doing a job I disliked. I was good at it, I met and worked with some terrific people and it took me all over the world (Europe, Asia and Australia). But every Sunday the warmth of a good weekend would be replaced with a mild dread in the pit of my stomach. When I felt like you just did, I would brush that under the carpet, sleep a restless sleep and go into auto-pilot on Monday morning. And so it went, and so it went for 12 years.

I think there are four main reasons we stay in jobs we dislike:

  1. We have some dogma in our heads telling us that the way to get on in life is to grind it out, stop complaining and pay our dues.
  2. We are afraid of the unknown, especially if it has a financial impact too.
  3. We don’t believe in ourselves enough to try something different.
  4. We believe the way it is, is the way it is and things cannot be changed.

I remember my father saying that I was always a ‘dreamer’ — this apparently was not a good thing. He is a child of the industrial age and that thinking permeates much of how we conceive and perceive work. And not only is it focused on the output of the business rather than the needs of the human beings who work within it, this dogma is also actively contributing to the sharp rise in chronic unhappiness in our societies.

So what is the answer.

Gap Year for Grown Ups is a radical act of sanity in an insane world. It is an action firstly and a growing community of people secondly. These are ordinary men and women just like you who have looked up from their rut and said “is this really it?” And then decided to do something about the answer they got to that question.

They are empty nesters, suddenly singles, business builders, corporate employees, working moms, college graduates, early careerists and others who have reached a point of transition in their lives, a point that their norm is no longer fit for purpose.

I was at exactly that point nearly ten years ago. A high flyer in banking, working 12 hr days, making over $250,000 a year and miserable. All I knew then was I was miserable but so were 70% of my colleagues, therefore miserable was normal, and if miserable is normal then maybe nothing needs to change — maybe this is just the way it is.

Except I wanted change, I craved change with every cell of my being but what do you do next, how do you change, what are the best first steps, who else can I talk to?

That’s exactly why Gap Year for Grown Ups began. It was the toolkit and community I wished I had all those years ago.

The big question is, why should we just stop and take time out? Why don’t we just change career, or get another job?

Well firstly, to look deeply at our lives we need to take time out from the relentless pace. You cannot think clearly when you’re always been dragged from pillar to post by your life. The idea of time out, of retreat is hundreds of years old and every major religion or philosophy has created structured time out for the purpose of deep thinking and reflection.

Every time I changed job or company within weeks I’d be miserable again. Most of our lives are focused on changing the scenery but never changing the fundamentals of our life. To do that takes time and reflection.

Secondly, having a clear process to follow to allow you to come to some clear conclusion of how you’re going to re-craft your life is also critical. One of the core values of Gappies is that we’re not running away but running towards life. So using the latest interventions from positive psychology, the science of habits/change and the science of exercise are part of a framework of reflection that we know will work for most people.

Thirdly overcoming the “I can’t”, with “here’s how”, is incredibly important. Did you know you can live virtually for free anywhere in the world? Did you know, with a little planning you can travel for free? Did you know that there are an abundant supply of resources to help you take that time out, whether 3 months or one year? They are there.

Finally, hearing the inspiring stories of others who have taken the road less travelled and re-crafted a more fulfilling life on their return, helps us to know we are not alone. That there is a community out there who understand and support your path. More importantly, they also know you are not delusional or a dreamer if you want to build a different type of life.

Like many of us, I have chased happiness down every conceivable rabbit hole. I changed relationships, changed drinking habits, changed sports, changed partners and even changed countries looking for a place where I would be, once and for all, happy and fulfilled.

Yet often within a few weeks I was back to square one.

Our Gap Year for Grown Ups took place in rural France. My five and two year old daughter watched the seasons change, we played Pooh sticks over a mountain stream in the Pyrenees, technology was used just once a week so that we reconnected as a family. They experienced snow, they bonded deeply with grandparents, aunties and uncles. We dried them after bath time in front of a wood burning stove and we made a pledge to put happiness acquisition rather than the acquisition of stuff at the heart of our family.

So how has our life changed?

We no longer live in Australia but are now based in the UK to be closer to family. My wife is climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to raise funds for a charity she is passionate about. Our two daughters are flourishing, surrounded by extended family and friends and my businesses are focused on things that give me a profound sense of meaning and purpose. Gap Year and Sherpa People Systems are entirely focused on helping people live (and work) in a more fulfilled way.

Has it been easy… no.

Are we out of the woods yet…. no, there’s more work that needs to be done to put us on an even keel.

Would I do anything differently — heck yes. I would have taken a Gap Year instead of jumping straight into a start up years ago when I stood on Queen Street in Sydney, outside of the bank I was working for wondering, “is this really as good as it gets?”

So go and be brave, that feeling you just felt at the beginning of this conversation needs to be listened to not ignored. Don’t brush it under the carpet because it is your quietest voice that needs to be listened to the most.

Dare to let the dreamer in you free again :)

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