Taking a Career Break

by TerriRexson

Are you considering taking a career break? I'm on my third! I'll share some tips and ideas for making the most of your break and your career.

People are becoming more aware of alternatives to the traditional lifestyle of working until retirement age and then hopefully having a few years of good health to travel and play golf before old age sets in.

Sadly not every one reaches retirement age. Several years back I had a close colleague and a family member die in their mid fifties. They had both worked hard at their careers. It got me thinking about whether they would have done things differently if they had known what would happen.

There was also a situation where a lot of people I knew had changes to their pensions which meant they would be worse off. There was a lot of soul-searching and why did I give so much to my job and miss out on my kids' childhood? Ouch.

This all happened before I had children and gave me chance to do some thinking. At the time I was on the career track (accidentally!), working long hours and traveling a lot.

I took a fairly long maternity leave when each of my two children was born and treated them as career breaks. I'm now on my third career break, taking an unpaid sabbatical from my job.

In this article I'll talk about planning for a career break, returning from a career break and how to make the experience positive for both your life and your career.

Reasons for Taking a Career Break

Thinking of a Career BreakMy first two career breaks were maternity leaves. They were most definitely career breaks though. I took 8 months the first time and a full year the second time. I really enjoyed my maternity leaves but I'm not stay at home mom material. I needed to get back to work!

My third career break is about wanting to see what else I can do. I've been in a corporate environment so long, I wanted to remember what I can actually do and have time for my interests. It's also about being able to enjoy my kids more because my brain isn't overloaded with work stuff. I'm looking at whether I can set up a lifestyle business that generates enough income that I can make a career change. 

Others take a career break to travel (I might do that later), to look after a sick relative, to study, to spend time on a hobby such as music or sport, to write a book. 

Some people are just fed up with their jobs and being stuck in a cubicle all day. They want to get away from it all and re-evaluate their lives. 

Are You Considering a Career Break?

Common Concerns About Taking a Career Break

Forget me NotAre you worried about what will happen if you take a career break? Perhaps everyone will forget about you. Perhaps you will lose your skills. Perhaps the job will change and you'll be left behind. 

In my experience nothing much changes at work when you take a career break. Even a year long career break like my second maternity leave. And that's in the fast-paced IT industry. I found it pretty easy to just slot right back in.

It is worth taking some time to get back up to speed when you first return. Invite a few key people for coffee and you'll soon know about the important things that have happened. 

And what if you don't want to go back to your job after enjoying a period of freedom? Well during both my maternity leaves there came a point where I was ready to go back to work. This time, I'm not so sure. This is something you should think about throughout your career break - you'll have the time. If you decide that you don't want to return then you'll be able to plan an alternative. Many people find something else they can do to earn money while they are on a career break. 

And what about your identity? Is your professional life a key part of your identity? Will you feel purposeless during a career break? It's possible! I know lots of women who have taken long breaks to look after their children and it's something many of them struggle with. I knew I could easily live without professional recognition, but I couldn't let go of earning money so I decided to work part-time during my sabbatical and build up my own small lifestyle business (nothing like a corporate career.) Some people volunteer or throw themselves into leisure pursuits so they don't even think about work. 

Planning a Career Break

Plan your career breakTo get the most out of a career break it needs to be planned. If it's a maternity leave then just plan the return, newborn babies don't follow plans :-)

Some things to think about:

  • What will your role be when you return? I decided to find a new role each time I returned from maternity leave. I used my career breaks as an opportunity to move into a new area. It was a great way to move to a new role - I had few ties to my old job and I'd had time to think about what I wanted to do and make a good case for it.
  • Find out if you will be eligible for any bonuses or pay rises during your career break. Make sure you and your manager understand the rules. 
  • Plan your finances. How will you live without a salary, or on reduced maternity benefits? Make sure your career break plans fit with the available finances. You can have a very cheap career break, or you can travel the world in luxury. My maternity leaves were planned and we had always lived below our means. I decided to earn a reduced income doing something fun while on my current career break. 
  • Have a clear plan of what you will do during your career break. You can always adapt as you go along, but the worst thing would be to waste time and not accomplish something meaningful during your career break. Write yourself a career break bucket list. 
  • Make a clean break. Make sure your colleagues understand that you will not be getting involved in work matters once your career break starts. There's no point taking a career break and still working!

