What I Learned from Taking a Career Break

nightNo matter what kind of job you have or how long you’ve been in that job, sooner or later you are bound to feel that impulse to get up and leave it behind. The wild blue yonder comes calling, or more likely, you’re just tired of the nine-to-five grind. The work no longer appeals to you. Or you have accomplished everything you wanted to professionally. What’s next?

That’s what happened to me a few years ago. I walked away from a job that I was happy with at first, but after eight years at the same organization and a change in CEO, I knew it was time to change course. But I honestly had no idea what that course was. Fortunately (and later as it turned out, unfortunately – but that’s another story), I had an opportunity to buy a yoga studio business. It seemed the perfect solution to my career stalemate dilemma. I figured if I could try that for a year and see how it worked out. If it didn’t, I could always return to a corporate gig.

Millions of baby boomers like myself have made a similar shift in their careers. But the decision to walk away from a job that no longer serves you should not be taken lightly. There are numerous factors to consider when making a major change, and there’s no guarantee that a job in the corporate sector will be waiting for you if things don’t turn out or you change your mind.

First of all, do you have the financial security to take time off? If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, taking a career break is probably not a wise choice. Maybe you have a cushion in your savings or your suddenly came into some money after your favorite uncle passed away that allows you to take time out of your career. If your spouse works, you may have the emotional and financial support to make a go of this lifestyle change.

According to the website Career Shifters, a career break should not be confused with a career sabbatical. A career break is an actual break from your career. You can take as much time as you need to figure out your next career move, whether it’s going back to school, traveling around the world or caring for an elderly parent, but there is no job to go back to. You are on your own.

In a career sabbatical, you negotiate an arrangement with your employer that allows you to take extensive time off while they keep your job open. The amount of time you take can be anywhere from one month to up to six months. But the employer cannot fire you and you have the option to return to your job.

Considering a career break? Here’s how to make the most of your break so you get back to being you and prepare for the next phase of your career.

* Spend time with family. Of course, the best reason to take a career break is to spend more time with your loved ones. For some, too much work and travel have taken them away from their kids and they miss seeing them grow up. For others, an ailing parent calls for more time to take care of their needs. Whatever your situation, nothing can replace the time you spend with people you care about most.

* Volunteer at your favorite charitable organization. Is there a cause you believe in? Is there an organization that needs someone with your skills and experience?  Seek out organizations whose objectives align with your personal beliefs. For example, as a breast cancer survivor, I volunteered a few hours each month at the local hospital where I was treated, doing miscellaneous administrative tasks to prepare for upcoming events and education programs they sponsored. It was a wonderful way to get to know other volunteers, some who were also breast cancer survivors, and to give back to the hospital that provided great care for me during my treatment.

* Declutter or redecorate your home. During my time off, I slowly and systematically, weeded out excess clothes and items I didn’t use anymore. It has had a cleansing effect, not only on my small condo, but on my emotional well-being. The more stuff I got rid of, the lighter and freer I felt. I also repainted my living room, and the change in décor helped spark my creativity, gave me peace of mind and brightened up my home environment. A little housecleaning and redecorating can do wonders for your emotional energy.

* Take a class. During my career break, I indulged my passion for writing by taking several writing classes. Taking these classes not only challenged me to delve more deeply into my own psyche, it prompted me to learn a different style of writing than I was used to. If writing doesn’t interest you, try gardening, photography or learn to speak Italian – whatever your soul calls you to do. Who knows? Your newfound hobby could turn into your next career.

* Practice yoga and meditation. I went through a difficult time in 2014 and yoga kept me sane while I dealt with several challenging situations during that time. Yoga was also a spring board toward more healthful habits and led to more intense workouts as I regained my physical strength and stamina. Meditation, even for only 10 minutes per day, helped me to calm the voices in my head

* Travel. If you’ve got the time and the savings, go wherever your heart desires. I didn’t do a lot of traveling, only a couple of short trips to visit friends, but the change of scenery gave me a fresh perspective on my problems and cleared my head so I could face challenges more effectively.

* Visit an old friend. During my break, I went to Florida to visit an old childhood friend whose daughter was battling cancer. By reconnecting during a time of crisis in both of our lives, it helped both of us gain perspective and helped us laugh at a time when we needed a little laughter in our lives.

* Become a tourist in your own town. Is there somewhere in your town that you’ve heard about but never visited – a museum, a restaurant or other special landmark? A career break is the perfect time to explore these places.

* Indulge in a hobby. Whether you love painting, attending concerts, writing poetry or cooking up a storm in the kitchen, a career break gives you ample time to indulge in your favorite hobby. Who knows? Maybe that hobby can turn into your next great business idea.

When used wisely, career breaks can clear the heart, mind and soul of past challenges and disappointments, so you are ready to face the next phase of your life with greater clarity, strength and sense of purpose.