What is a Career Break?
Like the vast majority of your fellow humans of the world, you worked your way up from the bottom of the food chain in your chosen career path. Before you had time to blink, time to stop and look behind you, to assess how much of that mighty mountain you have ventured up, your twenties were gone. Your thirties. How many decades have to pass us by, before we take a deep breath and we give ourselves the gift of self-analysis?
When Do you Take a Career Break?
The answer is slightly different for us all. In general terms, sometime in our late 20s or 30s the forward momentum which fuelled us through the previous decade(s) with a go-getter attitude seems to start to wear off. Perhaps, the goal posts we envisioned that once reached would mean we were successful, we were content, we were happy, seem to have been met, or pushed further away.
After 11 years in, I had to hit the pause button.
Why Would You Take a Career Break?
The reason is different for everyone.
Once in a lifetime opportunity. Your best friend since childhood is taking a year away from life to travel the world, and wants you to be their partner in crime. Your mother faces the Big “C”, and months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. You are expecting your first baby, the start of your own family. Whatever the specifics are, the motivation is the same; if you miss this, it will never happen again. If you aren’t there to see your babies first smile, a picture will not do it justice, and the second will somehow not be quite as perfect. If you pay for a nurse to stay with your mother and provide her with care, you will always have a tinge of guilt that you didn’t nurture her, like she once did you. Arguably slightly less ominous, if you aren’t there to take pictures with your friend in front of the Eiffel Tower, you will be harassed by the ever-annoying onslaught of selfies.
You have reached a breaking point. The biggest clue that you need to take a step back can be a loss of passion in your life. If you used to wake-up everyday with a smile, and love heading to the office, and now find yourself living for the weekend, something has shifted internally. It may be that your priorities are merely changing, now you have a family at home, and the pull to them outweighs your pull to work. Or it may be slightly more serious, and you are contemplating the fact that your chosen career path no longer satisfies you. Either way, time away, a complete removal, to allow yourself the freedom to ask the right questions, and find their weighty answers is what you need.
Self Investment. The older we become, the more slices invade our once relatively empty pie chart of daily time allowances. The easiest slice to give away when the kids activities start to occupy every afternoon and weekend, is ourselves. Do you remember the list of self-improvements we hoped to accomplish once life was settled? To go back to school and earn a degree, to become a certified yoga instructor, to meditate twice a day, to master French cuisine. I am sure I don’t have to tell you, life doesn’t settle. It becomes increasingly more intricate and complex, while free time seems to shrink proportionately. If we don’t make the time to seek out those dreams, however seemingly obscure, and make them a reality, this life will pass us by.
Why not all three? As the big 3-0 approached I slowly, and then abruptly, realised I was facing all three of the above reasons. After over a decade of non-stop achievements on the step-ladder of my chosen career, a small animal veterinarian, I was exhausted. Compassion fatigue, is the trendy phrase the industry uses to describe the fact, that I was becoming the person who hoped, no, prayed, their out-of-hours emergency phone didn’t ring, and used my two weekends off a month as motivation for surviving my 60+ hour weeks. I had always wanted to be a vet, this was my dream job, so how I had lost that spark I left vet school with? The passion for helping animals and the people who loved them seemed to be fading. Coincidentally, my husband and I had discussed our desire to start a family, and I knew that a safe pregnancy, and extended period at home with my new baby were the right choice for me. I was not going to be the one to miss my son’s first smile. Finally, a nagging urge for self-investment had been growing in me since before I graduated vet school. Though I was a qualified vet in the UK, I needed to pass the American Veterinary Boards, or NAVLE exam, if I ever hoped to practice as Dr. Mac in my home country. Again and again, I pushed it off. Too busy on my course and then too busy working to possibly attempt this goal.
So How do You Take a Career Break?
I have a recipe for enabling a successful career break; the three S’s of success to be exact.
Save. If you have been clever enough to gather a nice green pile in bank already over the years, it will expedite the actioning of a career break. If you only have a meagre pile, or no pile at all, worry not, there is no time like the present. With each transfer to your savings account, think of the priceless gift you are purchasing for yourself; time. Speaking of which, this may be a lengthy process, perhaps even years, but try to think of the prolonged period, as a positive. Time to plan how you will use your time effectively.
Support. Like anything in life, you can’t take this journey alone. You will need to confide in your family and friends, you will need them as allies as you take a giant leap out of the confines of conformity. Don’t be surprised if this takes a few conversations before they are on board. Especially members of older generations, will find your “abandonment” of everything you have strived for shocking. Explain your rationals, and stand your ground, you are the only one with uninhibited access to your mind and to your heart, only you can make this choice. Also, don’t be surprised by the generosity of your allies, and don’t be afraid to take it. It may be a while until your next paycheck, and if someone wants to buy your drink at the pub, or cook you a lovely meal, accept, and know that you would do the same if roles were reversed. Finally, if you are married, engaged, or in a serious relationship, you will need your partner on board. More likely than not, your finances are intertwined, and presenting a plan of how you can make a career break work in your specific financial situation, along with the why you need one, is crucial.
Sacrifice. Undoubtedly forgoing the income you once collected weekly, will mean a back-to-basics move in your life. The yearly trip to the Bahamas, the spa days, the seasonal updates to your wardrobe, and eating out Friday- Sunday may all need to be bypassed for a period of time. The stripping away of the non-essentials is a cleansing experience. This is meant to be a period of redefinition in your life, and what better way to do this then to ask the question, what do I really need to be happy? More often then not, we find that the answer to that question does not have a price tag.
My time away from the hospital has already been such a gift. I have passed my NAVLE exam, and feel a surge of pride whenever I sign correspondence Dr. Macartney. My pregnancy could not have gone any smoother, and my son continues to grow the perfect amount for each prenatal appointment, and in less than a month I will be smiling at his face, waiting for him to smile in return. But maybe the best blessing of my career break is that I can’t wait to go back. I have had time to analyse what aspects of my profession were draining my passion away, and I feel equipped with strategies to address them, so that I can wake-up with a smile every morning and love what I do again.
So who is a career break right for? I might be so bold as to say, everyone. We all need the space and freedom to make sure we are getting the most out of our time on this planet. Our career is not the only aspect of life which needs to be nurtured, and invested in.