Things No One Tells You About Taking A Career Break

47
taking a career break
REGISTER FOR JOB PREP BOOTCAMP
6 min read

I spent a large part of last year in voluntary semi-quarantine. Going through what many people are going through this year: dealing with not having work, uncertainty about the future, returning home, and lots of time on my hands. Isolation and retreat held many rich lessons for me during my career break, and I recount some of them here, in the hope that it will help you too, whenever there is a pause in your life.

Last year, I took a long career break after ten years of trying to do it all. I left a very cool sounding job in a company that has always made it into lists of ‘Top 10 companies to work for in the world.” Since I am a borderline millennial, it was also the longest job I had ever held. And also by far the best I’d ever had.

Many people I knew said “Who leaves a job like that?”

 “I do”, was often my reply, full of false bravado.

What I really wanted to say was this –  “ I’ll tell you who leaves jobs like that. People who are unable to find joy or purpose in what they do. Those exhausted from the cycle of stress (when working) and guilt (when not) that drains them like a leaking tap. People who can no longer make sense of the false urgency around so many tasks. And people who are tired of running, and chasing false goals, and feeling like no matter what they do, it is never enough.” 

How To Know That You’re Ready For A Career Break

What I mentioned above are some classic symptoms of burnout. Interestingly enough, despite the obvious idea that burnout results from driving oneself too hard, it can also result from the emotional toxicity created from not feeling valued at your work, or even having too little to do. 

Of course, there are other reasons, besides burnout, why people take a career break. Motherhood is the biggest reason for women to take a career break, or even drop out entirely. Others do it to start something of their own, or because of family issues like partner’s relocation, job loss, a toxic job situation, or even because you decide that you are done. 

No matter what your reason, you are only truly ready for taking a break from work when you have a financial plan or backup and you know that you can survive without a job.

(unless of course there is a health or another emergency)

Also, no matter what your initial reason, once you get off the hamster wheel, many things happen.

Raja_Ravi_Varma,_In_Contemplation

Expect initial euphoria, followed by a sense of loss.

This is also the point when people will start assuming that you owe them an answer to why you stopped working. 

Know Your Real Reasons Behind Taking A Career Break, And Don’t Let People Fill You With Fear

In our country, career breaks can elicit an entire range of responses from condolences (Oh no! I am so sorry), false and unnecessary positivity (Don’t worry, you will get another job soon), enthusiastic but burdensome expectations (So what’s next? Something even cooler I am sure!), or even bias disguised as good intentions (Good! Anyway women should just relax and take care of the house and kids).

Know that people’s reactions are more about how they would feel if they were in your situation. It says everything about them, and nothing about you. 

You take a career break because you need it. Period. If you have planned for it financially, and you know you can survive for however long you think you need, you are in good hands (yours). 

Your job is to steer clear of all expectations, except yours. (And we will come to yours too). It is essential that you do that, because if you don’t, then in some time, especially on days that you don’t feel so good about yourself, you will not be able to tell the difference between people’s voices, and your own. 

You might start by feeling bad about a dipping bank balance, but soon you will be hearing a voice in your head, “Companies don’t want to take people with career gaps.” You will think the voice is yours, but it actually belongs to Sharma uncle who dropped in for chai the other day. It is very easy to go into a downward spiral if you don’t reaffirm your reasons to yourself. 

So, The First Step Is To Know Why You Are Taking This Career Break 

Sounds easy enough. Sometimes it is. “I want to spend time with my child.” Clear enough. 

Sometimes, however, the reason we give ourselves is a cover for something else that we are not acknowledging. Our minds are so ingenious and creative that they know just what excuse will make us feel good enough and brave enough to take the necessary step. 

So your mind might tell you “Hey! We are going to start a business.” or “ We are going to exercise, do yoga, eat well, travel the world and blog about it.” This gives you the cushioning you need to take the leap, even though the cushion might fall off once you are in the air. 

Because the truth, as you will discover, might be that you just need rest and replenishment. Once you do realise that, your job is to allow for that. And for whatever else emerges. 

Expect The Unexpected, And Don’t Hang All Your Life’s Expectations On This One Little Slice Of Time, Called A ‘Break’

I know! I Know! You probably have a plan! It is likely to involve travel, learning something new, getting fitter and starting your own thing. I did too! I was quite convinced that I was going to start my own puppet show for kids. I even had 30 puppets purchased from all over the world, a couple of pilot shoots behind me, and the dangling carrot of a potential-possible person who might help me find investors. 

