6 Things You Should Know About Taking a Career Break

1. Planning is half the fun

Ok ‘half’ the fun is probably a slight exaggeration, but the planning phase doesn’t have to be stressful.  Unless you are taking advantage of a change in circumstances and income such as a redundancy payment (which is unfortunately more and more common these days), chances are you have made the decision to take a career break but need to spend some time saving up first.

I started planning my first career break in mid-2008 and although the internet was a great source of inspiration and advice, it was nothing compared to the resources available today.  In fact, if you are going to use the internet to help you plan your break, you will need the time to plan as the volume of information has become almost overwhelming.

Taking a career break is a type of new ‘career path’ and is becoming increasingly popular as our lifestyles provide the opportunity to explore other options, or circumstances force change upon us.  There are websites dedicated to career break advice such Meet, Plan, Go and the Career Break Site, there are countless blogs and reflections on personal journeys (such as this one) and the social media flood we now paddle through on a daily basis makes all of this information readily accessible.

2. Be Prepared

I don’t just mean be prepared for the career break itself, but be prepared for the end of it because the reality is – it will end.  At some point you will run out of money or you will have commitments you need to return to.  Whether you are returning to the life you left behind or making a change in your career or lifestyle, if your career break involved a significant diversion from your daily routine it’s inevitable you will experience some form of reverse culture shock.

As my career break involved spending the majority of my time in developing countries, the initial reverse culture shock I felt on my return to London was quite predictable.  On one hand, I enjoyed drinking tap water again and the first purchase I made was toilet paper that didn’t dissolve in my fingers!  On the other hand, I found it difficult to be sympathetic to Londoners complaining about the train being late, of another rainy day or having to work late – even though I had been that person before I left!

The end of a career break is tough but there are some tips I’ll reveal in a separate post that can help you prepare for it.

3. Think outside the box (you are never too old to try something new)

Planning a career break is literally like sitting down with a blank sheet of paper.  You have already made the decision to take a break from your daily routine and the obligations and restrictions that come with it.  Unless you are taking a career break for a specific reason such as writing a book, undertaking further education or following your life-long dream of an African safari, chances are you have made the decision to take the career break before you’ve really planned what it is you want to do.

I made the decision to take my first career break because having a career was only leaving weekends and short holidays to explore other things I had an interest in.  So I started planning my first career break by asking myself the question ‘what have I always wanted to do, but never had time for’?  As I starting making a bullet point list of random thoughts, a pattern emerged and I realised my year would be a combination of learning Spanish in Bolivia, living and volunteering in developing countries, over-landing through Africa and backpacking at my own pace through countries in South East Asia that had always been on my bucket list.

I’ve started planning my second career break with a different question.  What do I want to do to make this a change in direction rather than a career break?  There are still places on my bucket list that I want to visit for the first time (Antarctica, Japan, Madagascar, Western Africa just to name a few), there are places I’d like to return to (Cambodia, Rwanda, Myanmar) and there are friends in Malaysia and family in Australia that I am looking forward to spending time with.  But I don’t want this to be another ‘round-the-world’ trip that ends when I run out of money and I don’t want to return to the lifestyle I’ll be leaving behind.  So the question I’ll be asking myself over the coming months is ‘what can I do differently this time to create a different outcome’ and it’s an exciting prospect to know there are answers out there waiting for me to find them!

4. It WILL change you

Some people take a career break because they want it to change them.  Maybe you want to learn how to achieve a better work/life balance, to avoid returning to a lifestyle where your career distorts your priorities in life?  Maybe you want a more tangible change through obtaining new skills from a language course or further education?

But if you think you will be hitting the pause button on your life and returning to it as the same person, you are probably in for a shock.    The degree of change depends on the state of mind you were in before you left, how you spent your time on your break and what you returned to but change is inevitable and can be both positive and negative.

I returned with increased self-awareness and possessed a different outlook on both life and the world around me.  I had friends who could no longer relate to me or who I no longer had enough in common with, but other friendships strengthened and new friends enriched my life.  I returned to a different job but with people I had worked with before and the ‘work to live’ attitude that had replaced my previous ‘live to work’ attitude took some adjusting to on both sides.  If you are not expecting your career break to change anything about you or your life, maybe you should re-think your reasons for taking one!

5. You are not alone

Ever feel like you are speaking a language that no one else understands?  Ever feel like you are on the wrong path in life but you don’t think there are alternatives?  Ever feel like you are too old to make changes?  Taking a career break will instantly dispel these concerns as it inevitably connects you with like-minded people.

Connecting with like-minded people doesn’t mean you have to forget the friends who are already part of your life.  Remember, like-minded people aren’t always the same as good friends, although they often can be.  It is simply a refreshing reminder that the world has a place for everyone and there is never a reason you shouldn’t embrace the ‘real’ you and follow your own path in life.

Similarly, these connections don’t have to end when your career break does.  Your career break is a lesson in how to connect with like-minded people.  I returned home with a new interest in photography and writing and have since joined weekend photography courses both in London and aboard and have found social media (especially Twitter) a great way to maintain this like-minded connection.

6. It doesn’t have to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience

If I had a hundred dollars every time someone said to me “enjoy it, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience” I would already have saved up enough for my next career break.  It can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience – if you want it to be.  But it doesn’t have to be – I’m proof of that!



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Kellie is a traveller and photographer who is most at home when exploring the world beyond it. Through the intersection of her travel, writing and photography passions, she shares her experiences to inspire others to create there own. The desire to live life instead of existing through it has introduced Kellie to inspirational locations throughout seven continents and from this a passion for landscape and wildlife photography has evolved. She feels a particular connection to the polar regions and Africa. You can see more of her photography at www.kellienetherwoodphotography.com

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