This is the third note I’ve written about my ideas around gap years. I think that’s probably three too many, but I also seem to keep getting questions about it. The previous notes were more about the decision to take a gap year. This one is more about what to do with it – given the immense whitespace for opportunity and choice in a gap year, how do you make the most of it?
Some general heuristics I think are useful for navigating a time with a lot of whitespace, like a gap year.
- Leave room for serendipity. Don’t prematurely pack your schedule, neither short term nor long term, with commitments during a gap year. The most interesting things always happen when you don’t have time for it. Leave room in your calendar, in your energy, for whatever exciting idea comes to you, so you can dive into it.
- Way way over-emphasize meeting + staying in touch with great people. Relationships compound faster than any other asset, and as someone on a gap year doing something unconventional you have such a powerful story as a tool to start conversations with many people in and out of your career path. Use it while you can to put yourself in the middle of interesting conversations
- Build something that you can own. This can be anything from a blog to a startup to a matchbox miniature model of a Boeing 747 or whatever the heck you want to do but won’t have time for in college. The biggest distraction in college isn’t time. It’s the fact that there is always something else to be done with a tighter deadline. There’s less of that at work, and building anything that you can own and call your own is going to be a great tool in your toolbelt as you meet more people and built up your story over time.
I think a good mindset to be in during a gap year is that everything you do is going to be fuel for your learning and motivation and personal narrative afterwards. So if there are decisions to be made to choose between two options, pick the one that’ll make for a better personal story, that’ll help you learn very rapidly about something you like, or something that can open up new opportunities even/especially if you can’t estimate it accurately from the start.
Realize you have a ton of time to do interesting things. A gap year isn’t some finite game. It’s a blank slate to plant your seeds for the long road ahead.
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