One month into my break, all my puppets were still asleep in the cupboard and giving them company was another being who only sprang into life at meal times: me. I could have berated myself into more action, but I did not. I knew I was recovering. From years of accumulated fatigue, underlying stress and the pressure (mostly internal) to be strong and independent.

Raja_Ravi_Varma,_Menaka_and_Sakunthala_(1891)

What I needed most at this time, was not another project, but unconditional nourishment, physical, emotional, spiritual. And I allowed myself to receive it. 

Too often, we focus too much on giving. We give our time and energy, our talents and our emotions. We give our care. But unless there is a balance between receiving and giving, we get depleted. This depletion can show up as health issues, as exhaustion, as lack of interest or as emotional coldness.

 In order to get your energy and enthusiasm back, you have to rebalance

When I was growing up, my mother was always working. She retired from her job only after I had left for college. This was the first time in three decades that I had her all to myself, and the unconditional love and nourishment that I received from her was something that the child in me had unknowingly yearned for, for years. Not everyone will need what I did, but everyone will have some unmet need that when met, will bring them home. 

What Else To Expect, Besides The Unexpected?

Here is another thing that happens. When you take a career break, you first feel suddenly energetic! So much free time! So much possibility! 

I cleaned out and reorganised entire sections of my home! 

The burst of energy comes from a freeing up of mental and physical resources that were embroiled in work. However, as the body realises that there is no external pressure, it stops producing the stress hormones that were keeping you functioning at a high pace. Now that there are no external stressors, your body decides it is time to put on the brakes. 

That is when you transform into Sleeping Beauty, put to sleep by the evil mother in your subconscious, who told you that you were worth nothing if you were not always working, giving, and proving yourself. 

Victor Gabriel Gilbert

It may feel like a curse, because you had so many plans, and here you are, with barely enough energy except to feed and dress but remember, the evil mother is still a mother. She is part of your psyche. And she knows that you need the rest.

It took me three months to start writing again, and six months to find the energy and desire to want to work on something again. 

The Descent Into Healing

Remember Sita, and how she descends into the Earth? And Persephone, the queen of the underworld?

In the modern world, the time when you strip off all external identity to come face to face with who you really are –  that is your descent, your time to retreat, to shed old leaves, and wait for spring.

This is the time to know yourself without labels, without external recognition, without the clock ticking over your head like a time bomb, demanding that you be productive. 

Since many of us have always chased milestones that were set for us by other people, we feel lost without someone telling us what to do, like a boat afloat in a dark ocean, waiting for a captain to steer it to safety. A long break with no demands on your time is an invitation to be the captain of your own ship, and to see what holds you back from taking charge of your own life. 

A couple of months into your break, if you haven’t already rushed into something else, you will start the descent. Many unprocessed emotions will come up, issues you thought you had resolved a long time ago. Don’t run away. The way out is through. 

Sit, Examine, Write, But Most Importantly, Feel 

In the world of work, it is our feelings that take the biggest hit. Emotions are seen as  ‘unprofessional’, a sign of weakness or not having your act together. Where do they go? They go under your skin, into your cells and bones and organs, into the deep recesses of your mind. Now they will start to emerge, and you might be surprised. 

I was. I found anger, sadness, self hatred, old wounds, you name it.

All of them are messengers. They want to bring you into full awareness of yourself. Welcome them! Work with them. 

This is a good time to explore movement, meditation, journaling, or another form of therapy because you have the time to make the journey and sit through what comes up. I signed up for certification in Psychodrama, a form of psychotherapy that uses dramatisation and role-plays to uncover and work through ‘stuff’. I found it incredibly helpful. I would recommend signing up for something that gives you a sense of community, because groups offer support and insight that individuals cannot. 

The Frankfurt Paradiesgärtlein, a German panel painting from circa 1410

I feel that it is a big waste of a career break if you don’t spend at least three months doing ‘nothing’ because this ‘nothing’ is a lot of work, and in between life, and work and taxes and relationships, it is not often that one gets the opportunity. 

The Transformation

We transform when we accept our feelings, and our suffering, as part of life’s natural process. As we honour all emotions, we also find our heart opening up. As we allow ourselves to feel sad, we also make space for joy and renewed purpose to come calling. 

