December 9, 2013
What’s on your Christmas wish-list this year?
One tragedy of contemporary American life is the nature of The List. Scan it, quickly: for most people, the things on The List would fit in the trunk of your car, or – in the age of wide screens – the back of a large SUV. In the first third of life, products prevail.
In the second third of life, products begin to wane in wonder: it’s hard to fit any more stuff in the modern home. Once you have the new generation of stuff, the appeal of the latest-and-greatest begins to moderate. Smaller and faster are the primary enhancements, and – at some point – you reach small enough and fast enough, and the cost of marginal improvement is no longer appealing.
The maturing list moves to experiences. Bucket Lists are not shopping lists: dreams are no longer marked by some assembly required or batteries not included. Places to go; things to do; mountains to climb; books to read; people to meet: doing has now trumped having as the marker for the Good Life.
Today’s Wall Street Journal devotes its optional section – beyond the news and market reports – to their occasional Encore emphasis. The cover article that sets the tone: “The Case for a Midlife ‘Gap’ Year.” Stephen and Susan Ristau – both around 60 years young – are the poster kids for the feature emphasis of the whole section. Married 28 years, both employed in responsible executive/ management roles, they were ready for something more than the gadget upgrades – and travel upgrades – to mark their life progression. What fits on the third third list?
Sell the house, put some of the stuff in storage… and take a break. As the sub-head for the article summarizes, “More Baby Boomers – burned out or trying to plan their futures – are taking a career break to reflect, re-energize and restart their engines.” Or, as the Ristaus said about themselves, they were looking “to bring a sense of adventure and newness to our lives.”
The Gap Year has become an occasional cultural solution for the nearly-adult high school grad who wants to clear the decks and breathe deeply before starting down the demanding path of an undergraduate college experience. A time-out to make sure that the destination – and, the outcomes – make sense is what makes the Gap Year something besides an indulgence for the affluent.
Various examples are offered by the WSJ editorial team; life in the 21st Century doesn’t offer many natural breaks that allow a healthy reconnoiter for the highly responsible. As you ponder the premise – against the backdrop of stories that sound hauntingly familiar – something in you may long for the luxury of a break in the action of the interconnected, 24/7/365 life.
For many career drivers, the Crisis of 2013 is deciding what to do with staff when Christmas lands on Wednesday. Open on Monday, chain them to their monitors until noon on Tuesday, and wait for the lame excuses – “I think I caught something from all the kids” – when the day-after-Christmas mall assault decimates the office team ranks for the last two days of the fractured week?
Gap Year. Why does it sound so appealing?
Turn the Manual back – find “Christmas” in Matthew’s gospel, and veer left, all the way to the opening pages of Genesis. Look again at the pages torn from the Creator’s work calendar: He spent six days in high-productivity activity – making everything we see as “Universe” – and saved the best for last: humans were the crowning achievement.
Then, He took a break. He would later put the instructions in print: He calls it Sabbath. One day every week; a Gap Year every seven. All of the “re” activities – refresh, renew, replenish, reconsider, revise, relate, re-energize, and more – the things we never have time for are given special time.
Take another look at your list: consider giving yourself a special gift over the next month. You need some Sabbath time: no one can put it under your tree, but you can put it in your calendar. The challenge is my gift, to you…