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Aug. 27, 2019, 12:49 p.m. EDT

Why you might want to take a gap year before you retire

Invigorating time off isn’t only for young adults

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By Lisa Fields

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For some midlifers, their Peace Corps stint is their second time around.

Greg Polk, 69, of Albuquerque, first joined The Peace Corps in 1973 at 23, volunteering in Mali. Decades later, he had a work assignment with the Millennium Challenge Corporation — a government foreign aid agency — in Mali and reconnected with The Peace Corps there. That led him to volunteer with the program in Mali again in 2014, at 64.

Don’t miss: How to quit your job and travel the world, in 7 simple (-sounding) steps

“As a 20-something person, it was all about the adventure and all about meeting the challenges — these incredible challenges — of a foreign place and a foreign language,” Polk says. “As a 60-something volunteer, it was much more about the engagement with the other volunteers, the feeling like I was helping Peace Corps as an organization… and an opportunity to deepen my understanding of Malian life and Malian culture.”

Learning time.  Some people take gap time in midlife to gain professional expertise or switch gears career-wise.

“Many seem drawn to… enhancing a skill like writing, photography or a language,” Bull says.

A handful of academic programs can serve as gap-year transitions, moving from one career to a new challenge. For instance, the  University of Minnesota Advanced Careers Initiative , which accepts up to 25 adults — called fellows — annually.

“Fellows aim to reimagine the arc of their lives, which may include a new career, part-time work or unpaid community participation,” says Phyllis Moen, founding director of this initiative. “They also grapple with issues of identity: ‘Who am I when I am no longer working in my career job? What are my values and goals? How do I want to spend the next 20 or 30 years?’”

Adventure time.  Other gappers travel for fun or seek challenges they delayed while raising children.

See: How taking extended time off makes people like Simone Biles even better at their jobs

Mark Schmitt, 56, a technology executive in Oakton, Va. took an unpaid leave of absence to travel in 2018. Over 10 months, he completed 14 adventures, including living and working in a Scottish castle, a two-week deployment with The Red Cross after Hurricane Florence, hiking the Pacific Northwest with his daughters and going on safari in Africa.

“I wanted to be more of a pilgrim than a tourist,” Schmitt says. “I wanted to experience life and give back. I also figured at 56, I am still in good shape, so I wanted to take advantage of that, too.”

How to make it happen

Pulling off a gap year or some gap time takes some planning and money. Here’s advice on how you might be able to do it:

Logistics when you’re in a relationship.  If you have a spouse or partner, that person might keep things running at home, then join you in short excursions. “I have a partner who genuinely supported my plan,” Lipsi says. “[He] even joined me for my final week in South Africa.”

The financial side of things.  You don’t need to be wealthy to take some types of gap time. The Peace Corps covers housing, medical and dental expenses and provides a small stipend. Other programs are affordable, too.

Also see: These young creatives took unpaid sabbaticals for months -- and it helped them find jobs they love

“There are a range of placements that provide housing and food for labor or involve a minimum fee,” Bull says.

Adjusting your worklife.  You might be able to take a break from your job or become a consultant for more flexibility. Schmitt, for instance, recently started a consulting company, which will allow him future gap time.

“I don’t want to retire,” Schmitt says. “[I’m] looking for a good balance of work and play.”

Getting guidance.  Consider contacting a gap-year consultant to find out how to turn your ideas into reality.

Knight says the Gap Year Association has a list of accredited  gap-year consultants who work with all generations of gappers. “They are good at being budget-conscious and are particularly adept at helping sleuth out for each individual what would be a great set of experiences that will still be somewhat challenging,” Knight notes. “Because we all know that we feel most alive when we’re on the edge of what’s comfortable.”

Lisa Fields is a writer who covers psychology and health matters as they relate to the workplace. She publishes frequently in WebMD and Reader’s Digest.

This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org , © 2019 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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