Gap periods: When loss is not a waste

Gap periods: When loss is not a waste

Gap periods can add and enhance the joyous experience of youth without denting academic performance or career advancement, says Mohan Das.

IIn pursuing academics or a career we hate being stopped in our tracks; we fear in that time another might overtake us and get the better of us. This behaviour reveals our deep sense of insecurity, our fear of being left behind in an increasingly globalised, fast-paced world. This is also because we are uneducated about the need to pause, to rest, and to reflect.

The greatest of discoveries were made by men when they paused from merely earning their livelihood, during what we now call ‘gap periods’, the time they set out to experience foreign cultures and distant lands and the world or think and ponder. For instance, Charles Darwin’s father was averse to him “wasting two years” on a ship bound for the Galapagos Islands. But it was there he began observing evidences he later consolidated into his theory of evolution. 

We, however, dread gaps and stops particularly during formative years and, more specifically, in academics: an unbroken schooling up to graduation and then a life of unbroken success is their chase. This is because in our culture an overlap must be avoided at all costs and any deviation can mean stupidity, or irresponsibility, or rebellion all of them sternly discouraged by traditionalists. But there are some among us who are beginning to think differently.

The gap period

Happily, more and more young Indians are taking time off from studies, particularly between undergraduation to postgraduation transition, to contemplate and, if necessary, revise their priorities, their values and their prospects. This time taken off from their main occupation is a gap period, usually lasting for a year. Many are doing it to simply to get academic stresses off their backs, to learn to go slow, while some are doing it purposefully to learn a new trade, or develop a talent, or master a skill, or even pursue a childhood dream.

In doing so the young citizens of a new India seem to be asserting their independence and seeking various means to attain self-sufficiency. Those who learn new skills during gap periods manage to carve out their own identity that attracts attention to their résumés. Some young professionals too are taking time off from work to pursue “nobler causes” or hobbies to attain a “work-life balance”.

Gap periods are slowly but surely becoming popular particularly among students who have a good track record and professionals in affluent jobs. Gap periods can also come as a mixed blessing for students who want to improve their track record and their prospects or, as it happened in my case, a gap period can prove to be a blessing in disguise.

Best time for a gap period

Statistically, it appears that most students who take gap periods are those in transition from undergraduate to post-graduate courses. This is understandable because once a student joins a PG course they have fewer choices vis-à-vis professions and fewer opportunities to make abrupt changes and, particularly among girls, less time as well.
Managing gap periods also requires a certain maturity and minimum interference from parents.

Therefore, the transition from UG to PG seems to be the best time for a gap period as anyone who has only dreamt of undertaking a journey will declare: the best time to make changes, or revise strategies, or change priorities is during the early stages of the journey. Sometimes gap periods may come a little early: high-school/ PUC students who suddenly realise they are under-prepared for the public exam may wish to withdraw, prepare harder to perform better in the supplementary exams. Such students too can benefit from gap periods (or, in these situations, “drop periods”) albeit they may be less free, less mature than they UG counterparts.

This is where they will need reassurance and guidance from responsible parents, adults and perhaps professional counsellors. In fact, they are in greater need of reassurance because they need to overcome the guilt and anxiety that comes with their decision. Those students who are fortunate to have sufficient family support will soon find that they have profited more from gap periods than they would have without them. Gap periods are those times when young people are opening themselves to be tested for their creativity, their focus and their endurance. 

Planning gap periods

Time is too precious to be wasted. This means gap periods can be allowed only once in lifetime; rarely do we find someone taking a second gap period. Thus, planning gap periods become vitally important. In fact, that in itself can be challenging! Although planning gap periods are best left to individuals a few tips would help.

To begin with, do not aim too high. Dare to be unconventional but also be practical. Keep measuring your progress regularly. Do not leave any part pending. Do not have too many targets in one gap period: be clear about why you are choosing a gap period.

If it is to pass an exam, then focus only on preparing well for the exam.
If you have chosen to gap because you want to learn a skill (music, or carpentry, or painting, or dog training, or automobile repair) then go all out to master it. Where possible seek a program that will give you a certificate for having learnt the skill. Whatever you do, remember that you need to keep the momentum up for the whole gap period.

If you are choosing to gap for busting stress then use the time in doing a part-time job such as a BPO job, or in volunteering, or in learning an art that de-stresses. If you want to de-stress being employed ensure that you choose a job that will give you enough free time and space to plan ahead.

If you are choosing to gap to enhance knowledge then plan what you will study. Setting a target for study is vital so that you will not lose focus and time. Do not have abstract, impractical targets. You can even choose to complete an online course that guarantees a certificate.

Some risks

No decision comes without risks. Taking a gap may at first sound exciting, but soon the risks of gap periods begin to appear:

*  Loneliness: Fewer phone calls, emails and shorter chats.

*   Sudden extensions of gap period: Ill health, injury, changing government policies or global phenomena resulting having local impact.

*  Fears of unemployment, financial drain, “dead-end gaps” (no perceptible gain with advance).

*   Danger of “relapsing gaps”: Returning to initial state without any gain.

One must be prepared to manage these risks. Remember these risks come with your decision and if you learn to manage them well you can emerge stronger, smarter and a far better person than you could have ever imagined. In fact, it is risks such as these that can add sufficient thrill to your gap period experience.

Students who take gap periods to delay exams/complete supplementary exams must ensure that they not waste time or money factor. They need to clarify to their families who will bear the cost of the gap period and how it will be repaid. This also includes bank loans or loans from parents. It’s important not to be a burden on family, or to ensure that this additional burden will be duly recompensed. Naturally, most parents may initially advise against a needless gap period but once they realise its profitability they may grow more tolerant of it. Examples of students profiting from gap periods may actually attract more followers.

Gap periods are new to the Indian psyche: they can be exciting times. Parents may be taken aback when children decide to take a break.

But they must learn to unshackle children from the burden of exams and undue academic stress. Gap periods, properly planned and executed, can change us in ways we could not have imagined; they can be the most precious times in our lives leading us to live more productively and constructively.

Gap periods in academics may appear to be time lost but they are certainly not time wasted.

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