Featured, Inside My Head, Travel Advice

How a Career Break Changed My Life

24 Comments 31 August 2011

The day I departed from NYC on my career break in 2006

Five years ago today, August 31st, was my last day of work in the corporate world. I had a little box full of personal items from my desk, a big grin on my face, a bit of trepidation in my gut, and a one-way ticket to Africa.

It was supposed to be a career break of one year. However somehow one year has turned into five years. For the last five years I’ve celebrated this momentous occasion in places around the globe:

2007 – Delhi India volunteering
2008 – Puma Nepal trekking and volunteering
2009 – Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam living and teaching ESL
2010 – Brussels, Belgium housesitting
2011 – Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia after finishing the Mongol Rally

I don’t even think I knew some of these places existed or where to find them on a map back in 2006 when I left my office behind. And I certainly would have never expected that 5 years later I would still be traveling.

mongol rally

Me entering Mongolia during the Mongol Rally 5 years later

I don’t consider myself on a career break any longer; travel blogging and running Meet, Plan, Go! is now a lifestyle and a new career. However that initial career break from September 2006 to November 2008 changed my life in many ways…all for the better. It sent me on various different trajectories beyond the cube; but more importantly it changed me inside.

If you are contemplating a career break to do some extended travel, volunteering, or a long crazy adventure like the Mongol Rally then odds are you will experience some of these changes in your life:

Simplicity – a big salary, titles, and offices have little meaning to me any longer. Instead I value experiences. Even if I had gone back to a corporate job, I know for a fact that I value my happiness over a larger salary. I feel as if I’ve finally stepped off the ‘more is better’ lifestyle that we are all destined to live in the US.

Creativity – My left brain woke up on my career break. I thought I had lost my creative side for good after 14 years of conference room meetings, project plans, and bureaucratic corporations. I found new skills and interests in photography, writing, and art. I retrained my brain to make my own decisions and solutions instead of relaying decisions and solutions decided by ‘higher ups’.

Family – I witnessed family culture all over the world which has changed the way that I view my own family relations now. I see my family more often; I depend on them, and value them like I never did before.

Television/Hollywood – I am free from the shackles of living other people’s lives via television and celebrity magazines. I have cut back on the Hollywood hype at least 80%. Sure – I still watch TV, but much less than I ever did before my career break and travels.

Fear – I have learned how to face my fears and push myself beyond my self-imposed limits. The Mongol Rally is a great example of that. Instead of running from things, I face them head on. Life if short, there is no time to be scared.

Time – most importantly my career break gave me time to think. My prior life was full of commitments, meetings, projects, and plans. There was no time to actually rest, think, and evaluate my life and decisions. By stepping off the corporate track and away from what was familiar to me, it freed up my mind. You don’t have to take a long break to do this – but a break is certainly necessary. It’s natural and needed for your mind and body to slow down a bit and re-energize. A two week vacation is not enough time to do that; it’s simply an expensive diversion.

I can’t guarantee that you will have a similar experience as I did on my career break, but it will change you – that I know.

I recently did an interview with Lonely Planet about Career Break Travel Myths – check it out and be prepared to shatter some of the excuses you’ve been using on why you don’t think you can take a career break and travel!

And if you are sitting in your cube terrified by all of this talk of career breaks, but also intrigued at the same time, then be sure to check out my other travel business venture – Meet, Plan, Go!

At Meet, Plan, Go! we are leading the career break movement in North America; encouraging and teaching others how to travel the world and have it be beneficial to your career. We envision a world where the term ‘career break’ is a part of your overall career strategy.

The Meet Plan Go! website was listed recently as one of the best travel websites EVER from the Guardian online.  So be sure to check it out!

Meet Plan Go

Meet Plan Go on our Mongol Rally car in Kazakhstan

Plus, on October 18th, don’t miss our North American Career Break event about how to take the big leap out of the cubicle and onto the plane. We are holding the event in 17 cities staffed with career break and travel experts to inspire and assist you towards your own career break!

What are you waiting for…time is short and the world is big!

Have you taken a career break and traveled?  What did you learn from it?  Please share in the comments below!

Your Comments

24 Comments so far

  1. Dave says:

    Well said Sherry! I still remember when I discovered your blog toward the end of my own trip around the world. You inspired me then and still do!

  2. Love this post, Sherry! It’s very inspirational to see people who left the corporate world to travel and made something new and exciting out of a life on the road.

    I laughed when I read that you felt like corporate culture made you less creative. I feel the same way (as I write this from my cube desk, sigh). There are so many ways that meetings and monotony have made me less creative and less bold. I can’t wait to break out of it all next year! RTW scheduled take-off: June 2012 :)

  3. Sarah says:

    Thank you so much for this! It is very encouraging as I´ve quit my job to go travelling for a couple of years (doing it for nearly a year now), as well, and there are some people who think I´m nuts but it is just the most rewarding thing I have ever decided to do and I´m so excited about any further experiences!!
    Thank you! :-)

  4. THANKS! for that post. Tomorrow we start our journey for the very first time- sold everything, but two suitcases and we’d be lying if we said it wasn’t a bit scary. :-)

    Great to read your post, lapped it up!…

    …and looking forward to all the points you talked about obviously, Freedom comes in many forms doesn’t it? :-)

    Thanks again,

    Nancy & Shawn

  5. Oh my…this makes me want to hop on a plane tomorrow! This is beautifully written and very inspiring. I’m trying to get my act together so I can take a break in the next 1-2 years. First things first, though, I’m taking my niece (and hopefully one of my nephews) to Paris in the spring. My goal is for it to be not only an experience they treasure, but fuel for what I hope becomes a life of exploration and the following of their dreams.

