The boy and his father stood in the middle of our quiet street. “What are you doing?” I asked.
“Throwing buckeyes!” the kid beamed as he and Dad playfully launched two more down the hill. I watched them in the Saturday sun and fell into a gap.
The world is full of gaps. Opportunity gaps. Credibility gaps. Some shouldn’t be missed, like Ireland’s fantastic Gap of Dunloe. And some, like the one in the London Tube, must be avoided. (Mind the Gap – lest you find yourself floundering between train and platform!)
Ever hear the term gap year? It usually refers to a break taken by high school or college grads that defers enrollment in the next phase of life. Ideally, one uses a gap year to do something completely out of the box: work, volunteer, intern, apprentice, self-study, travel… or any real world offering. The implicit goal is to figure out what you really want or don’t want to do with your life.
In January a couple of years ago, our daughter headed off for a travel adventure in SE Asia while our son and his girlfriend headed to Malaysia to teach English there. They each had vague plans for after. But gaps have a habit of transforming those who venture into them and that’s the whole point. I used their departure to ask myself, “Where can I find some gaps to give me more of what I need this year?” I realized I needed to get back to writing fiction. The result? My Middle School Confidential™ series.
Adults and teens say they want more time to do the stuff they really enjoy. Sounds like a worthy New Year’s Resolution. Instead of waiting for life to slow down how about looking for gaps? I’m not talking about major gaps that require chucking your “real” life for a year. I’m talking about tiny gaps we continuously overlook despite their fluttering, glowing and vibrating all around us. Gaps in the kitchen, in the car… in between gulping coffee and thinking about the next six things you have to do. The doorway into a gap might be the curl of your son’s hair or a bird flying over the freeway. Or… just about anything.
In the spirit of the new year, here’s a challenge. Right here, at your computer, fall into a gap. Go ahead, no one’s watching. As you read these words, stop for a minute. Breathe in… and notice yourself breathing in. Breathe out… and focus on breathing out. (C’mon, play along with me.) Slowly look around the room. Find something familiar and appreciate something new about it. Consciously turn off autopilot and life slows and quiets down a bit. What might happen if you consciously looked for gap moments and, for example, appreciated your children in new ways? How might your experience of parenting change? How about your perception of who you are and what matters to you as an individual?
Just to be clear, I’m not advocating dropping out and contemplating your cuticles 24/7. I’m simply suggesting that life offers more options than stress/productivity vs. nirvana/slackerdom. Look, I’m one of the most productive people I know and proud of it. So believe me when I say that you can find gap moments and still be productive. When I fall into a gap, which I’ve been doing more frequently (I’m in one right now), I simultaneously become calmer and more energized. That opens me up creatively, intellectually, intuitively… and my productivity soars.
I know from my email that teens are stressed. You can help them by finding gap moments in your own life. That can lower your stress levels which will decrease the overall stress in your home. Talk to your kids about the concept of a gap… a momentary break from day-to-day busyness. Model it for them. The payoff? You’ll begin to savor your life on a deeper level. And with your leadership your family will live in time instead of just passing through.
Happy New Year and watch out for flying buckeyes.
P.S. If you decide to take on my New Year’s Gap Challenge I’d love to hear from you. It doesn’t have to be anything cosmic, just a brief description of a moment when you slowed down and fell into a gap. Maybe I’ll include some of your gap stories in a future blog as inspiration for all of us who could use a break.