Beat the work anxiety and go for it
Want to take a career break but keep talking yourself out of it? You’re not alone. Carving time out from a job is a major move, and we all face similar worries in making the leap. Too often, fear gets in the way of what could be a life-changing opportunity. Here’s how to quell your inner voice of doubt the next time it comes calling:
Finding the time to take a break
Viva la present. If you think you don’t have time for a career break, you never will. A demanding job has a way of deftly eating away at your very last vestiges of time, money and energy. You’re kidding yourself if you say that you’ll take time out when things get less hectic. They never will, and it’s up to you to assert your boundaries. In fact, the more manic your job is, the more vital it becomes for you to reclaim some time for yourself.
We’re not suggesting you leave in the middle of a major project or expansion. If you can, it’s best to plan about six months in advance. Carve out a time that is most convenient in terms of work flow and pressure on the business (bearing in mind it will never be perfect). Then get it signed off, and stick to it. Don’t be swayed.
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There will always be demands and distractions, but YOU are the most important player here. Part of the reason why you’re taking a break is to gain distance on the noise of your work life without burning out.
Dealing with your manager’s expectations
You’ll never know how your boss will respond to your request for a career break until you ask; it’s easy to forget that your relationship with your boss is a two-way process. For every task they ask of you, you need to learn to push back and put your own interests front and centre. Looking after yourself is always a priority.
However, this doesn’t mean sashaying into your line manager’s office with a bold time off request, all ‘give me time off GODDAMIT’. But remember that safeguarding your happiness at work takes commitment, and progress comes from asking difficult questions. Requesting a career break is just one of these; the first step in a skill that you will hone over and again.
Assertiveness at work is key
The key here is preparation: look on it as an exercise in negotiation. You need to go in armed with three concise but solid arguments on why taking a career break will benefit the business. Don’t concentrate on your problems; flip everything around as a potential benefit to your role and the company overall. Do your boss’ work for them: figure out the logistics of how you can take time out, when, and a proposal for how your job will be covered in your absence.
Then present it clearly, in an upbeat and direct manner. Don’t go down the ‘I really need…’ route, and don’t apologise. They can only say no, and if they do – you’ve still taken the first step in actively sculpting your career path for greater happiness. Congratulations.
Budget sensibly and save money
With stratospheric rents and endless loan payoffs, it’s a wonder most of us can stretch to a pint of milk in the morning – let alone an unpaid career break. Without a doubt, saving up to afford time off is tough and lots of people wonder how to save money. But it doesn’t have to be an out-of-reach luxury. To bring the dream within grasp without piling up extra debt, you’ll need: a) meticulous planning and b) a realistic vision of the sacrifices required.
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Saving up cash is the very first thing you should do when you start pondering the idea of a career break. Even before you know when you’ll take it, you should start putting money into a high-interest savings account (aka, your escape fund). Set up a direct debit that siphons off money from your monthly pay check and think of it as a non-negotiable payment, like your rent would be. If you put aside say, £100 a month, that gives you a headstart of £1,200 if you plan a year in advance.
After this, scrutinise your monthly spending to work out where you can cut corners. Taking a career break will usually demand some kind of cost-slashing measure, whether that’s shopping at a cheaper supermarket, putting a pause on nights out or moving in with relatives for six months. Work out how you can realistically live the cheapest, then pour all extra pennies into your travel account. If you need any extra inspiration, there are plenty of budgeting tips online.
It won’t be easy but if you’re clear-headed and disciplined about the austerity moves you’ll have to make (yep, just like the Government…), the cash will clock up faster than you imagine.
Worries about having too much work to return to
If you already have a huge backlog of tasks looming, it’s natural to assume that these will multiply on your return from a career break. Why take time off the wheel if it’s going to be even harder to return to work – right? Wrong.
No-one should have to firefight through every day at work. If you’re doing that, something is not working properly. And it’s even more crucial that you take time out. Not only will you give yourself a much-needed break, it will throw your situation into sharp relief. Without all the extra slog you’ve been putting in, your boss will be forced to confront the resource/staffing/budget issue at the heart of the problem.
There’s nothing like being in a country 10,000 miles away to drive home your value and push through changes you’ve been asking for for months. Just try it and see.
Fears about being replaced at work or facing redundancy
Anyone is replaceable in a job, and that’s actually a good thing. It may be reassuring to think that you’re indispensable, but it’s also a major source of resentment and stress.
Teamwork is there for a reason; you don’t want to be in the situation where you’re the only one who can handle everything. By taking a career break, you give a gentle nudge to those around you who perhaps aren’t pulling their weight. They’ll have to step up and help out. And it’s very likely you’ll be welcomed back with open arms as a result. Alternatively, you might not even want your job anymore, with the distance of a bit of time out.
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To keep your options open, make sure you have a written agreement of your career break that clearly states the timeline and is signed by all relevant people. Reiterate with your boss how your job will be covered before you go, and ask someone you trust to keep you in the loop while you’re away.
Ideas on how to spend your time off
Ah, the killer question. Let’s assume for a moment that you have the time off and money for your career break sorted. Two down, one to go. It’s not at all uncommon to be thrown by the prospect of an empty calendar. After all, this is probably the first time in your life that you’ve had unscheduled space. Weeks, possibly months, loom ahead – devoid of appointments, emails, drinks and events. It’s a beautiful idea but the reality can be overwhelming.
Where to start? You know you want to go travelling, so kick off by drawing a loose structure around where you want to go. Write down your top six destinations and pick out three that work best together in terms of distance and the logistics of your trip.
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Then, start researching group travel and volunteer opportunities in the areas you’re headed to. Either of these will give you a solid purpose to be in your destination, and you can build solo travel around them – so it feels less like you’re plunging straight into the unknown.
For instance, you spend a month teaching English in Buenos Aires, which is a diving off point for a South American adventure around Argentina, Brazil and Chile. Or, you join Flash Pack’s trip to Bali, then spend the next three months meandering through Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand/Laos/Tibet (depending on how much time you have).
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A lot of Flashpackers choose several of our itineraries – for example, Peru followed by Bolivia, or Vietnam and Cambodia and then Myanmar. These lend a natural contour to your career break, around which you can dip your toe in actual solo travel; without it seeming too daunting or open-ended.
If you’re interested in teaching abroad, it’s worth getting a TEFL qualification under your belt. This universally recognised accolade will take you many places and opens up the opportunity for paid work, too.
Organisations such as GVI, Pod Volunteer and People and Places offer a wide range of volunteer placements around the world that cover everything from conservation to education, social care and gender empowerment projects. Look closely at how your skills can be matched to volunteering placements, and also whether the time you have available is really enough to make a difference.
Finally, grill your friends and friends of friends, and build up a contact list of people who live in the places you’re headed to. The internet is your oyster, so be shameless in your pleas for tips and support. It’s so great to have a small circle of familiar faces you can reach out to on your travels. Not only will they help you find your feet in a new place, they’ll also be able to give you the low-down on local projects you can join, the best places to stay, and so on.
Bon voyage, and bon courage!
Photos: Shutterstock and Flash Pack