The other day I was fortunate enough to be sitting in a room listening to 14 young people recount tales of their gap years. The RGS-IBG runs a programme called Learning and Leading and, as part of this, it gives grants to school pupils wanting to take a year out before university to do something meaningful. Said young people, also get provided with a mentor to help them through the rigorous planning, budgeting and risk assessment process leading up to their departure. I had been mentoring a delightful chap called Andre over 2014/15 and he’d just come back to recount his tales, along with the 13 others.
The day was a celebration of new experience and the benefits and positivity that come out of them, and was truly an inspiring, emotional and sometimes challenging day.
And it got me thinking about experiences and perspective.
Part of the reason people want to travel before university is because they need to break monotony. They need to do something different than go to school, work their part-time job, live at home, play sports, hang out with the same friends etc. They want to put themselves in situations they wouldn’t normally be in, and the easiest, and most rewarding way to do this is to travel (it’s very easy to become isolated and jaded on this little rock of ours - that stretch of water we have laid claim to makes a lot of difference in cutting us off from the world in some way).
I sat there yesterday, and I was jealous. Not the kind of jealousy you get when you see a really nice pug on instagram that you wish you had, but the real, burning jealousy that heats up behind your eyes and makes you want to quit your job there and then. The reason I felt so jealous is that I felt like I was again in the position that year 13 me was some 9 years ago. I felt like I was stale. Like nothing had really challenged me or changed for me in a long time, like actually these guys were more full of life and excitement than I had been for ages.
Suddenly it was a mix of swirling emotions - helplessness - feeling trapped in my job, feeling trapped in London, not having enough money to travel, feeling like I needed to do something radical to feel excited. People say a lot of negative things about gap year travel - but often it comes from the perspective of jobs and the economy, rather than individual experience and joy. But travel, because you are removed, because you are taken out of the over-priced, insular and isolated island of Britain, lets you suddenly view that island from afar and for what it is; small. Very small. Your life and your worries on it suddenly shrunk in the vastness of the world. Now I don’t want to hate on Britain (like everywhere there are great things and not-so-great things), or to dimune people’s worries, but more to make the point about perspective.
Thinking about this all yesterday, I realised stuff. I’d travelled on my gap year and come back with such a great perspective on life - ready for university and everything that I hadn’t thought of yet. And now I’d felt like I'd lost it. A few years of work and routine, had my perspective covered, like ivy covering a wall. Is this something that comes in cycles? I remember hearing a this talk by Stefan Sagmeister and thinking it was a great idea to have your entire workforce take a sabbatical every number of years, and indeed his isn’t the only workplace doing it. Some offer unpaid leave (which my pal Charlie is on right now, exploring India with his wife) and other options to allow their staff to gain this perspective, to step back, and ultimately, slow down. But what if your job doesn’t do this? What happens if you have to make the decision to quit and do this yourself? It suddenly becomes a lot harder. Security, money, the unknown, all play a part. And if you have a job that you don’t hate - this makes it even harder to step away.
It's important for us all to step back for a time, to float above what we're currently doing sometimes, and look at where we currently are, out-of-body-style. But it’s hard to when you’ve got that grad job that for so long is the end game. Even if you know it’s not your end game. There isn’t a great support network through the traditional channels encouraging you to think about this, so you need to think about it yourself. Schools and universities encourage the first grad-job endgame: they get you to a point. When you’re ‘in the system’ so to speak, time for reflection is very limited. If you’re at university now you’ll probably have more time to reflect than you will for a while, so if you can, have a think.
There's also not much media focus much on recent graduates looking for other things, perhaps overwhelmed or unhappy where they are, rather the level of unemployment, saturation of the market or what subjects are the most facilitating. Because why would you want to leave a perfectly good job. You’re lucky to have it.
So don’t be fooled into thinking stuff ‘ends’ with getting a grad job. That is fallacy but something that it’s easy not to see past until you’re actually there (it sounds very obvious I know). If you’re in that graduate job and everything I’ve said is resonating, GET IN TOUCH! After all, solidarity is great and maybe we can work it out together.