The most common use of the term “Gap Year” is associated with high school graduates taking a year off from school before going to college. They might take this year to determine what profession to pursue or which college is the better option. Well, adult gap years happen as well. We might think of them as sabbaticals, except gap years are normally unpaid, and at the end of a sabbatical, the person returns to work with their previous employer. As 2016 draws to a close and 2017 will be my first year of “having a job” for all 12 months of the calendar year, I thought it would be an ample opportunity to review the past.
Previously, I have written about my “Golden Handcuffs” job where I had a high-paying job with zero personal life. While I have no desire of returning to that lifestyle, those 7 years had many valuable benefits (financial and professional) that would have been somewhat difficult to earn in other career fields. Plus, it's how I met my wife and was able to get the ball rolling to finally make the decision to leave.
What I Did During My Gap Year
First and foremost, I didn't spend it playing videogames or reading a book on the beach. It was a period of working with my family so we could live in a nice house and find a new career field. Going straight from being an operations supervisor to another full-time job would have crushed any near-term hopes of our life goals being accomplished.
When I quit my full-time job in August 2015, which was probably the most difficult decision I have made, I really didn't know what to expect. While I did have some part-time work lined up as I still needed to earn some income during this time to pay the bills, the first month or two was a time of rest. Except for working evenings and weekends to build two houses during the year. We completed the second house (our house) in late August approximately one year and one week after I turned in my notice.
For the remainder of the year, I spent my days writing and helping my wife launch her book about earning a debt-free college degree. Several ideas fizzled out and there are several more we want to pursue when time allows.
Building our house and a house for another family member was priority #1 during this time frame and I didn't pursue any full-time work because I couldn't meet my obligations in this area. Part of the reason I made the move was that I was lined up for a full-time job with evenings off that was supposed to become available in early 2016, five months after I turned in my resignation notice. That person ended up staying and I had to find Plan B. This is how I indirectly “fell into” freelance writing and becoming a Spanish teacher.
Before I talk about Plan B for finding employment, I will disclose that I am very content that job I was hoping for did not become available. It did finally become available at the end of 2016 and I declined the opportunity. It was a good job compared to my previous one, but, more restricting than my current work schedule.
Back to crafting Plan B. My wife comes from a family of entrepreneurs and self-employment has always been her motivation. She owns a ballet studio and also teaches music. We met because my the daughter of my former boss was her student. We were able to afford a gap year simply because my wife worked while I transitioned to a new career field.
As the door for Plan A seemed like it was never going to open, I started looking around for what I could do and still allow myself to be home with the family. As I studied Spanish during college and a local school was in need of a part-time Spanish teacher, I was finally able to use my college degree. When I'm not teaching, I am writing for online clients on a variety of personal finance and other topics.
Seek First The Kingdom…
The primary reason I left my former job was because my wife would have been a single parent for all intensive purposes. I would be home when I could, but, mostly I would just be with the family 1 day each week and on vacations. The tradeoff of a high disposable income was no longer worth it when you only get to be a parent of little children once.
Our wedding verse was Matthew 6:33 “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” I will be the first to admit that I do not have everything figured out and far from being a saint.
I will be the first to admit that I do not have everything figured out and far from being a saint. For us, having a closer relationship with God meant leaving my former employer as it didn't align with our goals and values. Pursuing a new path was the best answer for multiple reasons.
We have been blessed in ways I didn't imagine during our Gap Year. Money no longer seems to grow on trees, but, we were able to have enough financial blessings through the year to help. We have also realized the value of having family and friends that are willing to lend a helping hand when they can. While it sometimes feels like things are not moving as fast we want them to do sometimes in terms of increasing our student base, selling more books, etc., our life is more enjoyable and fulfilling now than 16 months ago.
Dare to Compare?
In the personal finance world, we often talk about the pointlessness of “Keeping up with the Joneses.” Whether we admit it or not, most (if not all) of us still compare and want what we do not have.
I must also admit that I still periodically reflect on the decision to change careers and if it was a wise move. It takes both of our incomes to pay the bills, whereas before I earned enough from my job alone and we still made more than currently make now. We don't live an extravagant lifestyle that requires us to have a $80,000 salary, although I miss the income.
One of my largest challenges is that my first thoughts revert to how much money something costs and if I have enough in the bank to afford something if I wanted to buy it. While I talked about pursuing a more godly lifestyle in the previous section, I'm writing that money is a very large idol in my life.
Especially at Christmas and New Year's when materialism runs rampant and we create resolutions for next year. I grew accustomed to a certain lifestyle and sometimes it is challenging to compare how we spend our days now compared to a year ago or how our peers spend them now. It's even more of a challenge when you look at LinkedIn and see your former co-workers and classmates earning awards or being promoted. Accomplishments you possible could have had if you had only “paid your dues.”
But, there comes a time when you need to draw a line in the sand. My wife & I talk about our decision periodically. While we could have handled some parts of the transition a little better, we have the baton and are running full stride with our current income streams and making them grow. This year has been a decent exercise in learning patience.
There's no use in looking back, except to learn from experience, because we cannot return to the past. And, comparing our material value to others is ridiculous and a waste of time. It's okay to have goals and aspire for more, but, make sure it's for the right reason.
I stayed with the railroad because it paid well for my skill set. Today, I'm working for a quarter of what I used to make. Of course, this isn't a fair comparison since I work notably fewer hours, have a less stressful job, and have more schedule flexibility. But, I still need to overcome the challenge of knowing that I could buy a new car, make a large investment, or go on a fancy vacation and not feel the financial effects.
Now we must stick to a budget to make sure we meet our saving and investing goals and learn to live with less. The grass is always greener on the other side and we have been on both sides in the past year. We plan to stay on our current side, money is important, but it's not the first or only solution.
Why I'm Glad I Took a “Gap Year”
Writing this post, I quickly realized I could write even more. Which I will do in the future with sub-topics. It was a small challenge telling family, friends, and former co-workers that I was essentially taking year off from traditional work. Even though I spent the time preparing for the future and using “sweat equity” to help build our house.
There is a stigma for a 30-year-old to not be working. I don't want to be labeled as a stereotypical, lazy Millennial. Once again, I shouldn't really care what others think about me. As my wife says, I worked more in the 7 years with the railroad that most do in 10 or 15 years at their jobs and it was a well-deserved break.
During this off year, I took some time to invest in myself and my family. Instead of sacrificing my life for a corporate balance sheet, we have a beautiful house with a very small mortgage and a healthier family setting. I can be home and focus on them instead of constantly waiting for the phone to ring to put out another figurative fire. And, I lost 15 pounds and have more energy from having a regular schedule.
In short, I wish I had a few re-dos, but, I am thankful for the opportunities during this year that I wouldn't have had if I was punching the timeclock instead.
Have you taken a Gap Year or changed careers? What was your experience? What would you “redo” if you had the chance?
Josh founded Money Buffalo in 2015 to help people get out of debt and make smart financial decisions. He is currently a full-time personal finance writer with work featured in Forbes Advisor, Fox Business, and Credible.