How a Career Break Can Change Your Life
It was March of 2007. My wife and I had been married for nearly a year. I was working as a high school English teacher and soccer coach. My wife as an attorney. We were enjoying our late 20’s – no kids yet, few responsibilities, and nice paychecks. We went out to nice dinners. We had drinks with friends (often). We saw a lot of live music. We went on a couple vacations each year. Life was good.
Then that fateful dog walk happened that turned our lives upside down. The short story is that my wife came across a blog of a couple who quit their jobs to travel the world for a year. Though we had never heard of the terms “round the world travel” or “career break,” we were more than intrigued. Within a couple weeks we decided to take that leap of faith. So we started planning and saving, ultimately leaving for an epic year-long adventure in October of 2008 that changed our lives forever.
The biggest thing I gained, and I feel everyone who takes time off to travel and challenges the status quo gains, is perspective. In America, most of us are all brought up the same way. Do good in school, get into a good college, get a job, get married, buy a house, have kids, watch them grow, retire. The American Dream, right?
If it works out, which it does for many people, that life is a good one. Despite the economic problems of the last 5 years, there are still millions of people in America living that dream and loving their lives.
But I have to admit, and my parents will back me up on this one, I have always been a little bit different. I have always questioned things I felt were illogical or didn’t make sense. I have never accepted the statement, “Because you’re supposed to” or “because that’s the way it is.”
Though we were going down that same path that many others our age were “supposed” to be going down, and we were largely happy doing it, we did feel that there was just something missing. There was that little voice in the back of our heads telling us that this might not be what we were “supposed” to do.
Though we were going down that same path that many others our age were “supposed” to be going down, and we were largely happy doing it, we did feel that there was just something missing.
My wife and I had contemplated many life-changing things since we had been together. When she was trying to decide which law school to go to, we seriously contemplated moving from the midwest to Colorado (ultimately we stayed home in St. Louis, for a variety of logical reasons). After we were both in the working world for a while, we looked into moving to Asia to teach English for a year (we never could pull the trigger). Then our minds turned back to Colorado – maybe we could just move there for a while before ultimately coming “home” and settling down when we were ready for the whole house and kids thing.
For one reason or another, though, all those ideas never came to fruition. We just never could pull the trigger. We were nervous and hesitant, but more than anything, while all those ideas were intriguing and exciting, they just never felt completely right.
Trust your instincts
Then that whole career break, round the world trip idea came about. Though we had never heard of this kind of thing before that fateful day back in the spring of 2007, we were immediately interested in learning more about it. Once we started digging, researching, and finding people who did it that were just like us, that proverbial light bulb came on.
This is what we were supposed to do. Though it was something we hadn’t heard of before. Though it was completely against any societal norms that we had known at that time. Though much of our family, friends, and colleagues would think we were insane, it just felt right. One day, there we were. Plodding along as cogs in the machine. Then literally a week later we were completely, 100% on board with flipping our lives upside down and doing something that no one we personally knew had done before. And we did it because we trusted our instincts.
How our career breaks changed our lives
It’s now late 2012. Five and a half years have passed since we made the decision to go. Nearly 4 years have passed since we embarked on our year-long adventure. It’s been nearly 3 years since we returned. We are back living in St. Louis (currently in the same house we lived in before we left). We just bought a new house that we fixing up before moving in. We are expecting our first child in January. From the outside looking in, it seems as though we are on the exact same path that we were on before that fateful dog walk.
But looking inward, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m not going to lie. When we returned from our career breaks, it was tough. It was 2009. The economy sucked. I couldn’t find another teaching job. My wife, who was granted a leave of absence from her firm, was ultimately not brought back (she primarily worked in real estate law – enough said).
Though things were grim at times, never once did we question the logic of taking our trip. We knew it was the right decision, and our experience, from planning to going to coming home, all set us up for what was to come.
Luckily we had a nice little nest-egg for this very purpose. Ultimately my better half found a job (in a field of law that she hated, but at the time, it was a job, and one that she has since moved on from). I couldn’t even so much as get an interview in my profession. Though things were grim at times, never once did we question the logic of taking our trip. We knew it was the right decision, and our experience, from planning to going to coming home, all set us up for what was to come.
With my employment situation up in the air, it was time to regroup. What else could I do with my life? During our trip, I re-discovered my passion for writing. Our blog, set up to give us an account of our trip and to share it with family and friends, became something I loved doing. My degree in journalism (which I had never really used professionally) suddenly came to the forefront. I kept writing. I started doing some freelance work. I set up a new travel blog so I could keep writing more and more. I learned about things like SEO and web design. Though I wasn’t confident that this would turn into a career, I was willing to give it a shot.
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Finding what you didn’t know was even out there
When a teaching opportunity came about the following summer, I had a decision to make. I really enjoyed teaching. But I didn’t love it. Writing, and writing about travel, in particular, was something I loved. In fact, what I was doing on a daily basis didn’t even feel like work. It was like a hobby, and if I could find a way to actually make a living doing this, what more could I ask for out of life?
So after some conversations with my wife and some soul searching, we decided that I would take that leap of faith. I turned the teaching job down and continued on this unknown path. I was now 31-years-old and working every day at a “career” that I was hardly getting paid for.
Was I crazy? Maybe a little. And I certainly went through times where I asked myself that very question. But something that my career break trip taught me was to have the confidence in myself and my instincts. To be frank, it also gave me balls. It gave me the balls to try something new and follow what it is that I really loved.
But that’s not what I wanted anymore. I wanted something more. I wanted to wake up every day and look forward to that day, not dread it like so many others do.
Without the trip and the experiences from it, I never would have done this. I would have taken the easy way out. I would have just taken the teaching job, the steady paycheck, the security. But that’s not what I wanted anymore. I wanted something more. I wanted to wake up every day and look forward to that day, not dread it like so many others do.
Fast forward 2 years, and here I am. Editor at BootsnAll. The very site that I sat up reading late at nights when planning the trip. It was a long, strange, difficult, and often frustrating road that I took to get here. But I’m here. And I never would have been here were it not for that leap of faith we both took over five years ago. That decision to go. To ignore all the naysayers. To trust in us. That one decision changed our lives.
Because of what we’re taught from a very young age, we spend so much of our time dreaming about the future. Thinking about what schools we’ll go to. What majors we’ll have. What careers we’ll dive into. All the stuff we’ll buy. But the trip and everything that came with it taught me to live for the now. To do what it is that I want to do. Life is too short to have regrets. It’s too short to do something day in and day out that you don’t like. So what we did was make the decision to not live like that. It sounds so easy, and honestly, it is. Just have faith in yourself and your instincts, and take that leap.
To read more about career breaks, check out the following articles:
- Swapping Your Blackberry For a Backpack: What To Expect
- 8 Crappy Reasons Not to Take a RTW Trip (and 8 Great Reasons Why You Should)
- 9 Hard-to-Resist Reasons to Take a Gap Year
- 12 Career Skills that Travel Will Improve
- Why a Travel Break Can Be the Best Career Move You’ll Ever Make
- Should You Quit Your Job to Travel in a Still Uncertain Economy?
- Top 10 Reasons to Take a Career Break…and Travel
Photo credits: Paul Fundenburg, all others courtesy of the author and may not be used without permission.