It is important to not get stuck in the suffering, and to pay attention to joy when it shows up.

One makes space for the other. Healing is never a circle, it is a spiral. You revisit old wounds, relook at old lessons, but from a new perspective. And then it is time to move on.

As with the descent, the ascent is natural and happens organically. 

Sometimes, the idea of healing and self improvement, if we get obsessed with it, can be a trap. It can reinforce the psychology that something in us is always broken and needs to be mended. We need to be in touch with our joy, with fun, with our strengths, in order to be whole, and not be sucked into a hole. (sorry about that, but since you have made it so far, I am assuming you will tolerate my silly joke

So be ready for the Ascent. You will know it because you will naturally start feeling energy come back to you, you will want to take up a project, or do something else. Follow these stirrings and take action. At the six month mark, I wanted to travel again. A project also came to me at this point from my previous company, with a team that I had loved. I felt alive again. 

The Integration

My last job had challenged me a lot, because I was required to be analytical and data driven apart from being a creative thinker. I also struggled with many other things my job needed of me – organisation, proactive communication, connecting with teams across time zones and focusing on high impact work. I had five roles in five years. Because of this, I was always on an uphill learning slope, struggling with new expectations and requirements all the time. 

It was only after I left, rested and recovered,  that I realised that everything I had struggled with had transformed into new skills that I now possessed.

What had seemed like a superficial struggle, was now part of me, as things I just seemed to know how to do. I know that the time that I took off allowed for the learnings to get integrated into my system and become part of me. 

It also helped me shed old beliefs that were no longer serving me, and find new ones that were more aligned to who I wanted to be. I re-assessed everything without even realising it – my work, relationships, friendships, my sense of self and my outlook towards life. Not to say that this process is ever complete, but without the time to pause, reflect and surrender to one’s own self, we become more and more fragmented, because we don’t have the space to become one with our learnings. 

Nature has cycles of growth, destruction and renewal. Our bodies do too. Constant productivity is an idea imposed upon us by institutions that profit from our running on the hamster wheel without end. Economic agency is important, especially for women, but the idea that each adult individual needs to be economically self-sufficient all the time is also a hollow idea. We can have multiple arrangements, and we have to negotiate our way through them in different ways, finding what works best for us. 

Raja Ravi Verma, Mohini

So, unless there is a pressing need, don’t be in a hurry to find the next thing to do. The most important thing that you can do with the gift of time is to allow a new you to emerge. The rest will follow. 

Last updated: 22 February 2021

You’re invited! Join the Kool Kanya women-only career Community where you can network, ask questions, share your opinions, collaborate on projects, and discover new opportunities. Join now.

REGISTER FOR JOB PREP BOOTCAMP
Shagun heads content at Kool Kanya. She is also an ex-Googler who learnt how to marry creative flow with analytics and data, and now finds great joy in their union. Shagun believes in compassionate leadership and in incorporating feminine values at the workplace. She is passionate about education and mental health, and enjoys learning new skills and modalities to help facilitate groups and individuals in their personal journeys

47 COMMENTS

  1. You have shown courage and a leadership to overcome challenges.
    I admire your instincts and respect your attitude.
    Keep motivating…
    Stay cool??

      • This is, by far the most beautiful thing I have read! Having considered taking a break, I have gone through the same feelings that you write about. And the anxiety and stress of actually delivering something at the end of the break has always discouraged me to take the leap.You show the traps that await during the journey but you also show the light at the end of the tunnel and that gives hope! Thank you for this!

        • So beautifully written…thank you so much for writing this…last few days were difficult and I was fighting a battle with myself wanting to leave my corporate job but not finding the courage…this came to me exactly when I needed this the most.

        • Hi this is a lovely piece of writing that I came across during these bleak days of lockdown. Just like you, I too took a break from work and my reasons for doing so are very similar to you. The entire article resonates with what I have been going through for the past few months. I am on the 10th month of my sabbatical and still waiting for my ascent. Your article gives me hope and I look forward to it. More power to you.

          • Thankyou Swaroop! I hope your ascent comes to you soon, and if it doesn’t, there might be something deeper that is asking for attention.

