As you know I’ve been facilitating learning spaces for the past 30 years. Since the last few years I’ve been urging all students to take a ‘year on’ from academics to take the time to listen to their inner self and to take time to experience life first hand before going for any professional training. To take a year to discover what they really want to do and explore that — away from what others tell/expect them to do. After all it is their life!
Parents usually reject all suggestions for taking a gap year, thinking it a waste of time. The students who get good grades are also reluctant to take this break as they think that they will be left behind.
I strongly advocate a ‘year on’ for all children for several reasons. I think after years of doing as they are told in schools and at home, with most of their time spent studying, all young adults need time off to figure out what they want, where they are headed and to just get a break from a regimented, totally dictated life. Without this break too many students turn rebellious or burn out in the next few years exhausted from years of studying and preparing for examinations. If most youngsters don’t know what they want, it is because we have never given them the time to discover who they are and what they want. Nowadays most students have no respite even in the holidays when they are rushed into summer camps packed with fun activities and/or extra tutorials. Not having unstructured time to themselves makes them dependent upon others and the TV for constant amusement — without which they are bored and uneasy.
Without any time off to figure things out for themselves, our children drift into college and take up courses they have no interest in based upon what we tell them or based upon what their peers have chosen. Then for the rest of their life, they get locked into careers that they have no interest in. Careers most of them follow feeling tortured and trapped. They are neither able to enjoy their work nor give it their best. Thus we don’t just condemn our children to a life of misery but condemn society to a battery of indifferent workers in all walks of life. People who are not self-motivated but need to be prodded, pushed or carried through till their spirit breaks and they’ve no energy left to do otherwise or to rebel. If we want our children to survive, enjoy their life, do their work well and have some peace of mind, we need to encourage them to take at least a year to figure things out for themselves.
So when my own daughter reached 10th class I told her to take a year off. She refused to even consider the idea with the explanation, “I will be left behind and all my classmates will get ahead of me.” I did not think insisting at that point would have helped, so I let it pass but we kept returning to the possibility now and then. After her twelfth I again told her to take a year off but again she wasn’t open to the idea. She went through her graduation but I could see that her heart wasn’t in it — even though she had chosen her subjects and was getting good grades. It was only after her graduation that she decided to take a year and a half off. During the year she spent most of her time doing nothing, reading, listening to music, watching films, sleeping to goofing off — and, mostly alone. She seemed to be doing nothing and had even me worried with the amount of time she spent alone. She returned after the year clearer about what she wanted to do and much more focused and self-motivated.
Not enough children are allowed to take up this suggestion but most of those who did, emerged energized, self-motivated and clearer about their path. Our children need our support to take this time to figure things out for themselves as it is absolutely essential for their well-being. If we really care for our children’s’ well-being and happiness we owe it to them.
First published by Khoj