Getting Over the Gap Year Stigma

I recently had the opportunity to interview Andrea Wien (Duchon), freelance writer and entrepreneur, who is embarking on a 6,000-mile road trip to promote her new book, Gap to Great.

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Eight years ago, I submitted my application to the University of Pittsburgh without the slightest hesitation. I was so set on going to Pitt they were the only school I applied to.

Now I don’t regret my decision, but I do wish I would have been exposed to more opportunities before going off to college. Luckily, for students today, Andrea Wien is opening new doors.

Meet Andrea Wien

I met Andrea a few months ago after reading an article she wrote on Medium about starting a business around the gap year.

A gap year, or gap time, is a dedicated time set aside to expose oneself to new experiences. In Andrea’s line of work, she focuses on helping students (and parents of students) prepare for gap time either between high school and college or during college.

A lot of people still associate gap time as an excuse to play video games in mom and dad’s basement or put off making significant life commitments.

But it’s clear in recent years the negative stigma surrounding gap time is giving way to a positive emphasis on practical learning experience. I’m willing to bet our grandchildren (and maybe even our children) will not recognize the current education landscape we are so accustomed to.

It’s clear in recent years the negative stigma surrounding gap time is giving way to a positive emphasis on practical learning experience.

However, before this major education shift occurs, working millennials who already completed their “higher education” years don’t have the luxury of taking extended time off to travel and experience something new.

If only there were a way to live life with a gap year mentality…

Suprise! There is! I asked Andrea if it’s possible for anyone to live with a gap time mindset. The following are snippets from our conversation.

What is your definition of a gap year?

The best definition that I’ve heard of the gap year is that it is structured and intentional time away from formal education.

The best definition that I’ve heard of the gap year is that it is structured and intentional time away from formal education.

The structure part is simply having some blueprint or roadmap of what you want to accomplish — that’s not to say you have to have it all figured out, but an idea of where you want to start. A lot of people will do a gap year in chunks. So they’ll maybe do three months, and then evaluate what they’ve learned and how they are feeling before planning the next chunk.

And the other piece is intentional, so really making it a time where you are not just taking a gap year because you didn’t get into your top school. It’s actually a choice, not that you feel off the map and lost all ambition.

Is the gap year gaining popularity?

It’s definitely gaining popularity, in the context of college, you are starting to see the rise of tuition and the fact that it’s not a safe bet anymore. Kids go to school now and then graduate and either are underemployed or unemployed.

Now I think people are starting to take a step back and think, “Is this the best option for me? Is this the best use of my resources and time? Is there a way to achieve my goals without going to school right away?”

And so I think the gap year comes into play in that discussion simply because it’s a time to step back and re-evaluate what you are really going to school for.

You and your husband are driving 6,000 miles across America, why?

I’m a big believer that the success stories of the future won’t be the people with Harvard degrees hanging in their corner offices. I really think the successful people will be the ones who spent the time to learn about themselves, learn about other cultures through travel, make an effort to design their lives instead of blindly following the path.

I’m a big believer that the success stories of the future won’t be the people with Harvard degrees hanging in their corner offices.

And so with the road trip, I want to show people that you can live the life you’ve always thought about and dreamt about, and getting out into the world and meeting people is one of the most rewarding experiences that you can give to yourself.

So I think being out on the road and having this incredible experience is such an iconic thing, to take the Great American Road Trip if you will. But doing it with the lens of the gap year of showing people what the gap year is all about and how to build a purpose driven life.

I know those are all buzz words that get thrown around quite a bit but I think they come from a really good place of questioning the status quo and if it’s the best way to achieve what we are all trying to do. I think

Millennials, in particular, are really the first generation who have that drive to stand up and say, “No, I’m not just going to conform to the cubicle.” But yet there are not a lot of schools out there that show you how to do that. So the road trip’s focus is to show people it’s possible to design your life and go after it.

How can a working person like me adopt a gap year mindset?

One of the big misconceptions is that the gap year needs to be done abroad and it needs to be a year. It’s less about going away for 12 months and more about getting away from what you know.

There are ways to shift your mindset. I think anything that puts you face to face with a new experience is a good way to start.

Whether that’s taking a local woodworking class or volunteering at a local kids hospital, it doesn’t have to be all international, it can be domestic.

Look at what has lifted you up or what has always been something you wished to explore and start there. You realize how many opportunities exist in your own back yard.

How to Help Support Andrea

“A new generation is claiming the roadways. And we’re doing it our way. Get ready for the gap year,” reads Andrea’s IndieGoGo campaign. I’ve already claimed my autographed copy of Gap to Great and you can too by chipping in some gas money for Andrea’s trip across the US.

You can also visit her website andreawien.com or follow her on Twitter to see what she is up to on her journey.

This post originally appeared on A Millennial Type. If you would like to connect deeper with me, please join my mailing list to receive a weekly email and more information about my newest book, The Millennial Way.

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Stay-at-home dad. 9-to-5 escapee. Aldi aficionado. Me in a nutshell→ declanwilson.co/start-here

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