A career break – what is it exactly?
Call it what you want – a career break, sabbatical, (grown-up or adult) gap year, leave of absence, time off, extended leave, reboot – it is quite simply taking time off from your career. We are not talking about just a holiday, but a proper beak.
Cambridge Dictionaries Online defines a career break as follows:
“A period of time when you choose not to have a job, for example because you want to travel or take care of your children”
You may be able to take a period of extended unpaid leave or, if you’re lucky, even paid leave from your current job. That’s when it’s generally called a ‘sabbatical’. Alternatively you may decide to take a break between your current job and a future job. In other words – quit your job.
A career break is about leaving work behind and focusing on whatever you want to focus on during your break – whether it’s traveling, volunteering, studying, caring for family, or just having a breather.
There are many things you can focus on during a career break:
- round the world or other extended travel (which is what this blog is about)
- personal development
- personal projects
- de-stressing and having time off from the 9-5.
Career break timing and duration
There is no set duration for a career break. For most however it means at least several months to a year, or even longer. This blog focuses on taking longer breaks, but there is certainly value in taking a ‘mini career break’ of one or two months, if a longer break is not possible. We are on a 15-month break (the initial plan was 12 months but we got greedy along the way). For us this has been a fantastic opportunity to really re-focus, work on personal projects and completely switch off from what we were doing before.
Timing-wise there’s no right or wrong time to go – it depends. People take career breaks at any age, from their 20s to their 60s. It’s probably never going to be the ‘perfect’ time to take one so rather than waiting for everything to align perfectly, it is best to set a goal post and go for it. Obviously you don’t want to take a career break right after starting a new job – unless you want to leave that job – but beyond that you, possibly together with your employer, determine when it’s the right time to go.
Who is it for?
A career break is for anyone who feels like they want or need to take time off to focus on a personal project, study, self development, volunteering, a change of career or life direction and/or pace or, of course, travel. Some may associate career breaks with highly stressed, burned out individuals. This probably is the case for some, however in our experience it isn’t why most people take career breaks.
A career break is generally very much about self development and exploration. It isn’t so much about ‘traditional’ holidaying or lounging by the pool for months on end – unless of course that is what you want your career break to be about.
Why would you take a career break?
“No one on his deathbed ever said, I wish I had spent more time on my business.” Paul Tsongas
If you’re reading this blog, I don’t think we really need to explain the ‘why’ part to you. But it is nice knowing there are good reasons for taking a career break, and that you’re not alone in considering taking one.
Many people are so focused on their jobs and careers these days that they are accessible, contactable and accountable all the time – even on their holidays. In many companies and organizations there is an expectation that you check your emails and do some work during weekends and on holiday. Whilst this is probably not a formal requirement, it is often ingrained in the organizational culture. Of course there are also many organizations that are very good about work-life balance, however ambitious employees may be putting the pressure on themselves to put in the extra.
There is also the much talked about perceived status that comes from being ‘busy’. The over-glorification of busyness seems not to be going away anytime soon. You know the ‘humble brag’ on Facebook describing a 12-hour workday, or the friend who is always too busy to catch up because of work commitments. I’m not entirely sure why this seems to be the norm and the desired state of our lives these days. A career break will enable you to break this cycle and help you realize there is so much more to life than ‘being busy’. A career break allows you to refocus and really think about what you want to do or who you want to be.
Taking a career break is more common than you think!
If you are thinking about taking a career break, you are not alone. Taking a career break is not exactly a new concept. A quick search on the web shows millions of results, a growing trend that seems to become more popular every year. Some employers are also embracing the trend and are more open to their employees taking an extended period of time off but this varies from country to country. Companies and organizations may offer sabbaticals and/or paid/unpaid extended leave options. These organizations understand the value of allowing their employees to take a break. It’s usually a win-win situation, as the employee returns re-energised, with new ideas and possibly some new skills too.
Career break obstacles
While many dream of taking a career break to travel, it is in fact a big step to take. Many don’t end up realizing this dream because of financial and social pressures, career or family situation, or simply – out of fear. Fear of change, of the unknown, of challenging yourself. This great article on Huffington Post outlines some common fears and highlights a number of success stories. It is very inspirational reading.
You may have thought a career break and traveling is not something within your reach. There are many questions and concerns, mainly financial, but on the flip side there is a real opportunity to reap some amazing benefits. On this blog we want to let you know that taking a career break and traveling may seem out of your reach, but it is possible to do. We also want to give you some tools, tips and encouragement to take that leap.
Career break benefits
Most people taking a career break end up enhancing their skill set in some ways, either by learning new skills through study or for example by volunteering. Often you obtain new skills even before you set off on your break simply by budgeting and planning for career break travel. You certainly gain a lot of soft skills through travel: confidence, cultural awareness, patience and just generally not sweating the small stuff, amongst other things.
Being able to completely switch off means you can return to your career recharged, with new ideas and a new perspective. You may even discover a whole new passion and a new career direction.
I have to say one of the best feelings I have ever experienced in my life was right before we boarded our first flight at the very start of our career break and ‘grown-up gap year’. It was a mixture of anticipation, excitement, curiosity, pure joy… The feeling of slight disbelief that we were setting off on a year of travel. We knew we were going to spend time with family overseas and work on some personal projects. Beyond that we knew there would be no work emails to check, no stress and planning of the upcoming work week. No office drama to worry about. Knowing we had a year completely to ourselves, knowing we could go wherever we wanted to go (budget allowing, of course) and just explore the world – let’s just say excited doesn’t quite capture what we were feeling.
During our career break we have been able to recharge our batteries fully; fulfill some personal goals that we never seemed to have the time and energy for before; obtain some diverse new skills (namely some language, computer/technical and even some cooking skills!) and also learn something new about ourselves. I’d like to think we will be going back home more confident, more culturally aware, and so much more open to life’s many opportunities. And of course so many experiences and memories richer.
So when we do return to our careers we can go back re-energized and somehow smarter (I’m hesitant to say ‘wiser’ – I don’t think we’re old enough to qualify!). We can go back feeling like we’ve been able to fulfill a dream. And as much as we love traveling, we have also realized that the ‘digital nomad’ lifestyle is not for us. Instead we will be happy to go back, have a home, and a routine. We can also go back happy knowing that if and when the time comes, we’ll be able to take another career break and do this all over again. If I had any advice to myself a few years ago, it would be: take that leap and go sooner!
A career break is a real investment in yourself. You cannot put a price tag on that.