Redefining what matters

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Why should gap years be wasted on the young?

Whether you are comfortably settled and find yourself thirsting for something new, or you wake up after 20 or 30 years and realize your grown-up life is not what you wanted, taking a gap year to clarify you who are and what you want to do is not a luxury; it’s a necessity.

However you want to change the world, or whoever you want to be, don’t wait for later. It’s a grownup thing to convince yourself that you should stick it out or resign yourself to the same old same old. There often isn’t a “later,” as many of us know all too painfully. So do it now! Think about taking a gap year for grownups as a way to reinvent yourself. But don’t just think of it as a time to tick items off your bucket list. Aim for a more rewarding journey than that. The real challenge is to redefine what matters to you and to clarify your purpose. The real journey is the one that happens inside your head and your heart.

At age 62, my husband and I decided to reinvent our lives with a gap year. We dropped out of our comfortable life in Washington D.C., constructed over 31 years, and moved to an island off the coast of Maine. We lived in Paris for a month to learn French. We trekked for mountain gorillas, then volunteered in Africa, a lifelong dream. I thought the novelty of our gap year adventures would get rid of a secret I had been keeping for decades: I suffer from chronic depression and anxiety. Instead my inner demons came roaring back.

But that was part of the change I was looking for. Rather than continue to keep depression a shameful secret, I began to talk about my experience more openly. When I began to speak up, I discovered, to my surprise, that many other people (some of them friends and family) wanted to talk about chronic depression and how it affects their lives. Revealing my secret unlocked the secret for many others.

Depression affects 15 million Americans and 350 million people worldwide. There is a hunger for the acknowledgement of depression and anxiety as chronic – yet manageable – conditions, especially when your life appears thriving and successful on the outside.

But this is only part of the story of our gap year. In my talk I illustrate the inspiration, the decision-making, and the practical details – along with the doubts, uncertainty and pain that are a part of shedding your old skin in order to find a new one. I use my logical, right-brained husband, a former physician, as a foil to my left-brained approach to life. And show how both types of people can make the most of an experience that shouldn’t be reserved for 18-year-olds.

Why should gap years be wasted on the young? Grownups brave enough to take a gap year can redefine what matters, as well as tick items off a bucket list. This engaging talk enumerates the decision-making and inspiration that go into planning a time out, as well as the unexpected challenges. Uncertainty and pain are part of real change, but they are worth embracing if it means discovering, finally, who you really are.

Named one of the Most Influential Women in Technology by Fast Company, I have spoken at major conferences and before business groups throughout the U.S., Canada, the UK, Europe, Australia, the Middle East and China.

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