Lockdown has awakened the new bliss of doing nothing, figuring out how short life is and needs to be lived, and building on their passions. I wanted to slow down my life and practically do nothing which is why career break seemed like the only option.
Travel, of course, yes! And write too, but all at my pace. It was not just the blissful part, but also the lost jobs and dealing with uncertainties.
As I write this article, I am back to working on a full-time job. And I wanted to write about the year that was, actually two years that was. Not a guidance per se, but the career break was an awakening of some sort. There were good times and bad times, highs and lows, in my career break. And I wish to share it with you guys.
The idea of taking a career break was brooding in my mind for quite some time.
Not that my job was boring, but I needed a change from the role. I was at the peak of my career, good job, a handsome salary, and was doing good in life (at least in the eyes of others). But I longed for freedom, the will to travel whenever I want and explore my passion. It sounds like every other working person's mind, right!
That is precisely why I wanted to write about this career break, so you can weigh on what you will miss and what not and whether a career break is for you or not. I was sure of one thing, to get back to work at the end of a break. Note that this was not a sabbatical, but I had quit my job and taken a break. I had my reasons to keep it as a break, to slow travel and take one day at a time, to give undivided attention to my passion and see if it can turn into a source of income to work on my mental health.
And also about doing nothing!
I believe in Dolce Far Niente. It is not uncommon to see people crib about their everyday life yet continue to work or not pursue what they want. And they have their reasons.
Because as courageous or glamorous as "quitting your job to chase your passion" sounds, you can do that only if you have money. And money is not just about big dreams like buying property or car or emis of any sort! It could be having dependant parents, or children or medical histories, or student loans. So unless you have money or have no liabilities, it is tough to quit your job and travel without an income.
So I saved it. I was not entirely prepared, but the time came for me to quit the job and put myself as a priority, and I took the plunge. I knew I could very well run for another six months at least. Plus, my personal life was reeling down with depression that I had to stop to take care of myself.
The La La Land
I remember the day I bid goodbye to my colleagues and came home when I was genuinely happy and fearless. I was looking forward to the coming days, and it was such bliss.
I was happy to hang out on weekdays in cafes and restaurants, empty restaurants, and malls, unusually on Mondays. I had plenty of time to watch the clouds pass by, the colourful sunsets, the migratory birds, try new recipes, eat healthy food, and I started to make this my new routine. And then I planned my Thailand trip, which was the best cultural experience I had.
Slow and solo travel is the ultimate combination, and I embraced it. You wake up and decide what to do for the day or sit in leisure at someplace with a view and read a book. This was hands down the best phase. I went through the green paddy fields of Punjab, hopping langars and chugging lassis.
The central India trip of running from one wildlife park to the next! I was chasing the monsoon around Karnataka and the beautiful rustic Spiti valley. I found my happy place many times in many places. I enjoyed the nights of just gazing at the stars and the moon. This was also the phase that pulled me out of my small circle of people and limited thoughts.
A Career Break Leads To Disappearing Friends
I wanted to socialize more, for which I started meeting more new people and listening to their stories. People were/are doing incredible stuff. Some were masters of a quiet life and so content that I leeched on to them to learn. I was more open to any new experience in this phase, surrounded by different perspectives and ideas.
This was when I met new people, made new friends, and lost many from the past. Not deliberately, but they just started to disappear. They could not relate to me and likewise! I remember one day sitting at an airport, reading my book and sipping coffee, when I saw a guy run to the boarding gate. With a Bluetooth headset, shouting at someone on the phone, in full formals with a briefcase running with a worried face. And I thought to myself, "hmm, that was me!"
I smiled at not being that person anymore and went on to enjoy my coffee. If someone talks of petty office politics, my mind would automatically be doing a happy dance without being part of it. Plus, not being around and traveling all the time is a good excuse for your friends to disappear.
This break was also a transformational phase for me that even my close friends could not relate to and fell apart. Most of them wondered why this girl is acting like a teenager when it is time to raise a family. The only good riddance is those peripheral ones who were around just for contacts.
The Phase of Self Doubt
Life was not all la-la land.
I thought I would be traveling every month somewhere and be on the road all the time, but it did not happen like that. I was back home to my ailing parents and family issues. This was probably the phase filled with insecurities and self-doubt when you are at home and not doing what you want to do.
Your bank balance is draining with all the socializing, traveling, and no income. Also, for friends from the IT industry, I honestly did not appreciate many benefits (including subsidized rates on food) until I quit. And then comes all the voices of your friends bubbling up, reminding you how you are missing out on climbing the corporate ladder.
It was the phase of, "I took a break to heal and be happy, and yet it is not happening" let me get into the sulking mode! Unless you are very sure of why you took the career break and what you want to do in the break, this phase can pull you down and feel like a loser.
Do not give room for that.
I channelized all my energy on my blog and social media. Paying full attention to my blog did help me out. However, there was an income flow but quite erratic.
I also picked up on remote work. If you have a bit of coding knowledge, few small jobs might come in handy. Freelance writing was another source of money. But honestly, I was now working harder than before because starting anything from scratch requires a lot of effort, and I was being paid much less for the work.
