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.