How To Decide If A Career Break Is For You

Written By: jeff

Posted On: January 12th, 2011

As a career break advocate, I am passionate about encouraging people to take some time out for themselves and getting out there. But, I recognize that it’s not for everyone. And, more importantly, it’s not always the right next move depending on what’s happening in your career or life at the moment.

So, I’ve asked Julie Bauke, author and well-recognized career strategist and coach, to help answer a few questions to help you decide if a career break is the right next step or not.

1. First, tell me about the change you’ve seen in attitudes among employers towards sabbaticals, career breaks and those people that take them.

Without a doubt, there is more openness to different career models than” jump on the ladder and march straight up.” I remember a time when you were looked at as a slacker if you did anything other than that…and I am not ancient!  Yes, there are still people who feel that way because they have never considered or seen value to doing it any other way. It’s just not in their DNA. Those people are generally older and will be retiring, so the trends are good for interested career breakers.

2. Why is driving that shift in opinion?

Many people realized along the way that doing it the old way sucked their souls dry and they lost a lot along the way- family, good health, adventure, etc. A lot of 20- and 30-somethings saw their parents do it the old way, and even suffered from the lack of parental focus and also saw their parents get laid off as a reward for their 120% commitment to the Big Corporate Daddy. They vowed not to be that person. I think some of the older workers now look at that new career model/mindset and finally get it and are sorry they lived their careers the way they did.

3. How is the decision to take a career break different or the same as making a decision to change careers or change employers?

I look at careers as a big quilt that you create by patching together your interests, experience, skills, values, paid work, outside/unpaid activity, etc. We are the quilt of everything we do. That’s what makes us interesting as humans. For instance, although I have a business that is focused on “Career Happiness”, I am an ardent supporter of organizations that support and rescue abandoned/homeless dogs. I have three myself. I consider that part of my career, part of who I am that cannot be separated from the professional me. You make your decision to take a break or change careers as a result of your feeling or knowledge that a piece of your “quilt” is missing, a longing for more or different. Changing careers & taking a career break look different on the outside, but are really just variations of the same.

4. Is there a ¨right way¨ to plan for a career break as part of your overall career planning?

Obviously, financial, relationship and family considerations must be made. When you can answer these questions, I think you may be ready: Why is now the time for me personally to take a break? What do I want to get out of it and how will I ensure that I actually it? Do I have some idea of how and where I will reenter the next phase of my life? Am I truly ready for the possibility that I may come back a very different person than when I left in terms of my goals & interests?

5. What type of people are prime candidates for taking a career break?

Anyone! But of course the type of career break will vary based on your sense of adventure, your desire to give or just learn or both.

6. What type of people are not candidates for taking a career break?

If you fear that you will worry about home, money, career the whole time and will then not be able to enjoy it, then maybe the time is not right.

7. What are the key factors to think about to decide if your next move should be a career break or not.

If you are stagnant, have a longing for something more or different, dread Monday morning, find yourself perusing with a sense of envy & longing deep in your soul, you may wanna explore it! But I do think being very honest with yourself about WHY is important.

8. Complete this sentence. You know you need a career break when…

see above

9. If someone wants to take a break, but then wants to return to the same employer, what advice do you have for determining if the employer is likely to support you or not.

How open is the culture? Do they have track record of allowing unusual career arrangements or is it very structured and bureaucratic? Do they REALLY value their employees or just say they do? Look at their policies for time off. Frankly, a lot of this depends on how valued you are and how much they want you back. That’s hard to discern up front! But if you’re not greatly valued, it’s best to find another place to work anyway!    Is there anyway to tie in what you are doing on your break to what the company does or values? Can you make it a win-win? Can you go to your mgr w a plan for your departure and your reentry?

10. Should you talk to HR first about your desire for a break? Or do you go first to your immediate supervisor?

Who will be most understanding and likely to support you?

11. If you talk to someone in HR about this, will they have an obligation to communicate that discussion with their supervisor?

I don’t think so, but each company and HR person differs in how they will handle it

12. What benefits have you seen career breaks have on people? Do you have any stories of people you’ve known in your career?

A better appreciation of what they have, more clarity on who they are and what they value, often a shift in perspective, very often a change in direction to their lives. But sometimes, it’s just a mental break to reenergize and life moves on, almost as before. I always think about Andrea who left a great consulting job to go build an orphanage in Guatemala because she had been in an orphanage herself. She was there for 6 months, came back and is still in consulting, but shifted to working with child-focused nonprofits.

12. Finally, what actions should people take before leaving for their trip that can help them land a job quicker once they return?

Communicate your plans to your network (you will get a lot of envy), start thinking about HOW you are going to tell your story when you return back home. It gets back to the WHY, then while on your trip, start to weave in what you got/are getting out of it and how that will make you a better employee, consultant, etc. when you get back. Remember, think of your Quilt and how you tell that story

Career Strategist and Author, Julie Bauke

Julie Bauke is President of Congruity Career Consulting with a focus on educating and motivating individuals in building the career of their dreams. She is a dynamic and highly interactive speaker with a passion for educating and inspiring individuals to take charge of their careers. She has been widely quoted in national publications, been featured on numerous radio shows and is currently the Career Contributor on Chicago’s WCIU TV. She is the author of “Stop Peeing On Your Shoes: Avoiding the 7 Mistakes that Screw Up your Job Search”

Stop Peeing On Your Shoes

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7 Responses to “How To Decide If A Career Break Is For You”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by iwishgapyear and Jeff Jung. Jeff Jung said: Thinking about a career break, but not sure if it's right for you? Then check out my interview with Career… […]

  2. Erica says:

    It really is a breath of fresh air knowing that sabbaticals are becoming more accepted. Here is to the future!

  3. My entire blog is dedicated to showing professionals how they can take a “working vacation” (what you call a career break) and then return to their regular job/home/paycheck when it is done. I have read far too many sabbatical blogs/web sites that fall into one of the following categories:

    1) I am 18, have a pack on my back, $20 in my pocket, and am going to head out to see the world. (What I call the young vagabond model)

    2) I am independently wealthy (or won the lottery, sold my Internet company, or collected a massive alimony) and am going to buy a house in the south of France for my career break. (The Year in Provence model)

    3) I am sick of my job so I quit, sold the house, put the dog in a kennel, and am traveling overseas on a voyage of self-discovery. (The Eat, Pray, Love model)

    Well, those are all well and good but many of us who would like to take a career break are well past 21, are not filthy rich, and really like our job and don’t want to quit. We would like the excitement, adventure, and cultural immersion of a short-term overseas posting, but want to come back to the life we had before we left.

    Well, if you are a professional with a marketable and useful skill, this goal is fully realistic and achievable. Please check out my blog (and my book On The Other Guy’s Dime: A Professional’s Guide to Traveling Without Paying) to see how. I hope you enjoy it.

    Michael Schneider

  4. jeff says:

    Michael, thanks for the information. I don’t define a career break as solely a working vacation. That is certainly one option and I’ve known several people who have used their time away from their career to try a new one out. But, a career break to me is a break to do something else and to focus on your personal passion. For some that means working and for others it means doing other things. And, I agree with you that most people do want to continue with their lives in a similar fashion as they did before. If what your site offers is a way to get international assignments, I would not call that a career break. But, I would say that it is a great alternative to look into if breaking from your career or job is not for you.

  5. Career breaks are just worthwhile, and I love reading posts like this. People are happier if they feel lie their entire life isn’t being owned by someone else.

  6. jeff says:

    Brooke, I agree 100%. Thanks for the comment.

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