Awaiting and (finally) receiving orders is like riding a roller coaster. As military spouses, we often put our careers and dreams on a slow-moving (or completely paused) path due to our spouses’ orders. Sometimes we aren’t even stationed at a place long enough to get a new job even if we want one. This happened to me- PCS orders came and it was a location that was sure to completely derail my entire career path. Not one to sit and wallow in my distress, I decided to make the most of my time there. That’s when I found and created a goldmine of gap year ideas.
What is a gap year?
A gap year is a break, usually from school or work, that lasts a year. In my case it was multiple gap years in a row, or possibly the entire time I have been a military spouse, because my career path looks nothing like I thought it would. Fortunately, coming up with gap year ideas and making the most of the situation every time we got orders has allowed me to continue.
After years of struggle I was finally in a good place. I was working and going to school. I had a plan to advance and do something meaningful for myself and everyone my career would serve. It was a great plan, but there was absolutely no way to make it work with the new assignment. I had to change the plan. It may seem horrible at first, but there are some huge benefits to taking time off, or shifting to different gap year ideas.
Gap Year Ideas and Benefits
Focus on yourself and family.
One of the most heartbreaking parts of trying to force a specific career plan where it doesn’t fit is the family component. Sure there were ways to adjust and squeeze my previous plan into the new location, but at the expense of myself and my family.
Hours of commuting every day was tolerable before kids, but unacceptable after. I fully respect anyone who chooses to do it, but I was not willing to leave before my daughter woke up and come home after she went to bed every day. I chose to give up the opportunities far away so I could be home with her. Sometimes it’s best to stay home and do what you need to do for yourself and your family.
Continue your education.
Going back to school can open a lot of career doors. A gap year may be a good excuse to make it happen.
There are so many options, and many are available at least partially online. Through all the transitions of military life, I have earned a stack of certifications, a master’s degree, and am on my way to a PhD. Most of it was completed from the comfort of my own home, with babies. Even science classes with labs are doable. Oregon State University has online science courses. The lab portion can be completed in a week. Yes, I flew in, experimented, flew back, and lived. It was actually a lot more efficient and better for me than the traditional semester format.
If cost is an issue, look into tuition assistance.
Start a business.
Being the boss is flexible. Depending on the business it can also be portable. There are so many options that can be personalized by skill set and preferences. It can be even more fulfilling than the previous career plan. The down side is a risk, especially when there is a big investment. A good rule of thumb is to never invest more than you are willing to lose.
Find a life purpose.
This one is my favorite, and usually happens partially by accident. I tried so hard to make my “perfect” plan work. I even lived on the other side of the country from my active duty husband and solo-parented so I could keep trying.
I hated it.
More than the challenges of being apart, I hated the career I had previously wanted. That’s when I knew for sure it wasn’t right for me. Miserable and desperate, I waited until nap time because my childcare plan and backup plan both fell through. Then I searched and searched until I found an option that lit me up. It was military friendly and family friendly. Everything suddenly felt right.
Military life as a spouse can be very much like riding a roller coaster. Sometimes the car leaves the tracks. When every sign points to a big crash, the trick is to use it as an opportunity to spread our wings and fly. Looking back, I never really took a gap year. Each phase was needed to get me where I am today, which is so much better than the original career plan. I hope you find the gap year ideas you need to lead you through a life better than your best plans.
WANT TO READ MORE?
Check out Calling All Military Spouses: We Have a Work from Home Idea for You!