I learned about the benefits of teens taking a year between high school and college — whether they work, volunteer, attend an academic program, or travel — when I was conducting research for an article titled, “Live and Learn: The Advantages of Taking a Gap Year,” for Boston Magazine’s fall education issue. Data shows that after a gap year, students enter college with more focus and maturity, and earn higher grades.
But my favorite gap year anecdote comes from a mom, not a kid.
Cindy Buser’s youngest child went off to college this school year. On her LinkedIn page, she labels herself a “1st Year Empty Nester” and her current job “Taking My Own Gap Year.” After earning an undergraduate degree in economics from Smith College and an MBA from The Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles, Cindy went on to work for 10 years as a Marketing Director at a financial company before choosing to be a full-time mom and community volunteer.
Empty Nesters’ New Pursuits
The very capable Cindy is pausing to determine how to refocus herself now that her nest is empty. While figuring out her future, she now regularly flies over 700 miles to visit her 93-year-old mother without worry about keeping the home fires burning. She’s even taking her mother to visit her grandson in college. After researching and writing another article “The Not So Trivial Pursuits of Empty Nesters,” for Wellesley Weston Magazine, I have no doubt that Cindy will craft a fulfilling next chapter for herself.
One mother I interviewed went back to school to earn a degree as a pediatric nurse practitioner so she can work alongside her husband, a pediatric surgeon, on his annual trips to Haiti through Partners in Health. Another woman works at a daytime shelter for women, originally hired to oversee a $3 million building renovation. Another worked at a clothing boutique and then started her own. One more started a personal training business and a dessert catering business (smart way to keep her personal training business thriving!). And an empty nester who worked while her children were in school couldn’t bear to part ways with her son’s beloved piano teacher, so she took up piano herself.
8 Ideas for an Adult GAP Year*
If your nest will soon be empty (or already is), these 8 ideas can help you get your Gap Year off to a good start:
1. GO BACK TO SCHOOL: Pursue a new degree, update your professional skills, or simply take continuing education classes in subject areas that interest you — either online or at a local college or university.
2. VOLUNTEER: If you enjoyed the sense of community gained from volunteering at your children’s schools, then look for a new non-profit community to devote your time and energy to.
3. FIND A HOBBY: After years of driving your kids to and from sports practices, music and art lessons, why not pick up a hobby yourself? Do squash, guitar, or painting lessons sound good to you?
4. ADOPT A PET: If you long to parent another?soul on a daily basis, adopt a dog or cat from a shelter. Taking care of a puppy is almost like having a newborn in the house.
5. TRAVEL: Explore exotic locations around the world or scenic, cultural, and educational day-trip spots.
6. GET A JOB OR START A BUSINESS: To rejoin the workforce, reach out to former colleagues; contact a temporary agency that specializes in your prior line of work; network with friends, neighbors, and parents of your kids’ classmates for their professional, board, and volunteer connections; set up informational interviews; seek out apprenticeships and internships; post your résumé on online job sites; or craft a plan for your own business.
7. FOCUS ON YOUR HEALTH: With more time to spend on you, start an exercise and healthy-eating regime. Enlist a friend or relative to join you to help keep each other on track.
8. RAMP UP YOUR PERSONAL LIFE: Refocus on your relationship with your spouse or significant other. Not in a relationship? Now’s the perfect opportunity to join a special interest club, participate in activities at your house of worship, or register on online dating sites for 40 or 50-year-olds and above.
*Originally published in Wellesley Weston Magazine.