Time for a career break?

Careers are funny things, in that we are readily defined by what we do and then for some that becomes who we are. But what happens when what we do doesn’t necessarily make sense to us and ultimately define who we are anymore? Maybe it’s time to take a step back, consider a career break and look at things objectively or simply punch out and do something else for a while.

What is a career break?

By definition it can be a time where we do something else such as raising kids or pursuing our own interests. You may have also heard the more traditional term sabbatical used but these mean the same thing. They relate to an agreed period of absence (with your employer) as the aim is to return to your job once the time is up. This usually is between six months to a year.

However, a career break can also be the time when you re-examine your path and your goal is to return to work doing things differently. If it was to do something different, then that would be a career change!

Some organisations such as Flying Fish, Oyster Worldwide or BUNAC are packaging career breaks as an ‘adult gap year’ offering programmes of work abroad and of a charitable nature. I did not take a gap year myself however I would certainly consider exploring these options were I to take an extended break in the future. You could also obtain a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) via a part time mode of study around your existing work for under £500, which will open many doors for work abroad while you travel, or similarly try a yoga teacher course.

One of my favourite examples of a career break is David Bowie. Following his reinvention as a ‘blue eyed soul singer’ in the mid-seventies, he decided to go on tour playing keyboards for Iggy Pop. He sat there, seemingly at the height of his powers, playing keys in someone else’s band. Following this he moved on to his incredibly influential Berlin period of work, which in truth could not have happened without this stint as a ‘sideman’.

Taken from the book Bowie in Berlin, the rationale was in part to be on stage without expectation. But what does David Bowie have to do with career advice? Everything! Consider him, his career, what he represents to many people, the barriers of society he broke down and amidst it all he was not above going and doing what many people perceived as beneath him (by a country mile) while he collected his own energies then came back stronger and more ‘David Bowie’ than before.

The pros:

Taking a break is as good as having a change for some, it allows us to decompress and re-evaluate our reasoning behind our chosen path. We are able to become free of certain aspects that cloud our feelings towards our work. It is important for those who work in high-pressure avenues such as education, healthcare and other public services to take some time out as there is a higher risk of burnout and staff leaving the professions. These figures from The National Foundation of Educational Research show that retention of teachers within the first five years of their career had fallen to below 70% by 2017. I qualified in 2016 and left mainstream teaching by 2018 for health reasons, so it is very important to recognise any signs that you may be at risk from stress-related illness. There is no shame in acknowledging this with your employer; in fact, some may welcome the honesty. However, this is not in our ‘culture’ to admit that we may be having difficulties in our work so the first hurdle to overcome in planning a break is within ourselves.

The cons:

Working practice in the aforementioned fields can change very quickly, for example with the exponential development of ‘blended learning’ practices (where students learn using both electronic resources and face-to-face delivery) in education, most institutions have regular CPD (continual professional development) sessions for their staff. Imagine the ground covered in weekly sessions but over a whole term or a year, a valid question may be: can you afford to miss that training? Or can you continue your CPD in your own time as to not fall behind? Also, if you are working in a role where ‘care’ features heavily, would you be willing to step away from those under your wing for an extended period of time? Some may be concerned that the idea of taking a break may seem selfish. However, there is a saying: The first rule of saving someone drowning is to not drown yourself.

What to do if you feel like taking a career break

  1. Planning: Is the career break something you want to do in the short, medium or long term? If you are at the point where you wish to actually walk out on your work, it might be worth examining your reasoning. Even talking to your doctor is advisable in this instance. Either way the sooner you open dialogue with your manager, the easier it will be. This website offers some great ideas to get your ideas flowing: The Career Breaks Site
  2. Research: What do you want to do? Would you be happy taking three months off to work through all your unread books and visit friends or do you want to go further afield and maybe teach English abroad or volunteer at the local old people’s home?
  3. Budget: Not all career breaks are paid – in fact, they rarely are – so how are you going to meet your financial responsibilities during this time? Do you have savings? How can you prepare in the meantime to make sure you don’t go without or fall into debt? It doesn’t harm to plan ahead. Money Saving Expert is very helpful for general money related matters.
  4. Talk it out?: While the opinions of family and friends are free counsel, they sometimes work against you. A lot of life changing decisions I have made usually have resulted in listening to the ideas of those close to me then going the other way. Do not underestimate the vision that other people have for you and how this can help or hinder your ideas.
  5. Remember: It is OK to be selfish sometimes. Taking time out can be seen as that, but you need to look after yourself and in the world of work, if you are not able to do so then it can have deeper ramifications regarding your own self-care on a wider scale.
  6. Careers advice: In addition to family and friends, why not learn from the pros? Set up a profile on Stay Nimble to receive further careers advice and guidance.

Author: Alastair

Alastair is a freelance educational consultant, musician, writer and performer. He has worked in education and entertainment since graduating in 2008. He is interested in improving teaching & learning methods by moving away from standardised delivery and assessment. He is currently based in London and you can find him on Twitter at @hijackreality

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