Enjoyed talking with you last week about young people and free time. I’ll share my thoughts. I don’t know if they’re relevant or helpful, but do with them as you wish.
I enjoyed a comfortable and predictable childhood in Maryland. My parents didn’t have any emotional problems, didn’t beat me, and pretty much left the disciplinarian chores to coaches, teachers, and headmasters. Not that they were negligent. They simply set a good example and had a ‘quiet word’ with me when I crossed a line.
The expectations were there–our social circle set pretty strong, traditional rules about what was permissible and what was not. So that peer pressure and kind of a ‘why bother’ attitude toward getting into trouble kept me pretty much in line. I’d been to the other side of town. I knew I had it good. What was I going to rebel against? Why would I screw up a good thing with drugs or drinking and driving?
Aside from a couple of pranks that got out of hand, it was pretty uneventful. The requirements of participating in sports and keeping my grades above water were enough to find me in bed early most nights. Studying didn’t come easily for me, even though I like to read.
Anyway, summers would come and I was free to spend them anyway I wanted. I was not a shining example of young entrepreneurship in action. I spent most of June, July, and August for four years of prep sleeping late, walking the dog, pouring through a book, playing tennis, and hanging out at the shore.
My parents, in retrospect, were pretty smart here. They didn’t push me. They didn’t ask a lot of questions. They gave me some room and let me think. The trade-off was that I didn’t have any money, aside from the 20 bucks my grand gave me each Sunday after dinner. This didn’t go far, but I didn’t care. I had my free time.
Summers during college expanded a little bit, with trips to Europe and Asia, and some backpacking in national parks, but no work. And still no pressure from my parents to choose a career. (Majoring in English Literature, you know, that enduring bastion of the Undecided.)
After graduation, I still had no idea about a career. My father, in his fashion, was supportive but had had enough: “Alright. It’s your gap year. You’ve got until next May to do whatever you want and figure things out. But you’re out of the house. Pack your bags. Go somewhere. Do something.”
I was taken aback, to say the least, but what was I going to say? No thanks, I don’t want a paid year to do whatever I want? Again, I knew I had it good. I just didn’t have any place to live. (Small detail.)
I went upstairs to my room and started looking at a map of the world, trying to decide where to go and what to do. During this (country and soul) searching, my father unceremoniously walked by my bedroom door and set two suitcases down outside. He then walked away without saying a word, which made me laugh.
Lost, I called a friend. We met for a beer and discussed the situation. He offered to let me stay on his boat for the time being. I accepted, figuring it would give me time to develop a plan.
To make a long story short (I know, too late) I stayed on the boat for six months. I loved it. I loved taking her out with friends. I loved the people in the marina. I loved the life. I started hearing about people who wanted to sell their boats and people who wanted to buy a boat and I brokered a couple of deals in short order.
Then I decided to learn about the technology and design aspects. I read everything I could and talked to everybody I could to know as much as I could. I talked with designers and builders, brokers and owners. And now, I sell boats and read books.
I’m not sure if I could have found this kind of satisfaction, this kind of fit, without a gap year to let things fall into place. I was lucky. I could afford to do it. I guess the lesson is to push your kids on some things, sometimes, then leave them alone.
7 thoughts on “Mind The Gap”
Great story and not dissimilar to my own. My parents expected us to go to college but didn’t force us down a career path. Once we finished University, we were expected to find paid work and if still living at home, to contribute towards household expenses. This prepared us to understand that rent/mortgage came out of the paycheck first.
I’m not sure if you have time at the moment, but I would really love to hear your thoughts on Christmas. Decorating, spending, activities, simplifying. I feel that every year the pressure to exceed all expectations and catalogs do not help, even the trusted L.L. Bean. “Preppy” blogs are also bound up with affiliate links and consumerism. I feel that this goes against the grain and would like to unplug the Christmas machine without losing touch with the family traditions and rituals. If your readers could share their thoughts, I would also appreciate it.
I’m going to post something on this. Good subject. And I have the perfect solution. Thank you, Melanie. – BGT
After reading the ‘Mind the Gap’ I could not help but look up “ Everybody’s free to wear sunscreen”. Just type it into Google.
Perhaps you know it, perhaps you don’t. I am sure though, it will make you think.
In late September 1986, my maternal grandfather (a retired executive by that point) calmly and quietly told me, a little over one aimless year after a life-threatening car accident and high school graduation, “Son, you’ve either got to go to school, or get a job.” A much needed shot of cold water to the face for my young self in hindsight.
Thanks to a drummer friend, I was hired to work in a non-union supermarket (the minimum wage at the time was about US$4 per hour, perhaps slightly less) while continuing to play in rock bands during the weekends and occasional evenings during the week, combos that were going nowhere if we’re honest about it. So, yes. A “gap” of sorts, but not quite what my family envisioned.
Although I rose quickly to the level of department. manager, thanks to dependability and a work ethic instilled by my family, that job had its challenges, limitations, and frustrations. But it helped me grow up in a number of ways and get my priorities straight. I returned to school just before I turned 25 in late August ’92, enrolling first in a community college for two years, and then I transferred to a large university, which had always been my family’s wish.
Thanks to unwavering encouragement from and emotional support of my family, plus the influence and guidance of my step-father and maternal uncle, both of whom are retired professors, things went well. I am now a university professor myself and married to another university professor. We have enjoyed a very interesting, even comfortable life together as a result. Looking at the big picture, I have the numerous positive examples set by my family members to thank for much that.
Very generally, few people seem to talk anymore about the kind of examples that are set for young people by their families and broader society. At least not that I am aware. The concept of positive example, though, is a vital part of raising reasonably well-adjusted children and young people. Or maybe not, but it certainly helped in my case.
Best Regards and Compliments of the Season,
Thank you, sir. And thank you for sharing. I think we’re going to need to see some archival video footage of the rock band in action. That’s my Christmas wish! All the best to you and your family this holiday season. – BGT
Dear Mr. Tully,
My parents had a similar attitude and style about child rearing. I was, unfortunately, rather ungrateful at the time. I was rather intense as a kid. I would beg my parents to send me to boarding school (I was bored to tears at my public school – it was a very wonderful, kind, supportive place). I wanted more rigor, more learning, etc. I wanted to go to space camp. I wanted to get a job. My parents wanted me to hang out at the club, play tennis, and enjoy youth. In some ways, I wish they’d listened to me and in some ways, I’m grateful for the careless summers. I must remember to listen well to my own kids when they discover who they want to be. Thanks for the reminder!
Thanks, Rachel. Interesting how some children have very strong opinions at a young age and some grow into their preferences. Let us know how you handle your children and their personalities. – BGT