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This post has taken me almost a year to write.
Every time I started it, I’d feel emotionally drained and my thoughts wouldn’t focus. It was a rough period I was going through, being home. It was a mixture of reverse culture shock, frustration, depression, panic and upset all balled into one.
But if I had to take a gap year(s) again, I would in a heartbeat!
The pros are worth the seemingly one biggest con, that of ….starting over.
Returning from a Gap Year and starting over
Returning to the U.S. after two years abroad was the bravest move I could make.
It also occasionally has felt like the stupidest.
There’s only one fear which plagues the backseat of every gap year | long-term traveler| expat’s insecurity…
What will I do when I return to my country?
I’m talking about lifestyles and employment. That’s the mammoth mountain in a nutshell.
Starting over involved consumerism, commercialism, capitalism and commodification.
What was the most dramatic re-culture shock of my returning home?
The good ‘ole American Dream.
To be blessed to be born in the Land of the Free? Hah, how ironic.
For me, the one biggest freedom of living abroad and traveling was escaping western society and its ideology of success. It’s an ideal which ruled my life with an unconscious pressure and kept me in a constant state of competing against myself only to arrive often…at self-flagellation.
Afterall, the American Dream tells us we should be dissatisfied with what we have, because we could always have more. Thus, success in the west is something external… a commodity. Our achievements are gauged by how much we own, how much we earn and not what we make of our lives in rich experiences.
In order for you to succeed in the U.S., you must have ambition, drive and a bit of a paranoid ego. For instance, when I used to freelance, I measured my worth by a monthly quota. If I made the income I expected and worked on a handful of sexy and fun projects (which added bravado to my ego), I was glowingly proud and feeling borderline heroic. But if I dipped below that quota and my phone hardly rang with work, I felt like a massive failure, a deep-seated paranoia lurked in me and so I’d lay extra pressure on myself to make up for it in the following month.
I was a dog chasing my tail; and I couldn’t stop.
- How much money do you make?
- What have you achieved in your career?
- How successful do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
- Do you own a house or a car? Do you have insurance for your health?
- Are you married? ( If so, what does he do & how much does he make? )
- Any children? ( Can you afford day care, elementary, intermediate, high school and college tuitions? )
- Do you have the latest gadetry, HD flat screen television or enough clothes, shoes and handbags, so you’ll not seem as if you’re wearing the same thing each week?….
The list goes on…
This all makes for an insecure and paranoid society.
If I meet a person at an event hoping to connect ; often, I suddenly find they’re selling me a résumé as if I’m looking to buy a service. In the U.S., you don’t shake hands with a person; you shake hands with their marketing ego.
Abroad however, I was away from this environment. People were genuine and if there was an ideology towards success, it wasn’t my country, so it didn’t rule my mentality. And things were different.
For instance, South Korea is an ambitious and workaholic society too but it’s not concentrated on a single person, but the group… One up-manship? Noooo, baaaad… very bad.
Also, I could enjoy a simpler life, realizing it didn’t take much to make me happy. Furthermore, travel supported my new life and showed me that there were cultures which could find fulfillment living on less. I didn’t need a lot of clothes or luxury goods to add value to my lifestyle. In fact, the simpler my living, the more efficient, open and relaxed I was. I could connect with people on a human level.
Did you quit a career or quit a job?
Everyone’s gap year situation is different. But to me, there’s a monumental difference between quitting your job and quitting your career.
When you quit a job, you can always find another…
You’d scour the newspapers for employment. Online job boards, industry sites, word-of-mouth referrals are all job seeking resources. Volunteering, finding a job head hunter or signing up with a couple of temporary staffing agencies might help you get experience under your belt and a possible foot in the door of the industry you’re interested in.
If you’re not picky but persevering and it’s all about making some extra cash, you might find that job anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of months. You can work as a waitress, a flower shop girl, a retail clerk or a front desk receptionist at a youth hostel.
Working as a ‘temp’ is a great way to get back into the work force.
For those who left for their gap year during their career phase, like myself, it can feel like a larger struggle with bolder consequences. Maybe the industry’s technology or standards changed, you fell out of the loop, lost your contacts or decided to start life in a new city.
I quit a career. And to make matters worse,… I quit a career I loved.
As a freelancer, my taking a gap year, had very high stakes. My career as a camera operator and field producer for television still had room for growth and I felt blessed to be doing something I loved at the level I was doing it at (not everyone can shoot tv for successful shows with a global audience). But the economy was threatening to repress my rise. Work came to a slow trickle during the recession and rather than wait a year (or more) for the stream to come back, I decided to take courage and follow through on long-time dreams to live abroad and travel.
But my career was a business I invested time, money and years of training into. It took many years of working low-paying freelance video gigs, where I sold all the services I was skilled in from video shooting, editing and encoding. Finally, I got my foot in the door, proved myself, built trusted client relationships and earned a reputation. When I left my life for a gap year, I left a business I’d worked to build from the ground up.
So returning home and attempting career revival, felt like trying to grow back a new thumb!
Should you resuscitate an old career you loved, after having taken gap years from it?
For continuing career folk like myself, the scary question is :
What if my old career no longer loves me back?
Instead of finding out, I initially tried to avoid it, saving the most difficult tasks for last…
Resuscitating a career is the attempt to resurrect it from the ground zero. You have to blow mouth-to-mouth real hard, (pump, pump,…) (look for a signs of revival), then… start the process again. It’s a lot of labor, frustrated hope and of course, when you’ve paid your dues for your industry, the last thing you want to do is pay them again!
Also, after hitting the heights of working for popular cable shows, I didn’t want to bang my head against the wall in the hopes of recreating that kind of dream success in Hawaii nor did I want to be relegated to the back of the queue behind the newbies. First of all, there are no reality shows in Hawaii and the industry is much smaller, tighter and more insular. It all spelled obvious frustration.
But a part of me lacked confidence too… being away from my industry for two years, I knew it changed and I wasn’t following its progress. Was I still any good?
So I decided to jump ship into the most *unrelated* travel job I could think of to avoid this mental toil (and possible rejection)– become a flight attendant!
One problem: highly competitive odds.
If you ask me, the odds are worse than climbing the ladder to be a camera woman in a male dominant industry. Then again, that’s what I told myself about breaking into New York City as a camerawoman, only to find myself shooting seasons of top-rated reality shows. So the likelihood of becoming a flight attendant is not truly impossible either.
Still, I didn’t get the job.
After months of trying alternatives, volunteer and taking temp jobs for pocket change and to feel productive, I broke down. Tired of job drifting and wanting to root down into something I had true talent in and remembered loving, I decided to give career rescutation a tackle…
Have you had any fears or difficulties with taking a gap year or returning from one?
Coming next >> 9 Tips to Starting Over
Why I won’t hang up my travel shoes. GrrrlTraveler
Returning from a Gap Year(s): 9 Tips to Starting Over GrrrlTraveler
Coming home after a gap year? Well, get ready for a shock… GrrrlTraveler
Budget travel, work, and volunteer opportunities abroad Vegan Around the World