2016 was the year I took the big plunge. I was living in one of the richest countries in the world, Switzerland, had an amazing position as brand manager and everything was perfect. Well almost perfect. I felt the need to live a more adventurous life, to travel far away and to have the time of my life while it was still possible. After all, wasn’t I too young to burry myself in this comfortable life that yet took so much effort to achieve?
Looking at how the economy works and how the population is aging, I don’t take a big risk claiming that my generation won’t have a good pension if any at all. With that in mind, I’ve decided to organize my life differently. I hear so many people (and young ones) saving their dreams for retirement. Me? I don’t want to wait! And above all, I don’t want to die with regrets.
A lot of you might ask why I left such a comfortable life and to be honest with you, sometimes I still question myself. But there is something that I’ve learned about life that is very true: everything changes all the time: you, the world, the economy, your relationships, everything. There is no guarantee of anything in life. So you better go with the flow than holding on to a sinking ship or to anything at all. There have been times when I thought I had made a mistake, that I was totally crazy to start a new life from scratch…for the third time! However, I have noticed that there is no such thing as “mistakes”. There are only lessons and learnings because how are you supposed to know about an experience if you have never lived it? So yes, I might have lost a bit of my stability and all my points of reference but in the first 6 months that I’ve lived here in Vancouver, I have learned things I would never have thought about back there in beautiful Switzerland.
I have decided to go with the flow. To make my dreams come true. If you don’t go for your dreams, what is your life really about? That’s how I quit my job and I took a career break of one year to explore Canada from sea to sea while waiting for my permanent resident card to settle down in Vancouver. I’ve seen places I would never have been able to go to on a regular, one-week trip. I’ve seen plenty of wild animals, I’ve hiked about 700km and most importantly, I’ve learned so much about me! Taking a break really gives you the opportunity to reflect about what you want your life to be about. To press the “pause button” before you realize it’s too late to make any changes!
I’m sharing in this post my tips to plan, appreciate and exit a career break. This isn’t something that you can improvise and a little bit of planning is involved. But it’s worth it and I would do it all over again if I was asked to!
– What’s your plan: So you want to take that break, don’t you? What do you want to do? It feels very good not to do anything but only for a day or two. What’s your dream and how long do you want your break to last? A lot of people who take a career break or a sabbatical year do so because they have a plan. They want to travel the world, raise their kids, test a business idea, go back to school, learn new skills and so many more things! Define what you want to do and set up a start date. I decided to take a career break to discover Canada before settling down in Vancouver. It is somehow complicated to travel a lot when you start a new life in a new country so first things first, I wanted to travel!
– Prepare a budget and an emergency plan: travelling or going back to school is a lot of fun but it costs money. And also, there could be some hidden costs you didn’t thought about. So go to your desk, open a new Excel spreadsheet and do the math. If you’re going to travel, don’t forget to incorporate the costs of your health insurance! Also you should have a plan B. What if something happens that forces you to come home and start again from where you left? Where will you go, what will you do? Having an action plan for a case of absolute necessity is important. What’s more, it’s going to take the pressure off because you know you have it all figured out.
– Planning ahead: don’t decide what you’re going to do on your first day off. Depending on what it is that you want to do, there might be a little bit of paperwork. In my case, I wanted to live in Canada and obviously you need a work visa to go there. It took me 6 months of preparation to submit my application to the immigration authorities and then another 6 months of waiting to obtain my PR card. Do your research and plan ahead so that you can enjoy your career break from day 1.
– Quitting your job: some of you might want to negotiate a sabbatical year with their employer and go back to their job once the career break comes to an end…And other might want to just quit. Depending on what you do for a living, weight the pros and cons carefully. It’s not easy to find a good job and while you might know what you’re losing, you never know what you’ll find. Whatever your decision, be aware that going back to business is hard. But unlike many of your colleagues, you’ll have some unforgettable memories of your time off!
– Plan the exit route: Have you thought about what you’ll do when your sabbatical year comes to an end? Are you taking back the same job you did before? Do you want to start a new career? Are you living in a new country? I think it’s great to do a little bit of research to know what you’re letting yourself into. As I said in the previous tip, getting back to real life can be quite hard so be sure to know what your exit route is. It will make your landing a lot smoother!
– Document what you do: At some point, you’re going to have to justify this gap on your resume. Think about it. Employers are looking for people who know what they are doing and who decide what happens in their life. Do yourself a favor: document what you’re doing all along! For example, I decided to create a travel blog and compiled the statistics (number of kilometers hiked, number of nights spent in the tent, …) of my trip across Canada. When I updated my resume, it was a lot easier for me to put a very positive spin on my career break.
– Enjoying without feeling guilty: I know it sounds crazy, but for me, it was the biggest challenge of taking a career break. Although I made an amazing tour of Canada, this unpleasant thought kept popping in my head “you should be working”. For those of you who tend to feel guilty, tell yourself that you’re not going to be free and careless indefinitely so enjoy it while it lasts and save your energy for the day you’re getting back to real life. But for now, enjoy the experience!
– Going back to real life: How was your sabbatical year vs. career break? You must somehow feel like you’re a different person now, don’t you? What did you learn about yourself and most importantly, what kind of life do you want to live now? Whatever your decision, getting back to real life is not easy! I really want to stress the fact that changing country and finding a new job in a completely different work environment is the hardest thing I’ve done so far. It took me about 6 months to find a job in Vancouver (which isn’t bad at all, I’m not complaining) but during this job hunt, I’ve been through really tough times of doubts and questioning. During your time out, the world did not stop spinning and sometimes, it can literally feel like you’re trying to jump on the bangwagon. When such a feeling arises, hang in there and keep in mind that it’s only a numbers game. You’ll eventually get back in the system, you just don’t know when.
– If it takes longer than you thought to get back to business: I expected to find a job after my career break in less than 3 months. Well, it took me twice as much! So what did I do not to lose faith? “The universe rewards actions” is one of my favorite quote and during this difficult chapter, I tried to stick to it. I’ve volunteered in various associations, I’ve started this blog, I’ve attended countless networking events and conferences, I went to the gym 3 times a week, you name it! It is so important to keep yourself busy and motivated. You will look back on these harsh times with so much proud and gratitude. I promise you!
– Live in the present: once you start working again, it might be very tempting to daydream about your past career break and longing for the long free days! Try not too and just be grateful that you had the courage to live such an amazing experience.
To all the people out there that have already taken a career break and to all the other who wish to try the experience, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Make sure to leave a comment in the section down below, I’m looking forward to hearing from you!