My monthly income ranged from 5K to 40K, and there was just one month that I managed to make close to a lakh. But it mostly averaged around 20 or 25K. And the pitfall with freelancing was to chase payments. It is not like you get paid once the work is done, nope! From having a hefty salary being credited into my account, it turned into keeping track of who has to pay me and keeping my fingers crossed that it turns up.
I made money not enough for traveling, but I had enough to pay my bills. Also, converting my passion to a source of income was killing the joy of it. This is how it turned out for me, and there are quite a few freelancers who make good money, so I am not writing this to discourage you.
The Transformational Phase
I worked on my mental health during this phase. I started therapy, and I strongly advocate anyone struggling with mental health, depression, or even feeling lost, take therapy. It gives a whole new perspective on how you see your problems or obstacles. I was hitting close to a year now, still traveling, and was planning to join back to work.
I was still flaky dilly-dallying with my blog, pushing it to make some more money. I was so confident of getting back to work as it has never been an issue in my life. When I graduated from college, I had two offers in hand, and ever since then, it has been choosing the best answer when it came to accepting submissions. But a rude shock was waiting for me when I joined the job market.
Finding Job after a Career Break
Along with the Indian economy, my funds went into loss, my balance dipped, and soon I ran out of money despite the lifestyle change. Minimalism was my friend.
This was the phase when I realized what a privileged life I was living. And it is tough for any of us to recognize until we go broke. There is so much that we take for granted. One day while talking to my mom, she kept insisting on buying fish for lunch, and I suddenly broke down as "do you know that a good fish costs 500rs? I can't spend so much on one meal!"
I was counting every penny, and this was new to me. I am happy when I socialize and travel, and that comes to a grinding halt. My mom started to help me financially.
I was not getting any calls for interviews which was the most challenging part. I started to disconnect myself from everything. Not traveling was pulling me down. Not getting interview calls was pulling all my confidence down. I was capable of doing a good job, and yet I was still searching for one.
Then the rejection letters kept coming in with some terrible blows. Every time I would come back with hope and think I did this one awesome, and the interviewer looked happy, but you get rejected because Saturn might not be aligned.
It took me close to ten months to find a job, of which three months were spent for certifications to upskill. In this time, companies' exploitation of hiring people on a break was like an awakening. I was offered jobs with salaries, not even half of what I was earning a couple of years back. I was pursuing a role different from the previous one because I believed this was the best for me. It was super tough to keep the head afloat, acknowledge the gaps, and kept trying and trying. Finally, In December 2019, I got a job offer, a role that I pursued for.
Lessons from My Career Break
It's been four months in my new role, and I am back to the kind of life of chasing goals and attending meetings. But it is a new me, and the career break helped me get here. If there is anything that this career break taught me, it is -
To be self-aware.
What brings you happiness, and how to pursue happiness. Not chase or hang on to stuff that does not give you any fulfillment. What are your trigger points? What makes you feel joy.
There is so much to say here. To be grateful for every morsel you eat. Enjoy your food and eat. Take out time to eat your meal.
During the lockdown, this work from home ruins it that I have now blocked my calendar to sit and enjoy my meal. Gratitude to the job and money. Work with all my heart and do justice for the pay that I get. When you put your heart into the job, happiness and results do come in.
Take it slow. Make it to watch the sunrise or sunset and stop to see the birds and people around you. You will fall, and you will fail, and it is the cycle of life. To fail is part of life and to pick yourself up out of it is what you need to work on.
Give yourself the priority.
You can be surrounded and limited by your spouse, or loved ones, or even kids, but you come first. You have to be good, healthy, happy first, and only then will you be able to pass it on to others. Self-care is a must.
Dream big, chase your dreams and be excited about them.
The universe helps you get it after you put up a fight.
You take your step and let me know your experience. If you have been thinking about taking a career break, well, then you are just waiting for that little tiny push.
Plan your finances, decide how you want to spend the break, and get in.
You know, I did not have a great childhood or an adolescent life. I grew up like an adult, I constantly felt like I was missing out on something, and in this break, I lived like a teenager, and now, there is nothing that I have to complain about.
I am more appreciative of where I am now and all this because of the time I took to retrospect. I was able to chase dreams. When they talk to m, some people add a line, "you are enjoying life, aren't you!" Well, if somebody is saying this, then I must be doing something right.
Do it if you are thinking about it.
That was my journey. You take your step and let me know your experience. If you have been thinking about taking a career break well then you are just waiting for that teeny tiny push. Plan your finances, decide how do you want to spend the break and get in. You know, I did not have a great childhood or an adolescent life. I grew up like an adult, I constantly felt like I was missing out on something, and in this break, I lived like a teenager and now, there is nothing that I have to complain about. I am more appreciative of where I am now and all this cos of the time I took to self retrospect. I was able to chase dreams. Some people when they talk to me they add a line, "you are enjoying life aren't you!" Well, if somebody is saying this then I must be doing something right. Do it if you are thinking about it :)
Happy Reading. As always leave your thoughts in the comments or connect with my at firstname.lastname@example.org