“Mum, you can’t buy that. It’s too young for you.”
I was shopping with my eldest daughter in her favourite surf shop. She was looking at bikinis. I was looking at jumpers (sweaters for my North American friends).
“What?? How is this too young for me?”
“It just is.”
We proceeded to have a hilarious discussion in the surf shop about the ‘age-appropriateness’ of the jumper. It was a discussion that lasted long after we left the shop with the newly purchased jumper in my bag.
The next evening I had dinner with a friend I hadn’t seen in some time. I told her the story about shopping with my daughter and we talked about age-appropriateness. She is an accomplished business woman in her early 60s and as we talked she reminded me of the old saying ‘mutton dressed as lamb’. I laughed and told her that I dress younger now than I did in my 30s because I really don’t care what anyone thinks anymore. I just kind of have my own style. I know what looks good and what feels good and I don’t care whether someone else judges it to be appropriate for my age or not.
My friend told me she plans to retire at the end of the year. She leads an incredibly busy life, traveling for work, managing staff in four states and works with a charity or two as well. She explained that she was feeling nervous about retirement, as it has such negative connotations and makes her feel old. Everyone keeps asking her what she’s going to do when she retires, but she confessed to me that she really doesn’t know. She’s too busy at the moment to figure it out. She knows she wants to travel, but beyond that, who knows?
“Why not tell everyone you are taking a gap year?” I suggested.
Her face lit up. “A gap year? Like kids take?” (For my North American friends, it is common for kids in Australia to take a gap year between high school and university to travel the world and work and have fun. To find themselves in some way.)
I explained to my friend that just over a year ago when I decided to take a full break from my communications business and my coaching business and focus on me, I came up with the idea of telling people I was taking a gap year.
Like me, this friend has worked her entire life since the age of 15. I went straight from high school to college/university, taking three instead of four years to complete it and then a week after graduation, started my first ‘real’ job. I never had a break before. Even when I had my first child I went back to work as soon as my maternity leave ended.
In a society where working every hour under the sun is encouraged, the idea of taking a break to focus on yourself seems to scare a lot of people. When I told people I was taking a break and doing whatever came up, I had so many people look at me like I was crazy and pronounce judgements.
Why does it bother people when someone breaks out of the mould that society tries to force us into? Why did I get looks like I either had two heads or like I was having some sort of new-age hippy breakdown? Why do others feel threatened by my actions that don’t conform to their ideas of what they think I should do with my life? Why does my friend feel pressure to come up with a path for her retirement despite the fact that she’s so busy doing what society tells her to do that she can’t think about what she wants to do with her own life until she takes a break from it?
I don’t really care what anyone else thinks about my life. I know taking a break for myself has been the best thing I could have ever done. And somehow calling it a gap year gave me permission to try new things and to travel. In my gap year so far I’ve been to the US twice, to New Zealand, to a number of places in Australia and to Jordan. I’ve taken classes I never would have before, caught up with friends I hadn’t seen in years, met new people I needed to meet and learned a whole lot about myself.
It gave me the permission to say yes to things that I would have had to say no to if I was working. It also gave me permission to say no to things that I didn’t want to do because it would interfere with my fun. It’s helped me gain clarity on what I want to do next with my life and have the strength and wisdom to be able to take the first steps towards doing so. It’s helped me move into a life I love every single day.
Putting a label on it and calling it a gap year seems to make other people more comfortable. They get this funny, faraway look in their eye and say, ‘oh, I’d love a gap year.’ I haven’t met anyone yet who doesn’t want a gap year from their life, with all the promise of fun and travel and freedom that brings.
We hear that age is a state of mind. To some extent, that’s true. A gap year can make you feel young. Retirement can make you feel old. A gap year doesn’t have to just be for the young. It can be for the young at heart. And when you are older you most likely have more money to spend on a gap year than when you are a kid, living out of a backpack and staying in youth hostels. It turns out having a gap year later in life is catching on around the world. Google ‘Golden Gap Year’ and you get plenty of ideas of things to do. Not that I’ve needed ideas from others. And not that I’d call mine a ‘Golden Gap Year’ either. Somehow I find that term just as cringeworthy as ‘age-appropriate’.
My gap year started in July 2017 so by rights, officially (is there anything official about this???) it should have ended by now. But I’m continuing it at the moment because…. well because I can. It’s my life. I don’t need anyone else’s permission — just mine. I’m off to Peru next weekend for 18 days with my eldest daughter for a wild adventure together. This trip, which I booked just a couple of weeks ago, has come at the right time, in the right way. I was able to say yes without hesitation when the Universe dropped it in my lap.
Where will this adventure lead me? What new insights will it bring? Who will I meet on the trip? I’ve no idea, but I can’t wait to see what’s in store! And to be able to share this time with my daughter feels extra special too.
It can be cold in Peru at this time of year so I’ve been advised to bring lots of layers. I figure my new jumper will come in handy.