My Gap year, as an adult

I took a gap year last year. Trendy right? If kids need a break after studying for 4 years, I deserve a mighty break after running a 25 year marathon! Finally my brain could switch off, not having to worry about keeping a company afloat nor dealing with issues of the almost-adults in the house, much of which happened concurrently.

Some young people tell me that they need a gap year to “figure things out”. Wise words indeed. As I’m heading towards the big 5-0, it was the perfect time to recalibrate and reassess my life. 

We closed TLE as the business side of things was not something either of us enjoyed nor was adept at. I made time to focus on my family. And to grieve the change and loss. The end of a shared mission. The excellent staff we parted ways with. The children we saw week after week, whose lives we transformed. The wonderful parents who poured forth their support right till the end. Some offered us their condo function room to continue our programme, professional expertise in business development, capital injection, even jobs for our teachers. So much gratitude for the community we built.

So what did I do? It was a year of stepping out of my comfort zone, adding the long forgotten aspect of fun into my life and fulfilling many things on my bucket list.

I worked at a fast food outlet. Yup, my friends had a good laugh. It all started because I’ve been playing “Overcooked” with the kids and just had to experience real life “Overcooked”. It was an eye opener and I loved how everyone worked together under time pressure to get the meals served. I even got to man the fries station all by myself!

But what was most humbling was seeing the aunties who have worked there for 20+ years. My heart went out to them. One told me she comes in a few hours early because it’s too hot at home. I met a 19-year old girl who travelled daily from johor to work and save up for her University fees because she didn’t want to burden her parents. Here in Singapore, our kids take so much for granted.

I spent time travelling – 10 trips with different people and different agendas. It was the first time I did a 1-1 trip with just one child. Such a great idea, why didn’t I think of it before. My 21-year old was off to Paris and Budapest on a solo trip, and a week before she left, my hubs felt that it was better if I accompanied her.

I’m glad she accepted the suggestion of her uncool mum tagging along. I was surprised when she said “Mum! It’s fun hanging out with you. You are different on this trip, more like a friend than a mum.”

Something changed within me on that trip. I felt free. Without too many kids to manage nor packed agendas, I was able to shed the stiff Mum identity of always being responsible and keeping things shipshape. We ditched the Uber and scootered around Paris, which seemed reckless to me, zipping so close to cars and trucks!

In Budapest, I followed her to a hip festival where 40,000 youths camped out for a whole week in tents, and partied with them way past my bedtime. I attended a tantra session, a trauma healing workshop conducted by an art therapist who works with holocaust survivals, and several other funky activities that we don’t get here. We also met a lot of random young people from all over the world and had meals with them. My daughter seems to have the ability to draw people into conversation, even the snobbish Parisians.

While in Australia visiting my eldest, instead of doing the usual, I spent a few days at a “find your inner joy” retreat in the mountains. So zen, so refreshing. Will share more about the fruits of my travels in another post.

When we came back, inspired by our new found carpe diem mentality, I realised that I didn’t have to revert to my old boring self. I could take baby steps out of my comfort zone.

Instead of taking my daughter for a meal, we flipped the experience. We did waitressing together! It was such a bonding opportunity working together and I really enjoyed interacting and serving people. I even got a big tip from a family who brought 2 sets of grandparents out for a meal.

One activity I enjoy but stopped doing since I had kids was dancing. My kids are now of clubbing age and have asked me to join them. As much as I appreciate them asking, I’ve been reluctant to go to crowded clubs with unfamiliar music. Finally, there was a retro night organised by the expat community and we had a blast! Even strangers were heartened to hear that they were my kids and partying with our young adults became the new parentgoals.

It was also a year of learning. I took up courses I’ve put on the backburner for decades. At 12, I decided I wanted to be a therapist after reading about it in the library. I was drawn to music therapy, art therapy, play therapy and was keen to continue with a Masters in Art Therapy after attaining my OT degree. But with 5 young kids, I relegated all of that to my bucket list until now.

Thanks to skills future credits, I signed up for a dance movement therapy course. It was very insightful as I witnessed how things can be drawn out so much quicker and more authentically than talk therapy. It became a beneficial modality in my therapy toolkit that I attended the follow up course for therapists and also went on to take an art therapy course.

With these additional skill sets, I have become more effective when I counsel teens and children with a range of issues like self-harming behaviour, parent-child conflicts, divorce of parents and depression.

The learning bug has continued and currently I’m undertaking a course to get certified as a mentor. Can’t wait to start my mentoring journey.

Besides all of these fun stuff, the one thing that I found the hardest to do, is trying to be a good cook! I’ve been persevering at it and hopefully I’ll see the fruits of my efforts soon.

With a year of deep thinking and reflection, I’ve crystallised what I love doing and what I don’t. I want to continue working on my passions, being intentional about not getting sucked into being saddled by work that I have no interest in. I’ve stepped up my volunteering activities and they have brought me a lot of fulfilment and it is so true that we receive more than we give when we volunteer with a sincere heart.

I went off social media and focused on living in the present and centering back to self. It made me realise how nice it is not to be ensnarled by the web of the polished bits of the world out there.

Instead, I filled my year with adventure, contemplation and growth. Stepping back allowed me to step forward with more clarity and purpose. Taking a full year to breathe life is a privilege I am deeply grateful for.

I am so ready to take on a big new goal!