What role does work play in our lives? Out of the many questions prompted by the pandemic, this is one whose impact remains front and center. In the absence of travel, daily commutes and the culture of busyness, many employees were finally able to fully engage in self-reflection to determine if their job, company and path truly aligned with their overall interests.
So what if what you want to do is at odds with what you currently do? It might be time for a career break that allows for reassessment, rest and redirection. Burnout and unhappiness don’t need to be the end of your story. If you haven’t yet started the “it’s not you, it’s me” conversation with your boss, here’s what to keep in mind pre-break, as well as three tips to help you make the most of your time between careers.
Plans fail when you fail to plan.
You’ve seen the Hollywood edit—that explosive argument between superior and underling, the dramatic exit and the self-satisfied look as the music crescendos and the credits fade. But real life, with its monthly bills and gaps in resumes, requires more careful thought.
Before making any moves, ask yourself the following four questions:
1. Why do I want to leave? List out the reasons driving your decision.
2. What do I hope to gain by leaving? Improved mental health, better future job, the ability to handle a current gap in child or elder care? Do you want to travel more, or finally make good on your literary aspirations?
3. What are the key things I can take away from my current role? By working through what you like and don’t like, your daily responsibilities and what you’ve learned, you’ll better position yourself for the next step.
4. What sort of support will I need to make this happen? Make sure your family or inner circle are on board. They might be the ones to provide you comfort or financial assistance during this major life change.
Money Money Money
How long do you envision your break being? In order for one to be in the cards, you need to have some money in the bank to finance this next step. Experts suggest building up emergency savings (three-six months of living expenses) and overall living expenses (up to a year’s worth) before leaving.
If you ultimately determine that a total career break isn’t yet—or at all—a financial reality, consider having a conversation with your employer about what is possible. The pandemic has provided many examples of how work can exist outside of the 9 to 5 confines, from a shorter sabbatical or a shift in responsibilities to going freelance and more project-based assignments.
Break Time… But Make It Worthwhile
- Revisit your goals, then manage yourself.
Whether your former boss was a micromanager or advocated a more hands-off style, now you’ve got no one checking up on you but… you. If you want to travel, it’s up to you to book the flights and develop the itinerary. Hoping to spend more time volunteering at your children’s school? Once again, you’ll need to determine what that actually looks like. Use the time management skills from your previous role to make sure you stay on task regarding your goals. No matter the time frame of your break, you want to ensure you’re holding yourself accountable every week for what you hope to accomplish.
- You better network.
If you’re using your break to start a new career, a good first step is to scroll through your LinkedIn, your social accounts and people you’re connected to IRL but not online. Once you have a complete understanding of your network, you can begin working to harness the power of it. At the beginning of your break, it’s not so much about asking if someone knows of a job in the field you’re passionate about, but rather asking who you should be following on social, listening to on a podcast or reading a book or blog.
Be bold in asking your network for informational interviews, or if there’s someone specific who could serve as your mentor. You’d likely be willing to help someone out, so take the chance that someone else feels the same way. The worst they can say is “no.”
- Upskill… then update.
You might not need to grab a backpack and head back to school to find success in a new arena, but take stock of the opportunities in front of you to school yourself. Perhaps it’s a free online class or volunteering in your field. This is where your mentors will be key in helping you to brainstorm the most attractive options that will make you the best candidate for your new job.
And once it’s time to reenter the workforce, the same tired resume won’t do. Run your new credentials past your network to see if your updated skills will pass muster, then start to apply.
Photo by @jordvdz/Twenty20
Jill McDonnell is a Chicago-based content writer and communications professional. She has a bachelor's degree in magazine journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a master's degree in public relations and advertising from DePaul University. She is currently at work on a psychological thriller novel.