The most common question people ask me is “Why?”. What was your reason for a career break? I think most people are expecting to hear something about a major life entanglement, health reason, or lost love; but none of these things plagued me when I decided to leave my corporate job in 2006 for a year of travel.
My Career Break Reasons
There wasn’t one traumatic thing that drove me over the edge – but a series of things specific to my personality and where I was in life.
Routine was Killing Me
I’m an Aquarius – I need change, I require change, I live for change. I hate being in a rut or in any sort of predictable pattern. After 3 years in my current job, I have developed a pattern and I think I would explode if I had to go through yet another predictable year in my current job.
Conformity…Proudly serving painfully boring people since time began.
My sample day in 2006 included getting up way too early (normally a bit hungover), running in the park, dashing off to work on a crowded subway of other people staring lifelessly into space tethered to their device, checking email on my crackberry on the subway. Once I arrived at my windowless office I’d check emails (again), go to a meeting, go to a meeting, go to a meeting in which lunch is served, check email, go to a meeting, go to a meeting, go to a meeting, do work for the last hour I’m there. Many times I can go all day without ever going outside or seeing the sun, and sometimes I never even make it to the bathroom. I had a picture of a collage of sunsets in my office – it’s my fake window…I stare at it to remind me of what the sun looks like.
I don’t mean to paint such a dismal picture – you can make your own inference from the pictures. I do owe a lot to work, and I work with good people for the most part; smart people – people who like what they do and are generally ok with being in a pattern (no other Aquariuses!). After all – if it wasn’t for work, I wouldn’t be able to take this adventure – and for that- I’m eternally grateful to my job. But most days I feel like I’m stuck – stuck in my white box, not really knowing what value I’m adding to the world – let alone what value I’m adding to the numerous meetings I’m attending.
I needed to Re-evaluate My Career Choices
I remember one day coming home from work from a particularly bad day. I sat on my couch and looked around my beautiful apartment and started crying. All I could think about was that I was so miserable at work – and not just my specific company – but working in IT in a field that I accidentally ended up in, and never felt like I belonged in. Somehow I kept getting rewarded and promoted in a field that I felt like I knew nothing in.
I sat there and wished for simplicity, but I was surrounded by complexity. I started to wonder if I would be just happier to be less well off financially and simply do a job like waitressing or something – no money, but better work/life balance. I thought about my college days when I had so little – and longed for it again.
That was the moment where the pain of my present situation became greater then the pain of leaving the situation – and change happens when you finally reach that career break tipping point.
I Didn’t Want to Wait For Retirement to Travel
No one grows old by living, only by losing interest in living.
Retirement doesn’t always reward you with the time or ability to travel. It’s a fact. I started thinking about the person I’d be when I was 65. Would I have the same health, sense of adventure as now…not likely.
I wanted to go bungy jumping in New Zealand, climbing mountains in Nepal, hiking the Great Wall of China, and horseback riding in Mongolia; and I was saving all of this for retirement – when I would have time to do all of these things. But would these things really be possible at retirement age? We spend all of our life waiting, waiting, waiting, until we are free from the shackles of work. However what if when we are unshackled, we can’t do it?
I started considering taking a mini-retirement now, while I knew I could hike Kilimanjaro. If people can have a mid-life crisis, then why can’t you have a mid-life retirement?
A Career Break Plan Started to Hatch
It started small and simple
Plan 1 – a thought of giving everything up and getting a simpler job…I didn’t need a fancy apartment on the upper west side, I could get back to my college roots and budget and simply wait tables if I had to – as long as I was happy.
It got a bit more international…
Plan 2 – Move to Italy, buy a scooter, get a dog (that got along with my cat), raise grapes and olives, yadda, yadda, yadda…see movie ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ for the rest of the story.
Now we are talkin’…
Plan 3 – Save my bonus for the last 3 years, and take off and travel the world thereby satisfying my ever-growing travel curiosity. OD on travel, get it out of my system, refocus, see different cultures, see cultures that didn’t revolve around the corporate business orb, see history, understand history, get a tan, see the real sun, see my sister, push my limits and boundaries…live.
You guessed it – Plan 3 won out. I honestly think that my Financial Planner wasn’t too thrilled about any of the plans, but this one seemed like the most fun to him – so he ‘approved’ it.
Planning the Getaway
Then it just turned into a waiting game – when was the right time to start this adventure? My friends and I had been planning a trip to Africa for September, seemed like a good jumping off point. Plus – the last international trip I had I came back to a guy smoking crack on the subway on my commute to work – it was then that I decided that the next time I went out of the country – I wasn’t going to come back!
In 2006 it was a pretty crazy idea to leave a perfectly good job to travel around the world for a year. Now in 2017 it seems somewhat normal. After all, who hasn’t fantasized about quitting their job and traveling around the world at some point in their adult life?
Some Stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity…-Gilda Radner