The Catalyst

Written By: jeff

Posted On: March 18th, 2012

Today marks 5 years since I took off on my career break. The time in my life would take me throughout South America, Europe, Turkey and Egypt. I didn’t have a clue about the people I would meet or the adventures I would have. World travel had been a long-time dream, but it all became possible after a catalytic event that I will always remember.

It turns out, I’m not alone. After getting to know so many other people who have taken a break, I realized that I wasn’t alone. For each of us, a point came in which we said, NOW. Now is the time to take a break. Now is the time to make my break.

I’ve included a summary of my own story in case you haven’t heard it before. But, I’ve also asked a couple of other people who have taken a break to tell their story, the story that never gets talked about, the one about the moment in time when we stopped saying no and said yes.

career break travel adventures in Greece, jeff jung

Jeff in Greece. Copyright


¨What’s it going to take to make you happy?¨ It was a question I had been asking myself. But, there was something about the way that my friends Mike and Joy asked me that question on that Friday night. We are on the Riverwalk in San Antonio, feeding ourselves with margaritas and mexican spanish/mediterranean food. From all outward appearances, things we going well. But, behind the scenes, things weren’t what they appeared. Weight gain, lack of sleep, an inordinate amount of stress made it increasingly difficult to hide the fact that what I had been achieving in my professional life wasn’t being shared in my personal life. I knew something had to change, but I was having difficulty figuring out what ¨that¨ was.

UPDATE: My friends have corrected me on where the fateful event took place. What is still true is that margaritas were involved.

Mike and Joy’s question stuck with me all weekend. When I woke up on Saturday morning, I kept thinking about it over and over again. Maybe it was the fact that I realized that I wasn’t doing a good job of hiding it my unhappiness anymore. Maybe it was the mix of Texan humidity and margaritas. But, that morning I had my epiphany – I wanted to travel. And, not just take a week off to the beach to relax. I wanted to see the world. I wanted to go to all those places I had been dreaming about since I was a kid. Of course, the big question was, could I afford it?

I spent the rest of the weekend working on budgeting. I tried to figure out how much I would need for such a long trip. I turned to the internet. But, in 2006, there wasn’t nearly the information from people who had done it that there is today. So, I looked really closely at what I was spending on my current lifestyle. Shocked at how much it cost me to live, I thought, surely I can do it for way less than that. I continued working at the math, comparing it to my savings and realized that it was possible. Three weeks later, I quit my job and started my new life.

Sherry Ott:

Sherry Ott, career break travel

Sherry in Nepal. Copyright

I had a job anyone would have wanted…at least from the outside.  I worked in an international luxury retailer in the upper management of their IT department.  I had a great office, a good title, and stock options. I had climbed the ladder and clawed my way up through various companies and lived in various cities to get there.  I did just what you expect of every childless, unmarried, type A female – I kicked ass because I had nothing else to demand my time and attention.  I managed people older than me from early on in my career and just thought it was normal.  But I had a secret.  I didn’t really enjoy my career except for the fact that it allowed me to accumulate things I wanted.  I accumulated and accumulated and lived the American dream.  I turned off the part of me that really paid attention to what was going on deep inside and I worried about the outside instead.

I remember one day coming home from work from a particularly bad day. I sat on my couch and looked around my beautiful apartment and started crying.  All I could think about was that I was so miserable at work – and not just my specific company – but working in IT in a field that I never felt like I belonged in. Somehow I kept getting rewarded and promoted in a field that I felt like I knew nothing in.  On top of this, it didn’t help that people I worked with were some of the most brutal, insensitive people I had ever encountered in my career. I sat on my couch and wished for simplicity, but I was surrounded by complexity. I started to wonder if I would be just happier to be less well off financially and simply do a job like waitressing or something – no money, but better work/life balance. I thought about my college days when I had so little – and longed for it again.

That was the moment where the pain of my present situation became greater then the pain of leaving the situation – and change happens when you finally reach that point. Shortly after that episode I remember realizing that I didn’t really have to stay. No one was making me stay except for myself and what I thought others expected of me. I knew I had a year contract with my employer – and I started to tell myself  I would leave when that contract was up. Once I had a plan, my whole attitude at work changed. The people that I disliked became more bearable.  I fantasized about the day I would put in my notice. Granted, I ended up staying 2 more years, but I always knew that my time there was temporary and that’s what got me through to the day I got on the plane 5 1/2 years ago!

Sherry is the co-founder of Meet Plan Go and blogs about her travels at Ottsworld.

married with luggage, betsy and warren talbot, taking a career break

Betsy and Warren ready for action. Copyright

Warren and Betsy Talbot:

Margaritas, friends, and an unexpected question were the perfect combination to change our lives.

In retrospect the evening started like any other great night out. We were celebrating a long weekend in Seattle and decided to head out to our favorite Mexican food restaurant with close friends. These are the types of friends where a conversation just flows and there are no restrictions. We all felt free to share ideas, hopes, and concerns with each other.

As the hours wore on Betsy and I started to reflect on our friends and family. Betsy’s brother was still managing life after a major heart attack at 35. While he had recovered it was a major shift in diet and attitude. Our close friend Maria was still in the hospital almost 1 month after a brain aneurism at 34 and no one knew what the future held. Without evening knowing it, our lives were about to be changed.

As typically happens with great friends the discussion turns to life and the future. We reflected on how short life is and posed the question, “What would you do if you knew you would not live to be 40?” (we were both 37 at the time). Without pausing to consult Betsy and I both answered, travel.

Within another hour, and thanks to the aid of another round of margaritas, we made the decision that would change our lives. We had agreed that we would take a year off to travel around the world.

The next morning, in the cold light of day, we knew that our mindset had been changed forever and we started planning our adventure in earnest. Today we are 18 months into an adventure that has morphed from 1 year to 5 years to a lifetime.

It all started innocently enough with great friends, a few drinks, and a question. This is why we advocate strong friendships with supportive people so strongly. They can literally change your life.

Warren and Betsy run the site Married With Luggage and are the authors of the books Dream. Save. Do., Getting Rid of It, and Strip Off Your Fear. 

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9 Responses to “The Catalyst”

  1. Dalene says:

    Moral of the story is: 2 out of 3 people who travel are inspired by Mexican food and margaritas!

    Congrats Jeff on your big anniversary! :)

  2. jeff says:

    Never underestimate the power of tequila and lime. :)

  3. Don Faust says:

    Maybe I need to go out for a stiff Margarita.

  4. Abby says:

    It’s funny the little things that push us over the edge when we’re already so close. 😉

  5. Maria says:

    Cheers for all who have done it! Great inspiration.

  6. Jeff, congrats on your anniversary! I’ve been living abroad for over 6 years now with no signs of giving it up anytime soon.

  7. Julia says:

    This is really great. But I and so many others am in a different position, as one of the young people who can’t get solid work and earn enough to take a break. It’s tough, because it seems people want to quit their jobs and travel — but my generation has a lot of people who can’t even get jobs in the first place. Fingers crossed…

  8. Congrats! I just passed my two-year anniversary of my first quit the job and travel … and now have a new one to look forward to, too! Heading out again soon. It’s people like you and the others who are so inspiring!

  9. Turtle says:

    Congrats on the anniversary – that’s a big one! And nice to hear stories from people in similar boats.

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