Gap years aren’t just for kids anymore

Dennis Sinar learning stonemasonry in Alaska (photo: Brian McCullough).

Dr. Dennis Sinar remembers when it dawned on him: He was ready for a break from work.

A gastroenterologist and professor of medicine at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., Dr. Sinar was working on a research paper in the university library when it happened. “I just said to myself, ‘I’m really sick of doing this stuff,’” he said. This was 10 years ago, when he was 59.

Dr. Sinar explored the possibility of a sabbatical, but the university would have required him to do something related to his work during the break — which was just what he didn’t want to do. Then he ran across a newspaper article on companies that arrange gap-year adventures, though most of them catered to high school and college students.

“They didn’t talk about anything for mature people,” he recalled. “But I just picked up the phone and called one of them.”

In short order, Dr. Sinar found himself with a summer apprenticeship to an expert on stonemasonry in Alaska. And that was just for starters – he went on to do apprenticeships in Nepal on Tibetan and ayurvedic medicine, and worked with a team of archaeologists in Romania restoring a castle.

For midcareer and older workers like Dr. Sinar who have the financial means and job flexibility to take time off, gap experiences can help answer questions about what they want to do in retirement — or simply recharge their batteries.

Learn more in my Retiring column in The New York Times.

 

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