The Gap Decade, Katie Schnack. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021.
Summary: A first-person account of navigating the decade of one’s twenties, the transition from adolescence to adulthood.
I first noticed the idea of this book in my work with grad students. They were living on their own, most were working while pursuing grad studies, they had cars, health insurance, paid taxes, and in some cases were married or had even started families. They looked like adults and I thought of them that way. Yet they did not yet feel they were “adults.” Perhaps part was that they saw themselves as “still going to school.” They described some of the things I’ve mentioned in the preceding sentences as “adulting” which suggests a kind of rehearsal for adulthood. I came to discover that this is descriptive of many in their twenties.
Katie Schnack captures this in her book, The Gap Decade. The title comes from the idea of a “gap year,” which many take before or after college as a kind of transition. Schnack suggests that the gap decade isn’t a choice, but a host of transitions “that the universe just dumps in your lap” that come with a ton of emotions from loneliness or even depression to exhilaration and joy and intimacy.
In an informal and quirky style, Schnack describes her own journey through the transitions of this decade. One is the finding of new friends in the places where one moves. Another is the waiting (sometimes literally at tables) one does on the way to find the work one wants to do. Then there is the work (or #werk) and the crazy things that happen like the boss who up and quit, throwing her stapler across the office (how not to quit). She describes a couple years in Austin where she learned to “embrace the stuck” while her husband completed an MFA program.
Working on taxes taught her and her husband how to make the hard things like doing taxes more endurable–snacks and pizza with champagne afterwards made it easier–and learned to apply that lesson to other hard things, like Tuesdays. She writes about finding the balance between tidy (which she is not) and good enough, and between taking care of oneself and enjoying one’s body, and going crazy in some exercise program. She describes the new appreciation of her home in Minnesota after living in other places, including knowing how to bait a fishhook and de-ice a windshield. It also means accepting change–that Christmas celebrations, even with family are different than childhood.
Living in a tiny apartment where both worked from home in New York exposed all their shortcomings, the grace and self-forgiveness they needed to practice, as well as some good life hacks–and the value of a bigger place to live. Like many couples starting out (especially during the recession that began in 2009), finances were tight and lean into their faith:
“When all my go-to comforts are stripped from me–a sense of physical and financial security, an understanding of what outcomes I can expect, my tangible needs and emotional needs being met–I have learned just to lean hard on God, with the expectation he will show up with enough to get me through. How? Just by the good ol’ “cry out to God” method because sometimes that is all we have to offer” (p. 124).
Another move, this time to Memphis led to a mental health crisis as Katie went through profound depression. She speaks candidly of the stigmas that still exist in the Christian community around mental health–particularly the stigma that one should not need medication. And she writes about the transformative experience of going to a therapist (not a Christian), an elderly woman with an eye problem who she dubs “Dr. Magic Wizard.” She finally was able to process the death of her closest college friend.
The concluding part of the book describes her and her husband’s journey into becoming parents–the deep grief of a miscarriage, carrying and birthing her daughter, and that as a mom it is still OK–or not–to wear a bikini. You can even survive showing up to register your daughter for daycare with a stray piece of pink underwear hanging out the back of your shorts, that you discover only after you leave.
Schnack is real, vulnerable, and funny. She lets you know you are not the only one to go through all of this stuff–a lot of people are. She describes a life of learning that she doesn’t have to have it all together. She tells stories of leaning into her faith in all sorts of practical ways–God shows up and she keeps showing up. The book ends with her turning thirty–far from flawless but also marveling how far she has come.
This is an encouraging book. I enjoyed the quirky writing style as well as the skill of weaving a number of “adulting” transitions into her narrative. This is a great book if you are wondering if you are the “only one” or know someone who is.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.