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Will a career break save your career?
Depending on their level of education, people work full time from the age of 16 upwards. If you take the median age of retirement as 65, this gives you 49 full years of work in your life time.
You may be lucky enough to earn a salary which allows you to actively plan for your retirement and bring your retirement age down to, let’s say 55. If you went to university then you wouldn’t have started work until you were 21.
Let’s presume you went to university and are actively planning for your retirement. That still leaves you with 34 long years of work to look forward to. For the vast majority of us this is not a joyous prospect.
Don’t love what you do?
The theory goes that you should pursue a career in something that you really love and then it won’t feel like work at all. Realistically, for most of the world’s population that just isn’t feasible. You need to eat, and you need to support yourself from the moment you leave home. You might find yourself with unexpected responsibilities at a young age. Whatever the reason, many people fall into a career and suddenly find they have no idea how they got there.
If you are in a senior level role then you will no doubt work fairly long days, and if they are not long then they will be stressful, juggling team management responsibilities with your own project driven workload. You will take your work home with you, and feel that you need to respond to queries as and when they arise, or your inbox will just continue to fill up, to your ever growing despair.
So what to do?
Try these tips to get happy at work. If it is more than that though – if you are starting to feel burnt out, overworked, or just over it, maybe it’s time to look at taking a career break. Before you do something drastic though, ask yourself whether it is just the company you work for, the job itself or even your colleagues that are the problem. These short TED talks will help you get some career perspective. If you are just burnt out perhaps a holiday or a short sabbatical will do the trick.
You’ve decided to take time out
Everyone has heard the phrase ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’, but how many of us act on it in relation to our careers? Taking a leap of faith in regards to your career is more difficult for most than doing something foolhardy like jumping out of a plane. But braving the unknown, even if just to take a sabbatical and give yourself the opportunity to explore new options will be much more rewarding in the long term than an immediate adrenalin fix. The real risk is that you just stay, stuck doing something that brings you no joy whatsoever for the foreseeable future. Now that is really something to be scared of.
So how can you be sure that taking a career break will bear fruit? How can you make sure that when you decide to return to full time work, be it just with renewed passion for your original career trajectory or to a totally different sphere, you don’t regret your decision?
Some simple ways to make sure your return to work is as smooth as possible, wherever you are returning to, include:
Be honest with your boss. Not necessarily about your underlying dislike of your current role – if that is the case - but about the fact you feel you need to take a break. Citing the wish to travel, or impending burnout, if that is how you feel, will more often than not be met with understanding.
Be honest with yourself. If you just need a holiday and you know you’ll recharge, don’t do something drastic if not necessary. Perhaps you just need a change of organisation, in which case check out Michael Page’s great range of jobs.
Make sure you network along the way. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. People know people, who know people who can help you. By being open, and talking to people that you meet along your – perhaps winding – way, you will uncover ideas and networks you never dreamed you had access to.
- Don’t check out completely. Keep in contact with your old colleagues and your old networks, so that you are front of mind if an exciting project or new job opportunity that you might be interested in rears its head. If you lose touch totally then it is much harder to find your way back in, or generate opportunities that could interest you. Plan A might not work out, so really resourceful people are always working on multiple plans.
Remember: it’s a career break, not a holiday
Why is it that we feel like we are tied to something for the investment we have made and not for the joy that it brings? We are fortunate to have more choices than ever before, yet somehow we are paralysed by the number of opportunities and are afraid to change our minds. If you need a career break and can afford to, then take one. But beware, buggering off to a remote paradise to drink cocktails and get a fabulous tan is not a sabbatical, it’s a holiday. Make sure you are doing something productive with your days.
A sabbatical is the chance to change your environment and find a different perspective. Use the time sensibly. After leaving my last job I did exactly the opposite; I headed to Europe and spent most of my cash having a good time, which meant on my return I was completely broke and still at square one. Oh well, someone’s got to learn the hard way I suppose. Fortunately I had followed my own advice about keeping in touch with my ex colleagues and the expression ‘it’s not what you know it’s who you know’ came through for me in the nick of time.
Here's a handy checklist before taking that sabbatical, as well as how to ensure you can ease back into a job when ready.
1. Be honest with your boss. Not necessarily about your underlying dislike of your current role – if that is the case -- but about the fact you feel you need to take a break.
2. Be honest with yourself. If you just need a holiday and you know you’ll recharge, don’t do something drastic if not necessary.
3. Make sure you network along the way. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. People know people, who know people who can help you
4. Don’t check out completely. Keep in contact with your old colleagues and your old networks, so that you are front of mind if an exciting project or new job opportunity rears its head.