Is a gap year what school leavers need?

gap year girl in paris

I was recently approached by a family member whose daughter is finishing school this year.  She thought it would be a good idea for me to give her some career guidance…. Beeeg mistake!  Not because I’m not qualified to give such advice, in my infinite wisdom, but because what I had to say was not entirely what she wanted her daughter to hear.

When I was finishing school, the idea in my head was that no matter what, I had to go to university and I had to study something immediately.  So off I went and studied law. (Yes friends, I am a qualified attorney, surprise, surprise!)  And all through my studies and my articles, I absolutely hated it.  It just didn’t fit well with me and I found that I didn’t give it my all as I was unhappy doing it.  I have many friends that I studied with that are thriving and making a huge success of themselves but for me, it was a completely wrong choice.  There are many people that I meet that still suggest that I start practicing again when all my kids are school-going, somehow it’s just not my thing.

So what is my thing?  I actually still don’t know.  There are many things I enjoy doing, but making a career out of eating chocolate unfortunately doesn’t seem viable!   I guess it’s not a waste having studied something and not be practicing it as I always have the possibility of returning to it, if the need ever arises.  What I do know is that as I finished school, there wasn’t anything that I particularly would have liked to pursue.  It would be great if all of us were like the X Factor contestants that just knew since they were 5 that they were born to be singers (some of whom I seriously beg to differ with) but that’s not the reality.

So my advice to her was to take a gap year. Her mom reacted with, “No ways!

That’s a waste of a year!”  Not really.  The gap year would not be to sit around the house sponging off her parents but to take some time doing work in different fields to find out what what she feels fulfilled doing,  what makes her wake up each morning not with dread but with a sense of excitement.

I know many people who go to a job everyday simply because they have responsibilities and they need to bring home the bacon (or macon, in our case).  My better half for example would much rather be spending his days making fishing documentaries but how would we make ends meet if he did this? I’ve been able to make the change to something I love. I’ve becoming a website administrator (sounds important right?!) at the same time as being a full-time mum, so it is possible.  I do  however, feel a pinch of guilt for spending so many years doing something I hated.

So at the end of our conversation, we all agreed that my ‘advice’ came through experience and that it may be a good idea to take a year off, to explore a world where the possibilities are endless.

This article was originally written for Jozikids by Fatima Kazee in 2013.

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Fatima Kazee

Fatima Kazee

Fatima Kazee, mum to a teenager, a pre-teen and ‎a little princess.  Part-time wife to a fanatical fisherman. She’s addicted to sneakers, anything chocolatey & is an invaluable member of the Jozikids and Kznkids team.

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16 Responses

  1. Not bad advice at all. I often find individuals in the work environment who have "fallen" into careers and because of financial commitments, they cannot pursue their true passion in their thirties or forties. The experiences from a gap year could also help to develop a broader understanding of the world and act as a stepping stone to a more holistic, well-rounded individual. However, I also think boundaries need to be set so that a gap year does not become "years" and a life/career direction is made at some point.

  2. Two things to bear in mind. Firstly the ability to take a gap year depends very much on socio-economic factors. Secondly, a person should plan specific activities that will enable him/her to get clarification and direction to make a career decision.

  3. I so agree with you, Shafeeka! Unfortunately many school leavers are under the impression that making a career choice come to you in your sleep! And taking a gap year is to "rest" from studying! I am currently working on a structured gap year, very affordable (vs the extremely expensive ones available) where the young people will stay at home and not have the added costs of accommodation and parachute jumping and caving and white water rafting…

  4. Thanks for this article. My eldest son, about to turn 23, wanted to study architecture. He went to Wits after matric and completed the 3-year B. Arch Studies but decided not to continue for the next three years. Instead he worked last year to earn some money and then left for the UK and Europe with just a backpack in March this year. He is due home this weekend – and in the past 8 months, has had the most incredible experiences, has had to learn how to spend his few pounds and euros wisely, has had to get around, find somewhere to sleep every night, find somewhere to eat every day… and has become a fabulous young adult in the process. His interest in architecture has been reignited the more he has travelled across Europe and there are now a world of opportunities open to him… I left school, went to varsity and started working – and am still at it, 30 years down the line!! So, my advice to any young person – get out there and discover the world…

  5. I fully agree Fatima, albeit after my own years of experience. I have agreed to allow my daughter a gap year, not to "chill out" but to explore the various possibilities that suit her areas of interest. Her year will be structured (to satisfy my control issues) she will work at Spirit of Adventure as an instructor, partake in their training as well as doing a course of two via distance learning. This may not be suitable for everyone and should the young adult know what they want to do/study then so bit it but let this be an option and do research on what they can do during their gap year.

  6. Agreed! I feel that voluntary/community work be mandatory for all school leavers, as military service is in some countries. The skills which I gained from such work has really helped me and exceeds anything I learnt from a textbook. I have also learnt to work under pressure and to a high standard, and learnt to work with different people.

  7. Thank you all for your input! 🙂 I can't say I regret studying and not pursuing a career in law but I do feel as though I missed out on the opportunity to find what it is I would've loved to do. Time doesn't stand still and life kind of takes over. As a mum my responsibilities and priorities have changed and what I want has taken a back seat. I seriously think taking time out to perhaps do some charity work or work in fields that we think we might be interested in and broaden our very narrow minds at that age would help immensely. Travel is great if it is possible as it opens our eyes to the real world. I believe that sometimes the communities we find ourselves in dictate what we should do and we need to break free of those expectations.

  8. Thanks for this article it help me a lot because i work as a office cleaner and studied Business Management but i want to do my own business, there is a lot business i think, from the start i want to have my own day care centre, thx alot you help me to think twice

  9. Hi. My daughter is also busy with matric and we always spoke about her diving and travelling for a year or 2 as diving is not really a well paid job and once you settle down it will become difficult for a women with children. She worked for free for years to get her qualifiqations as a skipper and instructor. The only problem is that I saw the movie Taken – yes I know it is only a movie but this cuts very close to reality. For the ones who hasn't seen the movie – 2 girls leave for a holiday abroad and before they even unpacked, they were whisked off and drugged/prostitution by a very friendly local whom they asked to take a photo.To loose any child to human trafficking must be undescribible. This is just the problem now, I can not overcome my fear after seeing this movie and doing some research and this has a huge influence on her choices as she does not know what to study and feels all her dreams are gone now? Does anybody have any advice or SAFE organisations we can use. Am I just irrational?

  10. Hello lidia how are u doing? Long time my daughter also in matrix hey I know we mothers face does factors in life its so sad that is most horrible thing that a mother must go through take care xxxx

  11. Hi lidia jong ek het ñ vriendin wat haar seun en die se meisie op way to explore gestuur het. Georganiseerde goep wat saam die kinders toer en werk. Hier by ons is ń vriend wat sy seun weer oo ń christelike gap year gestuur het somewhere is die kaap as jy wil kan ek meer uitvind oor dit. In tzaneen is ook so groep. Die way to explore kan julle info kry van die internet.

  12. You and I are exactly on the same page. I am an attorney/conveyancer as well. I completely agree with your rationale behind opting for a gap year. We should catch up sometime 🙂

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