      • Thanks Shagun! I could not have stumbled upon this article at a better a time than this! Somehow I could related to each and every emotional state that you mentioned here….I’m yet to take a career break and I had been thinking about it since quite sometime…but your article has really given me a new perspective to see through this decision…for me I just thought taking a break would be it…but no it’s the journey that you undertake after you take a break is what matters the most! Thanks a ton for writing this up and helping so many of us who are currently just meandering through so much and trying to find themselves !

    • I really loved your article, specially because I also want to do the same. People don’t seem to understand why you would want to do so. I get every well meaning person telling me to take it slow rather than quit. When they ask me what will you do – I tell – I simply want to lie on green grass & keep staring into blue sky. That’s all. I am happy to see that I am not the only one feeling like that..

      • I can relate to this so much coz like you I was at peak of my career with a role everyone was eyeing for and for once I gave it a pause and listened to my body. I am in my sabbatical leave now and even with covid and lockdown I am so grateful to have this time just to be.
        Great blog ! ♥️

  2. Vow Shagun – I am so glad Rama shared this link with me. I am in touch with so many youngsters in your situation. It is a different world for you people than what our journey. I love the honesty and clarity with which you write . No unnecessary similes and metaphors- just a straight clean thoughts expressed from the honesty of the heart. Keep on my girl – you are living

      • hi shagun,excellent booster & lovely message in these lonely times.You are exemplary to the younger generation & truely testify APJ Abdul Kalam’s quote
        ” himmat karney walon kee haar nahi hotee,,Lahron key dar sey Naiya paar nahin hotee”
        Best wishes & blessings.

  3. Just loved your writing and selection of words here. I find myself trapped in thoughts time and again. Thoughts to cool down and take rest and thoughts to give your best and be the beast. Its crazy handling the both extremes. Your writeup helped me realise that this is normal and it is okay sometimes to not to be your best and give time to connect to your inner-self which eventually gives the purpose and clarity.

    • Your article is worth the read. Thank you for letting us know that it’s OK to take a break and reinvent yourself. It’s OK to do absolutely nothing for sometime and focus on what truly matters to you. And most importantly you can switch your career at any age. Courage is all we need to achieve our dreams. Truly motivational.

    • Very nicely penned. Totally agree with your thoughts. It helped me calm down my nerves in these tensed times and felt happy that it’s ok to have similar feelings.

      • Very well written and thoughts are so clear. I can relate to every feelings,situations.I have been struggling to decide when I should also take a break from this constant running around. This is very thought provoking.

    • Thankyou Priyanka! I always look to nature for answers, because we are part of it, and I find that everything in nature has cycles, flowers bloom, then fade, trees shed leaves and become green again, trees fruit once a year…. how do we expect ourselves to keep performing at our peak all the time?

  4. Very nicely written. Totally agree with your thoughts. It helped me calm down my nerves in these tensed times and felt happy that it’s ok to have similar feelings.

  5. I guess I got an answer just the time when I was seeking it. Sometimes despite knowing things, you are just waiting for someone else to tell them to you !

    Thank you for sharing your journey 🙂

  6. Hi shagun thanks for writing this and sounded like what I would have written myself ☺️. I was curious to know about the puppets if they did step out of the cupboard and if you would like to take them out ☺️ may be we can connect offline

    • Hi Shreyoshi! The puppets are still in the cupboard, since I started work at Kool Kanya, 🙂 We can connect offline, you can DM me on FB, or Insta ( sigynra).

  7. Thank you Shagun for this wonderful piece. Just what I needed. I am on a sabbatical myself as I write this now. I had planned on this break after working continuously for 12 years. I faced all symptoms of a burnout, last organization was toxic and I literally was a hamster on wheels. So I decided to give up my “cool job” after listening to my body and mind which needed rest and planned for this much needed break. The only spoiler is that I was planning on spending these 3 months at my hometown in Assam, spending time at my parents place, visiting relatives and basically take it slow and rejuvenate myself but I am currently under lockdown in Mumbai.

    • Ankita, I am so glad you listened to your body and took time off. I know, the lockdown has been hard on many of us and threw our plans into disarray, I hope you can go to your parents soon.

      • I can totally relate to it and it has been very brave of you to take this step . I have lately started feeling the constant pressure that I’ve had for almost the past 9 years to prove myself and my worth to the organizations I have worked with and to constantly work to be strong and independent. It’s just too exhausting. I still need the balls to quit my job and take a break but it’s something I constantly think about but not very confident in . Nevertheless , it’s wonderfully written and kudos to you for overcoming this .

