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Don't waste your time-take a gap year

Date added: Friday 1st April 2016

There was a bit of a brewhaha last week following comments by Ďleading businessmaní, Sir Martin Sorrell questioning the benefits of a Gap Year with the press asking if they were a waste of time. This is a perennial and somewhat clichťd view to counter, which we did several times on Sky News but Iíll give it another shot here.

The papers reported Sir Martinís view that gap years were Ďwastedí because they lack substance and even those who spent time teaching for instance, had no purpose during the rest of their time out because they rely on serendipity (basically stumbling on good experiences by chance) to make their time worthwhile. He went on to say that a year is too short to make any meaningful contribution to projects overseas or to be of merit for the individual.

Sir Martin Sorrell said none of his 3 sons, took a gap year. OK, great, but why the hang up about those who did? Although Sir Martin stated he didnít believe in gap years, he himself spent his gap year working in TV shop. He then helpfully suggested young people learn Mandarin or computer code instead. Well guess what? Many do already Ė during their gap year, and not not only in a UK classroom but also in Beijing or Madrid. †You can also spend a year on an industry placement and get paid, become a ski instructor, crew a superyacht, conduct marine research, trek through South America, help rebuild Nepal, explore European art, practice photo-journalism and thousands of other things beside. As for how long you should spend doing anything, well thatís for you to judge. Itíll take several years to be proficient in Mandarin but that doesnít mean 6 months in China is going to be wasted.

Critics also point to the fact you have to pay an organisation to take you on an expedition, volunteer placement, language or arts course, sports instructor programme or work placement.† Well, you donít have to. People chose to do so because structured programmes offer experiences and places that just cannot be accessed if you travel independently. On top of that they are led by staff who know the country, are often experts in their field and can get you back home in an emergency.† The work they do adds value to local economies and can address needs that would otherwise not be met. Volunteering projects usually make long term commitments to a community or cause. Whilst a 4 week contribution might not seem significant, multiply that by several hundred 4-week contributions each year for a decade and you can understand the importance of your part in changing things for the better.

Of course, structured and independent travel can be two halves of the same gap year, or two thirds at least as youíll need to work in the UK to save up or organize some fundraising events. There really is something worthwhile for everyone whether you want to pit yourself against the elements, find out a bit more about yourself, get a head start in your career, deepen your knowledge before university or be proficient in a sport or hobby.† Yes, you can even spend time at the beach, enjoy a vibrant social life and be pleasantly surprised by events not entirely of your making. But you have to be there first donít you?

Could some gap years be more productive? Well, that depends on how you judge your life in your later years but that is not the issue. A gap year often comes at a time when young people are making huge decisions about their future and many young people are simply trying to get through the period as best they can, hoping to keep parents and teachers happy and themselves sane enough to enjoy any success that comes their way on results day. †A gap year offers time to reflect, try something new or go deeper into something you love. For strangers to be critical of how you decide to spend your 19th year when there are another 50 years of work ahead, is mean spirited at best.

Finally, and where I do agree with Sir Martin Sorrel-have a broad view of the world and the opportunities it presents for you to be the best of you. †If you are 16-18 and thinking about your future, donít feel pressured to go university now if you donít feel it is for you, donít feel pressured to achieved all your academic study in the next 3-5 years, donít feel pressured to get that dream job as soon as you graduate, donít feel pressured to live someone elseís vision of a life well spent. Donít even feel pressured into a gap year.

There probably 5 more decades before youíll be able to retire, make them count. Find your own path, follow your own passions, and discover your own purpose.