“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” Aristotle
KAREN FAHLE: MOTHER, WIFE, WRITER, ENTREPRENEUR, GAP YEAR CHAMPION
I have a few core beliefs that define me as a mother and business owner.
I believe each of us has something unique to offer the world, and it’s our duty to embrace it and share it with the world.
I believe that in order to grow and learn, we need to first get comfortable with the feeling of being uncomfortable.
I believe what you embrace and take into your heart is what you mirror back to others.
And finally, I believe in my soul that we’re more alike than we are different.
I’ve been parenting for 20 years. Before that, I worked in The White House for people who changed the way I looked at the world. Before that amazing experience, I was a sales and marketing director at a publishing company as well as an editor.
For my entire adult life, I’ve been on a quest to get out of my comfort zone and into areas that challenge my personal definition of status quo. I’ve tried to grow my empathy and courage by opening myself up to life experiences that allow me to make a difference and create positive change—for me and for the important lives around me.
This is how I found myself to be such a strong advocate for gap years.
What’s a gap year? Merriam Webster dictionary describes it as “a one year hiatus from academic studies to allow for non academic studies.”
Yes. It is that. But with all due respect to Merriam-Webster, it’s so much more. Gap years are doorways to new cultures and friends and unforgettable life experiences. Gap years challenge you to face obstacles with an open mind and heart. Gap years teach empathy, self-reliance, and self-determination as powerfully as in any classroom.
How gap years became a thing in my family and why I think you should take one, too.
Several years ago I started getting uncomfortable—always my first clue to lean in and listen harder. I grew frustrated with this notion, being peddled by many in today’s culture, there is only one accepted path for kids to take immediately after high school to ensure success in life. College.
My heart always broke for the kids who struggled with this idea of success. They didn’t want or weren’t able to go straight to college out of high school for a number of different reasons. Perhaps a learning disability went unnoticed. Or their home environment was a mess. Maybe they were worried about taking on a lot of financial debt. Perhaps they were tired of textbook studying and testing and longed to reenergize and regroup before jumping feet first into the college grind. All valid reasons. All reasons to take a step back and reassess.
When my oldest child was a junior in high school, he was doing well, checking off all those boxes to ensure success, but I knew something was off. I felt him slipping away from the confident, happy, creative kid he had always been, and into a ball of stress. He started repeating back to me some of the feedback he was hearing from friends, teachers, and even family—none of which made sense for who he was and what he wanted in life. Comments like:
- You MUST get a tutor. It’s the only way to get a decent score on your ACT. And your ACT will determine your future.
- You have to take several AP classes if you want to be competitive in the marketplace.
- You need to sign up for these activities because they look the best on college apps.
- You shouldn’t have a part-time job because colleges will think you’re serious about your education.
- You should never say that you volunteer. Call it an internship instead.
- You have to start looking at your life in terms of a resume.
If you’re anything like me, you feel queasy reading this list out loud. And queasier still, hearing it come out of your child’s mouth.
That’s when I knew I needed to put the brakes on and start asking questions. Instead of doing what everyone else was seemingly doing, my family needed to think creatively and with purpose to find a path that felt true for us and what we believed brought happiness and fulfillment to our lives. We needed to make sense of what success meant to us.
My own experience with gap years
I was turned on to gap years when I studied abroad during my senior year in college. I was in London and my multinational roommates had all taken time off between their final exams and going on to university. They told me about their travels to Bali, Australia, Hong Kong, Spain, Greece, China, Thailand, Tibet.
As a young person who had never lived outside upstate New York, this was a revelation. One could travel at 18 years old ALONE? Anywhere in the world? It never occurred to me that this was an option. My new friends shared incredible stories. They laughed at their mistakes when they tried to speak the native language. They practiced local customs and endeared themselves to their hosts. They ate food that sometimes moved. They got lost. They made friends and acquaintances from all over the world living lives so different than their own. They relished the diversity. These were the most interesting people I’d ever met. They had lived and were not yet 21.
Let me help you.
Because their stories never left me, I’m in touch with many of them today. I still think they’re some of the most dynamic people I’ve ever met. They are the embodiment of lives well lived. They mustered up the courage to create lives they wanted to live and they never looked back. It all started when they were 18 years old. I want this kind of life for my children. I want this for you, too.
When my children look for role models, these are the types of people they’re drawn to. Open. Curious. Courageous. Gritty.
I’ve helped my own children craft gap year experiences that fit their personality and unique identities. I’ve helped guide many others, too. A gap year should fit your personality and satisfy your hunger for knowledge and connection outside traditional learning environments that speaks directly to you. Each experience is unique, transformative and affordable. Gap years do NOT have to break the bank. Far from it. My sons have financed their own gap years with part time jobs after school.
I believe a gap year experience will profoundly change you. In the best way possible. Forever. I’ve seen firsthand how the experience grows one’s empathy and confidence and sets one up for greater success in college and beyond. If you’re ready to take on a challenge, push yourself out of your comfort zone, jump head first into a life that you’re solely responsible for creating (and wanting!), then let’s talk.
I will help you take your first steps and continue to cheer you on every step of the way.
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