Why it's okay to take a career break
From the second we get our first jobs, we jump on a hamster wheel.
No one says it explicitly, but there’s an expectation that from here on out, you’ll either stick in one job or make a couple of strategic leaps from this role to that one, until, finally, you retire.
But what if you just need to press pause, jump off the wheel, and stand still for a moment?
Whether a desire for a career break comes from burnout, a redundancy, considerations of an industry switch, or simply wanting to work out what you want, there can be real shame in taking some time away.
That’s something Ani Naqvi, a coach and transformational expert, wants to change.
‘Life isn’t just about going to school, college, university, job, marriage, kids, retire and then die,’ Ani tells Metro.coi.uk. ‘Rather, we are here on a journey of self and spiritual discovery to grow, learn and transform.
‘Having a career break affords us the time and space we all need to discover who we really are, to reflect and allow ourselves to be inspired. To discover our purpose, passion and what our values are, as well as the legacy we want to leave.
‘If you’re constantly working and, in a routine, we are not giving ourselves that important reflection time.’
The benefits of taking a career break
You get off the wheel
Okay, so that hamster wheel analogy we mentioned earlier – imagine you’re on that, and you’re spinning faster and faster. Isn’t it tricky to see what’s going on outside the wheel? Or to think about yourself when you’re so focused on continuing to race forward?
Taking a career break is about consciously hopping off that wheel and seeing what’s happening outside of it.
You get the mental space to think creatively
Ever noticed that even when you have the best of intentions to paint/write a novel/do whatever other creative pursuit you’ve always wanted, every day you come home from your job, your mind is just completely un-inspired?
It’s tough to think creatively if your brain has been super busy all day. It’s hard for inspiration to strike when you’re exhausted.
‘We need space to reflect and be away from work for our natural creativity to flow and be inspired,’ says Ani.
‘A career break enables us to discover other interests and hobbies in life.
‘Perhaps rekindle a passion for dance, writing, poetry, music, or art something that you loved when you were a child or younger but fell to the wayside because of lack of time as you became an adult with a full-time job, family and other responsibilities.
‘Insight and intuition have more space to live in a brain that is not overutilised. Some of people’s most creative ideas come when their brain is in “off” work mode.
‘I was inspired to finish writing a book in the pandemic and many others took up baking, and other creative pursuits.’
You get the mental space to work out what you actually want to do
Ani says: ‘Taking a career break can open a world of new opportunities and possibilities.’
When we’re younger, we’re often asked what we want to do when we grow up. Then, as time goes on, we’re asked what we do for work – and it’s kind of assumed that our answer is what we want to be doing.
When was the last time you actually sat and asked yourself what you want to do?
You can rest
‘A career break really allows us to rest and relax properly without deadlines, alarms and meetings taking up all our head space,’ notes Ani.
This is essential if you’re suffering from burnout.
You can return to work feeling refreshed
If you do decide to return to your previous industry or role (which is okay!), a break can still be of benefit.
‘When you do decide to go back to work you feel refreshed, recharged, re-energised, more resilient and have more focus and clarity,’ Ani says. ‘You will be able to do your job more efficiently, effectively and with greater purpose.’
You can tick off your bucket list
Ani tells us: ‘As Benjamin Franklin said, “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today”.
‘If there’s one thing we can learn from the pandemic, is we never know what tomorrow will bring.
‘If you have a bucket list, you can start on it in a career break much easier. Not when you’re either too old to enjoy it or don’t have the energy you once did.’
Things to consider before you take a career break
Okay, so you’re keen to take a break. What do you need to think about first?
As much as we might all like to take a long, leisurely break from work, the hard truth is that few of us can afford to just take off for a year.
So, we need to prepare. If you want to take a career break, work out exactly how long you’d like that pause to be – and if it needs to be a ‘full’ break, or if you could pick up a part-time gig to keep money flowing in.
While you’re still in your job, take some time to note down exactly how much you need to live on – and if it’s realistic to be able to go without any income for a period of time.
How can you make it work? Can you save up enough of a cushion to live off for a few months? Could you move somewhere with cheaper rent? Could you do some freelance work to bring in cashflow?
Have a sit down and work out a formal budget and how much money you’ll need to make this happen.
You need two deadlines when it comes to taking a career break: when it needs to start and when it needs to end.
Make sure you set both so your break doesn’t feel like meandering along an endless expanse.
Quit or take time off?
If you’re certain that you no longer want to do your current job, quitting makes sense.
But what if you’re not entirely sure?
It’s worth talking with your boss and seeing what your options are – could you take a break and then return? Could you go down to part-time hours? Could you use up your annual leave?
What happens at the end of your career break?
You don’t need to know the answer to this question at this point, but you need to consider it.
Ponder whether you plan to return to your same field, go freelance, or do something entirely different – and work out how to set yourself up for this.
As nice as it may be to do nothing and focus entirely on your personal development, we live in a capitalist society that means a total break from work can’t last forever. Have a ponder about what happens when yours is done and dusted.
Dealing with fear
Let’s be real: the idea of taking a leap out of the cosy comfort of your current job and into the unknown is scary. Don’t feel bad for having some fear.
‘If you’re worried if you can afford to take a career break, that’s normal,’ says Ani. ‘Fear is our strongest emotion, and a fear of the unknown is our oldest and strongest fear
‘However, taking a career break will force you to face your fears and do it anyway.
‘Most of us live a life full of fear that prevents us from truly experiencing all that life has to offer. Taking a career break forces you out of your comfort zone and into a stretch/growth zone.
‘The courage and bravery of doing something out of the ordinary for you will repay you back in experiences, new behaviours and habits and a renewed zest for life.
‘The world is full of possibilities and opportunities, which are more likely to come your way when you do this.
‘If you create a flexible approach to life and are happy to compromise you will enrich your life with people, adventures, experiences, and memories that when you look back at on your 80th Birthday you will feel a sense of joy and pride of having lived the life you could really live rather than be bogged down with a 9-5 for most of your adult life.
‘We don’t remember the jobs we had when we are 80 but the lives we led
‘Give yourself the gift of a career break to truly experience what you are here for.’
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