A few months ago, a mentor of mine, a Senior VP at Kaplan, asked me this seemingly simple question over coffee and brioche French toast (yummm!).
It would have been obvious to most. An automatic, instinctual, society-driven, pre-determined canned response.
Partying, freedom, a degree…
“Education is the key.” Right? RIGHT!?!?
Yet answering this question wasn’t so easy for me.
You see, before even graduating high school, I was fortunate enough to begin chasing major career goals and start with my best foot forward in trying to get ahead and inspire others to do the same…
I had previously started two companies (one at 15 and one at 17) and earned the title “Definition of a Social Entrepreneur” in Forbes (and have now also been featured in Fast Company, TechCrunch, Huffington Post, etc).
I worked as one of the earlier employees for two VC-backed start-ups in Silicon Valley, which proved to be the most incredible learning experience one could ever ask for.
I gave a TEDx talk about my journey and vision for a world in which people chose to pursue their passions regardless of age and obstacles, where I humbly received a standing ovation. With those same principles in mind, I am co-authoring my first book 2 Billion Under 20 (forthcoming from St. Martin’s Press, 2015) and travel around the world speaking about youth entrepreneurship and Millennial empowerment, igniting a spark in other capable and ambitious young people.
Other bestselling authors, most notably Keith Ferrazzi, entrusted me to promote their own book releases, an experience that both elevated my own knowledge base and further established my credibility as an author and speaker (and now, test subject for your benefit and enjoyment).
And I’ve even shared meals with childhood heroes like Tony Hsieh and Dan Marino (kimchi in and burgers respectively)!
However, despite all of my early achievements, I still wasn’t able to get into most of the schools I had my sights set on.
I knew that the field was competitive for the nation’s top schools, but I felt confident that my extracurricular and real-world resume, along with a (very) respectable SAT score, a GPA that put me in the top 10% of my class, and glowing recommendations would give me that edge and earn my acceptance into one of the more elite universities I applied to.
This was not the case , and every school except for the one rejected my application. Ouch…
While I was disappointed, the silver lining proved to be the opportunity to seriously contemplate my next moves in life instead of just following the usual path without giving much thought to my pending, life-altering decision.
Do I go to school right away to be with more people my age, begin accumulating credits towards my degree, and earn access to a collegiate network that could (potentially) prove beneficial in my career later on? Take the “traditional” or “expected” path, but risk losing any of the current momentum I have in the real world as an entrepreneur, author, and community leader, spend a ton of money, and study things like entrepreneurship that I’ve learned much faster on my own?
Or, do I skip college altogether, avoid taking on massive student debt, and save four years of valuable time, but run the risk of not having a degree in the worst case scenario my entrepreneurial rollercoaster ride comes to an abrupt halt anytime in the near future?
I thought back on another mentor-mentee conversation I was fortunate to have around the time that I was weighing my options, this time sharing a breathtaking skyline view of Los Angeles on the rooftop of his Hollywood Hills home. Although he himself is a product of a Harvard Business School education, he stressed to me that results were the only thing that really mattered in life, and that, school or no school, my actions taken and results produced in life would ultimately write my legacy.
I found myself thinking about these words and how they applied to my situation while scaling the majestic red rocks of Boynton Canyon in Sedona, Arizona alongside some of the world’s top Internet marketers, authors, and thinkers at a recent conference I attended. Somewhere between the two trips…
Why did I have to choose between enrolling in college or not? I could defer my decision, and take a year to continue growing (professionally, socially, and personally), working on my current businesses, and figuring out where I wanted to go from there.
So I decided to take a gap year from school.
Rather than choose to skip college altogether and place myself in the center of the current higher education debate (and worse, throw myself in the midst of my family’s outrage over choosing not to attend college and “play it safe”); or jump into four years of studying at an institution I was slowly becoming skeptical of, while forking over incredibly high tuition costs and surrounding myself with peers who were more interested in partying than writing books, meeting influential people, and building companies like I was, a gap year seemed like the perfect compromise.
For me, a gap year represents a world of opportunity to explore what I want to learn, continue building a foundation for success by keeping up—and building on—the momentum I have going for me right now. A gap year would allow me to pursue goals and experiences in the real world that a college lifestyle normally wouldn’t. At the end of my gap year, I aim to have an incredible amount of meaningful experiences, useful skill-sets, new perspectives, and personal growth opportunities so that I can make the best decisions about my future moving forward. Either way, I figure I will get a lot more out of college if I decide to go that route, or be better prepared to enter the real world.
While the benefits of such a break from institutionalized learning are just beginning to seem credible to people in the U.S., students in Europe, Australia, Israel, and other areas of the world have long embraced gap years as a way to mature and better prepare to get the most out of their college experience once they do go back. It’s time for us to bring this option to the forefront of the U.S. education system.
The Gap Year Experiment is my chance to showcase what’s truly possible in life by subjecting myself to the ultimate learning experience and, at the same time, help other young people be better prepared to get the most out of college and the real world.
…using my relationships with and access to some of the world’s forthright experts in various fields; personal ambitions as an author, entrepreneur, and youth movement leader; and irresistible drive to prove that the seemingly impossible is, in fact, possible.
My experiences, good and bad, will offer practical, inspiring guidance to young people about the benefits of taking a gap year by showing the endless possibilities and opportunities that it can offer, whether they decide to return to school or not. By running myself through various experiments related to business, health, personal relationships, lifestyle design, and community-building, I hope you, reader, at any major pivot point in your life, can walk away inspired to take action and craft the life you’ve always wanted.
Gaining 20 pounds of muscle in two months by training with Mr. Olympia champions and Olympic gymnasts? Weight room!!! Bring it on.
Learning the art of Hawaiian Lomilomi massage? Ahhhhhhh. Bring it on.
Taking a one week cooking holiday in Tuscany with the world’s top chefs? Delicious!!! Definitely bring it on.
I’ll look to build a 6-figure passive income stream with the help of Internet marketers who’ve sold over $100 million worth of information products, learn how to dance with the help of So You Think You Can Dance alumni, and tackle almost everything in between. My goal throughout this gap year will be to show how you can benefit tremendously from delaying by a year or two in order to grow up, develop an entrepreneurial mindset, learn how to become a lifelong learner, and improve their social skills before making the decision of whether to go back to school or going straight into the workforce.
My hope is that this gap year—this experiment—will shed light on the experiences that can be made possible through taking a gap year, giving people the insight necessary to reconsider how they handle major life decisions and encourage critical thinking around choosing paths in life that seem “standard”.
Not in high school or college? No worries. Follow The Gap Year Experiment anyways and walk away with renewed wonderment about the world in which we live, a healthy dose of skepticism about societal status quos, and rekindled passion to chase after the hopes and dreams you care most about. Truth is, there are major decisions we make all throughout life (you’re probably in the process of making one now), and learning how to take on a gap year mindset so that you view major life decisions as experiments and think critically about your choices instead of simply following the crowd will make your life better and give you the experiences you want.
Taking a gap year and learning 10X what most college freshman would learn or experience in the same timeframe and for the same cost or less, I’m going to show you what you can truly accomplish and learn at any age, and share with you how those experiences can drastically improve the rest of your life. I mean, what’s one year anyway?