Written by: Jillian Climie.
If you are fortunate enough to be able to take a break from work, whether that be quitting your job, taking a sabbatical or even just an extended vacation, I encourage you to consider it. Burnout is becoming more and more pervasive, namely because our growth-oriented society has kept rolling in the midst of a global pandemic, racial injustice and warfare. To combat this burnout, I believe we must start understanding the value of breaks.
I have taken career breaks twice, and for those of you who are ambitious, I have outlined the real, concrete benefits I found from them – beyond self care. And if you are interested in this topic and seeing how you compare to others, take our Vacation & Burnout survey here.
Note: I’ve benefited from privilege in my life which has enabled me to be in a position to take breaks from work. Many people are not afforded the same opportunities and must work incredibly hard often in a system that is not set up for them. This highlights broader systematic changes that must be addressed in our society.
For the first time, you are the one in control of your own decisions.
Most of us grow up in an environment where we are guided by others – from toddlers to teenagers we have boundaries set around us by our parents and deadlines imposed on us by our teachers and coaches. For those who enter university or college or a training program, some independence is gained, but the schedules and deadlines still dictate our decisions. When we enter the workforce we are again in a position where we have structures imposed on us, and we are constantly responding to others' timelines.
When I first left my job, I was in shock. There are no restrictions on how to spend your time and you are in full control of your decisions. There may still be family obligations, whatever that looks like for you, but you are the one making the call – there is no superior above you. You can travel to a new country or create a heavily structured schedule for yourself every day. You can spend hours mastering the piano or spend the full day on the beach. This type of freedom is underrated and necessary. It is also scary and uncomfortable.
The freedom was overwhelming for me, largely because it was so new. However, it enabled me to realize what I truly enjoy doing, outside of work pressures and social pressures. The discomfort forced growth and gave me space to think. I could now understand what my body needed (which often times is rest). I started identifying with me as a person and not just me as a person in relation to my job. I felt euphoric taking a leisurely walk to the grocery store in the sun and admiring the cherry blossoms. I felt lost waking up at 10am and wondering what I should do with my day.
The ups and downs led me to make decisions for myself constantly – which I would not have done otherwise. It prepared me to be a leader in ways I was not expecting. It enables you to think independently of the background noise and understand what is best for you and those people around you. It helps you see where your baseline best self is at – rested, fed, calm, secure – and how well you can operate when you're at that level. You can also tell when you're off this level, and what you need to do to get back to it. How good could you really feel, mentally and physically, if you took a break?
Recharging your mental and physical health can accelerate your career.
While sabbaticals and career breaks are becoming more normalized, a lot of people still thought I was crazy to leave my job with no plan of what I was going to do next. Especially if you are on a secure career path, it can seem naïve. However, you can take a break while still being ambitious and wanting to grow in your career. My view is that taking a breather actually helps us to do this, not hinders us.
If you are in a position where you are starting to become mentally or physically exhausted, continuing to push yourself is not productive. You will not be performing at your best, and you may end up resenting your job or the people around you. Taking the time to reset and come back stronger in my view will prolong, and even accelerate, your career. It is a short-term investment for long-term gain. We work so hard for our companies and teams, but we barely take the time to work hard for our own personal and professional longevity. We need to invest in ourselves – and in the long-term, our companies and teams will also be better for it.
You find the joys of work again.
Taking a breather helped me to discover that I love working. I love analyzing things, supporting others, making an impact. Work inherently satisfies so many of our human needs – most importantly our need to have purpose. It enables us to make a difference in something we care about. However, given what our world has gone through over the past few years, many of us have lost these joys of our jobs.
Taking a break reminds you of the great aspects of work. While it may or may not be your current job exactly, you will identify elements of work that excite you. This can help you discover what career path you should be on, which could look different than your current one. Or it could help you to discover you are already on the right path, you just needed space. Burning out does not mean you hate what you do, it just means there has been too much of it (or other things in your life). Breaks can reignite your passion for work, which is essential to do well in any job.
You realize how young you are.
As Marina Keegan wrote: "There’s this sentiment I sometimes sense, creeping in our collective conscious… that it is somehow too late. That others are somehow ahead. More accomplished, more specialized. More on the path to somehow saving the world, somehow creating or inventing or improving. That it's too late now to BEGIN a beginning and we must settle for continuance, for commencement...What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over. "
Marina wrote this at her college graduation when she was 21. However, I am 29 and I still believe it, and I believe it for you at any age. I think we often do not give ourselves the time and space to reassess our lives because we feel it is too late and we are already locked in. It is never too late; you deserve your best life at any age. As Marina Keegan says: “we are so young”.
Especially as women, we are taught to be risk averse and to put our safety and security first. Leaving a job with a steady income is undoubtedly scary. But we also need to take risks on ourselves, and give ourselves the space to explore. Taking a career breather is not for the faint of heart. It is uncomfortable and it is exhilarating. It is rebellious and it is prudent. I hope this article encourages you to consider it. If you would like to chat about your career break or how to plan for it financially, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keegan, M. The Opposite of Loneliness. Scribner (Simon & Schuster), 2014.