Gap years are the thing. My great-nephew hasn’t figured out whether he wants to do political science or biology in college, though he knows which college he’ll attend and has already been accepted. So he’s taking a year to work and figure that out. It seems that for an 18-year-old he has figured out a lot already and a gap year is a sensible part of the plan.
Other young people I know take more open-ended gap years, involving high adventure or artistic endeavors or seeing the world. They are both privileged and aware of their own limitations, their lack of readiness to jump through the prescribed loops to prepare for a career. I wish them the best.
I was never on a straightforward career trajectory. A few years of this, a few years of that. Teaching abroad, teaching in the inner city, foreign-student advising, nonprofit management, magazine editing, running fellowships for foreign journalists, writing and editing for an environmental organization. . . .
The employment stints grew longer into something resembling a career as a writer and editor, with some peculiar particulars such as a focus on dealing with impossible manuscripts, international affairs, and persuasive grantwriting. But it always seemed that I did a lot of zigzagging, and between the zigs and zags there were gaps. Some lasted weeks and some lasted years. Into those gaps I inserted fulltime parenting, volunteering, church involvement. Even in my paid work I tended to go from project to project, taking time in between to figure out what to do next.
So it is not surprising that the zig-gap-zag-gap pattern is continuing in retirement. Only now the project zigzags are even more miscellaneous and short term and the gaps, too, are shorter–weeks or sometimes a month or two. But I still need them and every time I come to a gap it feels like I need to figure out all over again what I really want to do with my life. So I have a lot of empathy with younger gap-year adventurers.
In the last six months or so I have had a number of things going all at once. Developing a project to train literacy teachers in Congo and going to Congo to launch the project. Selling and buying a house and moving in. Welcoming a new grandchild and several extended stints of childcare for the other two.
But now, suddenly I find myself at one of those gap times. The Congo project will proceed without my intensive involvement. Everything is in place in our new home, and I will wait till fall to start working on the Pink Lady’s landscaping. The grandkids don’t need us every week, though we hope to see them often.
One thing the intensity of recent months has done is set me back physically. The irregular schedule got me out of routine exercise. The exertion of preparing to move and moving stirred up my knee problems. The Congo trip was almost restful by contrast but still hard on me.
Yesterday temperatures reached into the 90s. Too hot to walk! We had some time in the afternoon so we went to the local recreation center, toured, and signed up. It was air-conditioned. But even if I’d truly gone prepared to exercise, I was drained just by walking around. Signing up at the rec center was my exertion for the day!
This morning I got out of bed when Vic usually does to run. He wasn’t running this morning so I walked around the block by myself. I was alarmed by how difficult it was. Movement is always harder for me first thing in the morning than later in the day, but still. I felt stiff, weak, achy, overweight.
So, like I often do in these gap periods, I will begin by concentrating on diet and exercise. Get some energy back.
I find gap times good for getting back to routines or establishing new ones. Besides getting my butt moving, I’m meditating twice a day, with two different types of meditation. I’m thinking about how to work regular entertaining into our life in the new neighborhood. Our CSA farm is open so I’m harvesting our veggies every week.
But there will still be holes in my day. No doubt I will coast, daydream, read, watch movies, and feel generally useless for a few days or weeks until the next wave of purpose builds and carries me forward. Friends and neighbors, if you want to drop in at the Pink Lady, now is a good time!
What do you do in gap times?