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Diane Chang Headshot

Whoooooooh, Rumspringa!

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I recently listened to a very popular American radio show called This American Life. The show is essentially a human interest radio show that takes a theme each week and explores it. For their Valentine's day edition, they did a story on a couple that had been dating for 13 years but had never gotten married. To test whether they were the right people for each other, the couple borrowed the Amish concept of 'Rumspringa' and decided to take a break from each other, see other people, and then re-evaluate if they wanted to re-commit to each other.

I had never heard of 'Rumspringa,' but the concept is fascinating. The Amish are a group of American Protestants often known for their strict traditions and observation of a 19th century lifestyle (ie, no cars, mobile phones, etc.) However, at age 16, Amish adolescents get the opportunity for 'Rumspringa,' a two year period when they break from the traditions and restrictions of the Amish faith.

At 18, the teenagers get to decide if they want to return to the faith. Amish children engage in a variety of activities during this time, from cigarettes to mobile phones to ____ (use your imagination). Apparently a lot of the activities are much tamer than you might expect. What is most shocking about rumspringa is that an overwhelming majority of teenagers do return to the Amish faith at 18. The retention rate is roughly 80 - 90%.

This retention rate for the Amish faith was shocking to me, and I began to muse what I would do with a two year hiatus from my status quo. For younger working professionals, graduate school is probably the most popular and "acceptable" break that would not cause a future potential employer to raise an eyebrow over a few years out of the work force. Extended trips to Bali seem less explainable. But for many working professionals, what would the retention rate be on a two year hiatus?

Classic characteriSation of the drudge of the working life would suggest a low retention rate, but it's all very new age these days to "do what you love!" So what could you do for your own career or job that would maximize the chances that you would return? Maternity leave offers an interesting analogous choice of "would you return if given the chance?" Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg would tell you, as she told the graduating class at Barnard College in New York, that working women need to give themselves every opportunity to ensure that they are enthused enough about their jobs that they would return. She calls it 'leaning in' - ie, take the more challenging project or promotion to be sure you've really given yourself every opportunity to find what you love. But the prescription on how to do that is a bit more complicated.

I don't have an answer on this question, and should I get the opportunity to do a Rumspringa of my own, I'll certainly share my personal tale. But I think it's worth the intellectual exercise - if you had your own rumspringa, what would it look like, and what would you want to change now so that you'd return to the "faith?"