    • I guess there couldn’t be a better timing for me to come across this write up. I am currently on a career break after 10 years of work. It wasn’t easy for sure, but I stuck to my decision as I felt the need for a recharge. Given the current covid situation, I am not sure how long it may take to find myself a new job. But one thing I know is that I am a far more peaceful and composed person than I was.

  8. Wow..loved how you captured the perspective…”false goals” n “set by others” hit you hard..that’s my takeaway even if I don’t take a break completely!

  9. Well said Shagun. I’m myself going through a break and had similar thoughts though I have been struggling to put it in words. I preferred to keep it to myself fearing that none could understand exactly.Anyhow, thank you for this post once again!

  10. I am so glad I spent 10 minutes of my time reading this. I don’t know when but I have to do this. I have been in sales for a good 5+ years of my life. Always grinding and hustling to do better. But I am unable to find actual joy. My health is struggling. Physical and mental. But I am unable to take that leap of faith because of all the reasons you mentioned above. Money, career break, starting from scratch and what not. I hope your article gives me strength to take a pause. And reconsider. Beautifully written

  11. I guess there couldn’t be a better timing for me to come across this write up. I am currently on a career break after 10 years of work. It wasn’t easy for sure, but I stuck to my decision as I felt the need for a recharge. Given the current covid situation, I am not sure how long it may take to find myself a new job. But one thing I know is that I am a far more peaceful and composed person than I was.

  12. hi shagun,excellent booster & lovely message in these lonely times.You are exemplary to the younger generation & truely testify APJ Abdul Kalam’s quote
    ” himmat karney walon kee haar nahi hotee,,Lahron key dar sey Naiya paar nahin hotee”
    Best wishes & blessings.

  13. So reassuring this is. Here’s my side of the story: I quit my last job on March 2 because I wanted to take a break, travel, complete my swimming classes, learn driving and a few more things. And here I am, like everybody else, in the mid of a pandemic lockdown. I am travel-less and jobless. I am in a distraught state. because my idea of a break was not to do nothing, instead refresh my mind. I know travel is ruled out this year. I hope I find a job soon.

  14. i really loved reading this blog especially since it hits home! i have also recently left a job to take a break and assess what else i can do with my life. I got a lot of insight and also related to almost everything that you have included in the blog. reading it gave me a sense of calm. There have been times when i seriously doubted my decision of leaving the comfortable job and take this leap.

  15. Wow! This is written so well!I’m on a career break and I could relate to all that you said. I needed to hear this. Thank you so much for this inspirational and insightful piece of writing!❤May God bless you!

  16. This article is everything….. It’s raw and honest. Exactly what i was looking for. Thank you so much!! I’m on my journey and preparing to take the LEAP. I’ve been working since age 15 (now in my mind 30’s) and i’m ready for a new wind, a new life! But evil mother subconscious keep saying this is a bad idea!!! Pushing forward, your words are encouraging.

  17. The article is well written and brings into perspective a lot of things. Sometimes doing nothing brings things into perspective, but to hold on to that perspective is really difficult. But i am sure risk and rewards are interconnected with any decision we take in life. Got to try it!

  18. I’ve read this post several times and I’m glad to have done so. Thanks for that.
    Today, at last, I have resigned from my well-paid job. I needed to breathe and take that famous hard career break. I’m happy to start it today and see how it flows.
    All along the day i was busy finishing all the things i had to close, tomorrow I’ll be officially free to do “what I want” and able to start my journey. 🙂

  19. I’m so, so, so burnt out. I’ve been planning a career break for the past 5 years and finally positioned myself financially to be able to do it, but i have 3 weeks more of work then a break then two more 6 week stints with a break between before i’m there and i’m all the time obsessed with it, i feel like i’m not going to be able to make it. It’s like a story in my mind of how i’ll just mess everything up before i get there because i’m too far gone. Your post has helped me to gain perspective. Its so authentic and i can relate to it all. God help me, i’ll get there.

  20. Hi Shagun
    I think i dont want to read anything after reading this article.
    Its just brilliant piece of writing covering all the emotions that I believe everyone will relate to. We all want a break from our career at some point
    Thank you so much for writing this article .

    The best part of the article for me was the rebalance
    The giving and receiving part so nicely said.

    Thanks again for this article

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here