The concept of a gap year is a funny thing. Especially when you’ve reached the age of 35. By that time in life, you should have it all figured out, right? A career, a life partner, maybe a little one or a furry friend? My story is a little different.
I grew up on the south side of Chicago. Both my parents are attorneys and instilled in me early on the importance of education and hard work. We were like The Huxtables on the block. College and graduate degrees were the expectation, not the exception. I graduated from Dartmouth College in 2003. The economy was still reeling from 9/11 and I was jobless. Here I had been sold that an Ivy League degree was the passageway to promise. I soon learned smarts coupled with hustle is where the magic happens.
I started my career in radio at Clear Channel Communications with three of the largest urban radio stations in the city of Chicago. My mother and I bumped heads about it often. She wanted me to go to medical school. I wanted to be a marketer. I was a pop culture junky growing up and I knew that I wanted a career in media & entertainment.
Clear Channel was a great foundation but I wanted to be where all the movers and shakers are. I set my sights on New York or LA. I had interned at Sony Music in NYC between my junior and senior year of college so returning to NYC seemed logical. I started researching TV marketing gigs and applied to one at Viacom. They flew me out for an in-person interview at Spike TV. I was only a coordinator at the time but I thought I was CEO status with that free airplane ticket. I got the job and landed in NYC in 2006.
Over the next decade, I worked in some of the top media companies around. I started at Spike but moved over to ESPN where I spent the majority of my career and eventually landed at Vevo to learn all about digital video. The media landscape had changed fast and furious in that time but I had the best training ground possible.
But, there was something missing. I started my career in sales marketing but, after a decade of working in the field, I needed a break. I was in a pattern of work, play, work. I remember heading home during rush hour one summer month and thinking to myself, “There has to be a better way.”
That became even more clear to me when a good friend of mine passed away in a fatal car accident in Panama. We were the same age. It was a wake up call. I had to ask myself, “If you were to be taken from this earth today, would you have done everything you wanted to do?” The answer was no.
I started saving. I had made the decision that I was going to move to Paris for a few months to get my life sorted. It worked for James Baldwin so I figured it had to work for me. Then, a friend told me about a program called My Wander Year.
It was a gap year program for adults that would allow you to to live abroad for a year while traveling. I was sold by the concept immediately and I was even more sold when I learned the person creating it was an African-American woman, Libryia Jones.
My Wander Year turned out to be the best gift I have ever given to myself. I lived in 4 cities for 3-months each (Prague, Chiang Mai, Capetown, and Medellin). I had my own apartment and access to co-work space for half of the year and roomed with another Wanderer for the latter. I met digital nomads across all parts of the globe. You would be surprised how many exist.
I also did a ton of solo travel (at my own expense). It’s much cheaper to travel to other cities when you’re based in the same region. That $50 roundtrip ticket from Prague to London is still one of my favorite things in life!
Taking a year abroad has helped me to grow stronger as a marketer. I am more solution-minded and resourceful than ever before (not speaking the local language will make you figure some things out quick!). I also find that my creativity has increased (living amongst various cultures will do that). Over the course of the year, I started my own boutique digital marketing agency. I service small to medium sized businesses on digital strategies that drive profits. It is a grind but I find myself more excited about what lies ahead. Am I making what I was making prior? Absolutely not. Am I more fulfilled? Absolutely. The money will come.