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Taking a 'Gap Year' in Midlife

A former newspaper editor is catching her breath — and loving it

By Dotty Brown | December 17, 2013

(This article previously appeared on the UnRetiring blog site.)

I ran into a former colleague, Avery Rome, a few months ago – a woman who for many years held an editing job at the Philadelphia Inquirer. Avery had decided to take a buyout about a year after I did, so I asked her what she was doing now.
 
She said she was trying out all kinds of things: working in a community garden to raise fresh crops for a local food cupboard, studying Russian drama, taking Coursera online classes on movies, ancient Greece and the modern novel — and loving every moment. “I’m really curious about things I haven’t done,” she said.
 
Her Phrase for Her Life Today: 'A Gap Year'

Avery said that when she told friends who were still working what she was up to, they didn't say much. Maybe they couldn't connect. And so, she explained, “I’ve recently come up with the phrase for what I'm doing. It's ‘a gap year.’
 
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“That,” she said, “people can relate to. Starting a new career or teaching literacy might explain my not being a journalist, but lollygagging is hard to understand.”
 
What She Loves About Her Current Life

Here’s some of what Avery is loving about her gap year:
 
Gardening  “I find it a great meditation and I think about all kinds of things,” she said. “I just love getting that close to nature, learning about bugs and plants. I love using my hands now. A part of me just wants to do physical things.”
 
Less stress  Like so many of us, Avery had poured herself into the survival of her company. “I like not worrying about how to hold the paper up,” she said, adding that she now sees daylight more than in the last 34 years. “I’m much more aware of the weather.”
 
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"Loose days"  She loves all this free time.I have a friend whose husband is ill," Avery said. "I spend time with her. I show up. That freedom to be charitable, if you will, to be giving rather than receiving, is a great joy.”
 
Permission to indulge  Avery savors treats that were once rare, like not necessarily getting up early. And having time to read the paper. Or watching movies anytime.
 
“The Coursera movie course, called The Language of Hollywood: Storytelling, Sound and Color, was great," she said. "It gave me license to watch movies in the middle of the day. You can’t drift like this when you’re raising kids or paying off a mortgage. This leisure is a gift of this time of your life.”
 
Avery noted that taking a “gap year” might not be right for everyone in midlife, assuming they could even afford to do it.
 
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“My life now would be really boring to someone who is driven, someone who’s a high achiever," she said. "So I back off in those conversations and I just ask them about themselves.”
 
Life After her 'Gap Year'

What’s next for Avery when her gap year ends, if it ever does?
 
She said she might get involved in politics, supporting candidates who could do a better job than incumbents. She’s also considering studying to be a master gardener. But Avery has by no means abandoned her craft. She’ll be teaching a writing course this spring at the University of Pennsylvania. And she said she wouldn't walk away from a big project.
 
“The whole thing is finding the balance. If you float too much, you think: ‘Why aren’t you busier?’ I don’t know what we’re measuring ourselves against.”

 
Dotty Brown shares ideas about recreating yourself post-career on her blog, UnRetiring. She previously worked as a writer and editor for the Philadelphia Inquirer. During that time she edited the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism.
 

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