In 2018, I had had enough. Fourteen years of ad agency life led me to feel burned out: nonstop client calls, working on the weekends, endless 14-hour days, and feeling like there was no end in sight. Even worse, I spent what little “free time” I had alone. I was exhausted and had little interest in getting together with friends or catching up with my family. All I looked forward to were the few hours every week when I could curl up on my couch and escape the office. This job was making me miserable.
So I took a leap of faith and quit, trading in my laptop for a backpack (ok, at one point it was a medium-sized suitcase) and left the country for seven months…which turned into 10 months of traveling through Europe and Southeast Asia.
It was scary. It was exhilarating. I was fortunate to be able to take a career break like this, not working for a total of 15 months and not having any dependents to worry about.
“I recognize not everyone has the luxury to stop working, but even a break lasting a month or two might be what you need to reset and refocus on your priorities in your life and your career.” – Erin Camin
If I’ve got you interested and already thinking about what you’d do with a career break, you’re already on your way to making this happen! In my experience, there are so many benefits of taking a break, but I’ve managed to narrow it down to just ten. I hope that this can inspire or reassure just one person to take the leap and take time for themselves.
10 Benefits of taking a career break
Slow down. Stop hustling and feeling burned out.
Remember what it feels like to just enjoy life day by day. Suddenly not having a set schedule or weekly routine can feel oddly liberating, especially if you are a Type A To-Do List kind of person. If you have been working for 10 or 20 years, having all of this time for yourself might feel strange. Sitting in that discomfort, unlearning everything you have been taught about what “success” means or looks like – this is all part of why you are taking the career break in the first place. Find freedom in not having plans. Find joy in the big and small things of everyday life.
Refocus on your career.
Returning to New York after 10 months away was hard, finding a new job that didn’t make me cringe with burnout fear was even harder. I was able to redefine what was important to me and what I did and didn’t want in my next role. These were dealbreakers and became critical in filtering out job opportunities in a way that they wouldn’t have been before.
Create space for new career Inspiration.
When I came back from my trip, I decided to start a travel business where I could help plan travel for people who are curious about the world and want to get away, but feel too overwhelmed or stressed to make their travel dreams happen. I wanted to take my experiences and my passion for travel and bring that to other people. It gives me so much joy to plan travel for others and see how it changes them, even in the smallest ways. I don’t think I would have the confidence to start a business like that if I hadn’t taken months away from work.
Remember that free time you’re going to have by not working? Use it to learn a new hobby, volunteer. take continuing education classes, or even start pursuing a new path for a future career. You never know what new inspiration, interests, or connections can arise from indulging your curiosity.
Learn to let go.
By the time I quit my job, I was wound pretty tight. Just letting all of that go was an enormous weight off of me. Even though I was in control of my circumstances, I was facing a lot of unknowns. Learning how to just go with the flow was something I didn’t realize I desperately needed – and an immediate lesson learned from 10 months of traveling (That bus in Laos that was delayed 3 hours and might never arrive? No big deal). When I got back to the US, I found myself more relaxed and more self-aware of what I could and could not control in my life.
Have no regrets in life.
If you never traveled abroad when you were younger, then a travel-focused break might be for you. Though I pride myself on never having regrets, I did have one – I never studied abroad in college or was able to do the ‘backpacking through Europe’ thing in my 20s. When I was younger, I was too worried about internships and money to feel like that was a possibility for me. So being able to take that kind of trip – as a 36-year-old – made up for that “missed opportunity”.
Rethink your goals and priorities. It’s the ultimate Reset.
Have you always wanted to rethink your goals and priorities but felt like there was never time to really do this? Whether you’re looking to reset your career, personal, relationship, or financial goals and priorities, a career break offers the time and flexibility to do so. Depending on your circumstances you’ll find you have more space and time for yourself to reflect and reconnect with what is important.
Imagine a new future for your career path.
When you’re not tied to your job, your title, or what any of that means, your mind starts opening up to new possibilities. You may start designing a new path for yourself and your career with the new goals and priorities you’ve set. Most likely it will feel scary and uncertain to forge this new path, but trust that you will find your way. I believe much of where I am today is a direct result of my self-imposed sabbatical. I may not have moved to Atlanta. I probably wouldn’t have started a business. I doubt I would have taken a pay cut for a new job, even if it was a company and role that would be more supportive and enjoyable than what I had been doing previously for more money.
Ultimately, a career break gives you a new perspective.
In the three years since my career break, I now have a totally different perspective about work and what I am willing to give to the company that I work for. Some of this comes from being burned out and feeling like I had no choice but to pack my bags and go. I never want to feel that kind of burnout ever again. I’ve created stronger boundaries around work and life (especially as someone who works 100% remotely). I’m less emotionally invested in my job. It’s more important for me to have a life that I love – a life that feels supportive and nourishing – than to grind at a job that makes me miserable.
Taking a career break can allow you to really live your life.
I navigated my way around two continents alone for nearly a year, living out of a suitcase. I volunteered on French farms and became a pro scuba diver in Thailand. I skipped my initial flight home so I stay in Asia for four more months. I got lost. I made friends. I felt lonely. I felt empowered. My old life felt a world away. I was full of joy and wonder each and every day.
“Our culture is one so focused on work, on shaping our identities from our careers that what we do becomes who we are.” – Erin Camin
Being able to separate yourself from your career or your job is the ultimate in work/life balance and I believe that taking a career break can serve as a reminder that we are not our jobs and that we have a whole life worth living which can include work that we love.