    • Sherry says:

      Small steps will lead to big giant ones for you I’m sure! As for your niece/nephew project – how cool! I actually am doing the same thing. I have 6 nieces and I told them each that I would take them for 1 week anywhere they want in the world once they reach 16. I’m taking my first one to Italy this March!

  6. Ernesto says:

    It seems we have in the USA an increasing baby boomers population in the middle age crisis. Having stated that, I am not disagreeing with your actions to break with the monotonies and ambitions of the culture of the corporate world, but I am emphasizing the context in which some actions take place. I have not doubt about the benefits that your travel experiences might bring with them… TO SEE LIFE IN A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE!

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  7. Courtney says:

    Sherry, It’s great to see that this experience and the decision to go was positive for you. I gave notice to my cushy corporate job and leave on my own adventure in about 3 weeks, teaching in HCMC Vietnam. I am starting to get that “Oh my god, am I crazy? what am i doing??” feeling as well as pure excitement and anticipation of what’s ahead. It’s wonderful to hear that your experiences have changed you for the better AND that you managed to build a new career out of it! Congrats on your last five years and all your accomplishments.

    • Sherry says:

      Congrats on your upcoming adventure! I lived and worked in HCMC for a year in 2008/2009 – please let me know if you have any questions. Where are you teaching? I taught at ILA and then did private teaching at a corporation. Make sure you get your own motorbike and get out on the streets…it looks scary – but you just have to do it. It was my highlight once I got up the nerve to do it!

      • Courtney says:

        Any tips on crossing the road? 😉

        I’ll be taking a TEFL course for the month of October than start teaching after that. ILA seems like a likely situation for me, how was your experience there? As for the moto, it’s on the agenda! I rode one all over Costa Rica and had a blast. The streets of Saigon I’m sure will be a new challenge.

        • Sherry says:

          ILA was a good place to work – however I never really liked my working hours…but that’s pretty typical for ESL schools. However – after I was able to network a bit around HCMC I left ILA and went out on my own. I was able to make double the money doing private instruction at corporations. however ILA has nice facilities and a ton of resources to work with so they make life pretty easy. Lots of bonding with other teachers too. Good luck and let me know how it goes!!

  8. Congratulations of 5 years and living a new life in travel. You’ve done some remarkable things and inspired a lot of people!

  9. Erik says:

    Congrats on your anniversary and finishing the Mongol Rally. I told you that you guys would finish :-)

  10. Janna says:

    Congrats on launching Meet, Plan, Go! and following your dream. Lovely to see the business get recognition, too. Raising a glass to your 5th!

  11. Juno says:

    I guess what I’m doing is a career break. Since I stop working and traveling now. I kind of refuse to use ‘break’ since I don’t want to intent to go back to the work place. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a ‘short’ break.

    As a new career breaker, I really got inspired by your stories Sherry. I”ve been reading Ottsworld quite a while now, and enjoying following your steps.
    Way to go! And congrats for the Mongol Rally!

  12. Oh, jeez…. I don’t know why we’re not hanging out on your site 24/7. You speak our language BIG TIME! And… we’re at the 5 year mark as well.

    Let’s meet one day :)

  13. Jocy says:

    Awesome post. It totally resonates with me. I started work at a law firm directly out of law school. In many ways, the road was set and as far out as the distant horizon, I thought I could, more or less, make out the big points in my life.

    Enter the financial crises and my growing disenchantment with firm life. I took a healthy severance package and bought a ticket to China and promised myself I would make it to St. Petersburg. All the while, I thought I would go back to private practice, after maybe a few months of break/travel time.

    There was a stop in Mongolia for several weeks and discussion after discussion with travelers who created their lives around their passions. It was a strange idea – you mean, you don’t think 2 weeks vacation is enough? You mean, you create your life not around what materials you accumulate, but around experiences? Crazy thoughts.

    Out of that journey came my decision to move to Cambodia to pursue human rights/land law. One and a half years later, I find myself with very pared down values. I don’t have the fancy corporate law office anymore or those things that I attached so much meaning to, but I am somehow more alive and fulfilled than I could have imagined.

  14. Erin says:

    I just found your blog approximately ten minutes ago, but I must say it’s struck a cord with me! I spent three months living in Haarlem, Netherlands this summer immediately after graduating college, and I’ve found that my life has been dramatically altered by this relatively short experience. Returning to the U.S. has brought pressure to “get a real job” and enter the work-to-make-money-to-buy-stuff routine, which no longer appeals to me, having found a true passion for travel. Can’t wait to read more!

  15. Glen says:

    A friend from your corporate past (GID) is interested in learning more. I look forward to chatting with you at some time near in the future. Congrats to you.

    • Sherry says:

      Hello Glen! Wow – what a blast from the past. I love it when I find old co-workers from my ‘old’ life and career! Any chance you are still in SF? I’m actually in SF right now getting ready for the career break travel event we (my little company) runs every year. Happy to catch up any time and talk about career breaks/changes and travel!

  16. Kevin says:

    Hi Sherry, I found your Blog this morning and read a lot of it. I want to say good for you and I am glad you had and are having a wonderful time. To reprogram your mind is a good thing so you can relearn what life is suppose to really be about.

    Going back to Nepal in February. Do you have any contacts for teaching ESL there?

    Best wishes to you and all your readers.

  17. Kellie says:

    Such a relatable post! I experienced many of the same feelings in my 15 mth career break in 2009/2010. Unfortunately a lack of funds saw me returning to the corporate world I left behind but I have been saving hard for career break number 2 next year and hope to be able to say the same thing as you one day in that ‘i don’t see myself on a career break anymore’! Thanks for a great post and inspiring website!

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Sherry traveling the world

I'm Sherry, a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. I travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography. But it's not just about travel, it's also about life experiences of a middle age wanderer.
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Minnesota/Wisconsin -> Nebraska

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