It's not uncommon for college graduates to take a gap year after they leave school as a time to travel, explore, and broaden their horizons before jumping into the next stage of their lives.
Now, they're not the only ones taking this opportunity to recharge and prepare themselves for their next steps.
Individuals at the midlife stage, after selling a business or stepping away from a career, are following suit. Taking a break at this point "symbolically acknowledges that this chapter of my life is concluding and I'm in a period of transition," explains Susan Massenzio, Ph.D., Senior Consultant with Abbot Downing.
It can also be the perfect opportunity to reflect and prepare for the next stage. In fact, on average, the 9 million people between ages 44 and 70 who are involved in encore careers started thinking about these new opportunities at age 50 and took 18 months to make the transition, according to a 2012 study by the MetLife Foundation and Civic Ventures.
Whether you want to get ready for a new line of work, pursue another passion, or just figure out what activities you want to achieve in retirement, preparation is key, so these gap years can be critical planning times. Here, specialists lay out the steps to take for a satisfying, successful gap year.
Evaluate your interests
Ideally, you'll want to consider how to spend your time off before selling your business or leaving your current position, suggests Catherine Allen, co-author of the books Revolutionary Retirement and Reboot Your Life, and partner at Reboot Partners, LLC, a research and consulting firm that specializes in retirement planning and career breaks. If that's not possible, simply start your break by setting aside time to think about what you want to do.
To map out a plan, consider your goals and passions. You might create a bucket list for this step. Another strategy to try: Draw a circle, divide it into six equal parts, and fill in each part with an area of life you may have neglected or want to explore, explains Allen. This might include anything from painting or learning a language to starting a nonprofit, creating a new business, or pursuing further education.
"The opportunity to breathe and expose oneself to new things can be very powerful." — Paul Irving, Milken Institute
The findings from these exercises can serve as guidelines to help you map out your break. For instance, perhaps you've always loved cooking. Your gap year could consist of going to Italy for a course in cuisine, or to apprentice with a chef. If you've always wanted to learn German, spending six months at a language institute in Germany might be the right fit.
For those interested in further studies, the Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute offers a yearlong program to help create new pathways for the next stage. The Advanced Leadership Initiative at Harvard University helps people prepare for the next phase as well.
Keep an open mind
"The opportunity to breathe and expose oneself to new things can be very powerful," notes Paul Irving, President of the Milken Institute, a nonpartisan think tank specializing in aging, economic well-being, and public health, and author of The Upside of Aging: How Long Life Is Changing the World of Health, Work, Innovation, Policy, and Purpose.
You may find through your planning that you're drawn to an area you hadn't previously considered. For instance, perhaps you started a gap year thinking you wanted to carry out research to start a new company, but realize what you'd really like to do is mentor small business owners.
Irving himself discovered a new path while taking a break. After leaving a position as Chairman, CEO, and Managing Partner of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, a law and consulting firm, he was an advanced leadership fellow at Harvard before taking on his current role.
During a gap year, don't be afraid of developing new relationships and reaching out to new areas, says Irving. "The potential for rewarding results is very high."