Enjoy Your Career Break

Enjoy Your Career Break
Enjoy Your Career Break

Returning From a Career Break

Return to workWhen the time comes to return from a career break you'll probably have a very different outlook on life and work. 

You'll have gained a different perspective and developed your life skills. You'll be better at working out what's important and valuing your time. 

Think about what you want to keep from your career break lifestyle and build it in when negotiating your new job. I negotiated slightly reduced hours to make sure I would get time with my kids. 

I found I was much less willing to give up my evening to meetings that really didn't achieve much and I was much more ready to delegate to junior colleagues. I was more efficient because I valued time more. 

A lot of people worry that they will never make up for lost time after a career break. That wasn't my experience. People tended to think in terms of elapsed time and the current quality of my work rather than my time away and reduced hours. 

The Value of Career Breaks to Employers

I think more employers should encourage career breaks. They create more well-rounded employees. A career break can get someone out of a rut and they may well come back full of ideas that they wouldn't have thought about if they were stuck in their normal routine. 

Career breaks are also a good way to reduce short-term outgoings while keeping key employees over the long term. 

If more people took career breaks that weren't maternity leaves then women wouldn't feel left behind when taking time out to look after children, and men would feel more able to do their share with the kids too. It would level the playing field. 

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Updated: 01/06/2013, TerriRexson
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Angel on 01/06/2013

Thank you so much for your encouraging words! I will be in touch very soon. You are one of my inspirations! I see people like you actually making it happen and I feel like there is hope. It has been so hard for me the past year or so without my career. I feel like I have lost a huge part of myself. I have been able to be available for my children (two of which are ADHD) but I am still missing something in my life. Therefore, I am not happy. If mom isn't happy then no one is really happy.....right? So glad I found your article as it has inspired me to brainstorm about this online thing again. It is something I truly enjoy doing and it would be great if I could make a living doing it! Will be in touch with you soon:)

TerriRexson on 01/06/2013

Hi Angel, yes I can definitely see where you are coming from! As it happens I'm due to return to my proper job soon. But I'm not going, I'm resigning. My online business has taken off nicely so I don't feel the need to return to my job financially. I now have time to volunteer at my kids' school and spend time with them after school each day and I don't panic about meetings if one of them is unwell. I don't feel like I've killed a career, I feel like I've opened up the possibility of earning money in different ways for the rest of my working life.
Feel free to PM me if you want to discuss your options. I'm sure someone with your background could do very well working online.

Angel on 01/06/2013

This article really hits home with me. I resigned from my job and career in October 2011 to stay at home with my four kids for awhile. I had gotten to the point where I couldn't keep up with everything anymore. I traveled a lot and my job required many late nights working from home. I had to say "time out". I thought it was what I needed. However, over the past year I have found myself becoming very depressed and having those feelings you mention of feeling purposeless. I decided to go back to school in August to learn some things that would take my career in a different direction. I am almost ready to start the job search in that new direction. I can't help but wonder if I am making the right decision. I would love to be able to create my own business and work from home. To have the flexibility that is needed with four children and family. To be able to enjoy everyday....instead of stressing about getting everything done. Sorry for the long post.... but your article is making me think more about taking my interests and things I am passionate about to a level that I can make money from them. I want to feel like I have a purpose and am contributing but dread the stress of working outside of the home while raising four children.

TerriRexson on 04/12/2012

Thanks whitemoss and katie. Yes, it's definitely easy to just keep going on the same path. I could so easily have done that. I'm so glad a stopped and thought and made conscious decisions about what I want from life.

katiem2 on 04/09/2012

What a great bit of thought, I feel the need to make a career shift. This is a very inspiring piece. This sort of thinking could be of good use on a regular basis, in life in general, pondering what we could be doing differently. Refreshing as I can't ever imagine not working, taking a break yes indeed.

whitemoss on 04/06/2012

Change is good! It's so easy to keep on doing the same old thing.

TerriRexson on 04/06/2012

That sounds right Sheri! I think a lot of people just do the default and get into a career and stay there without even considering the alternatives. I actually enjoy my job but it's overwhelming. Now I've got time to enjoy other things and actually live life rather than just keeping things together. My career break might give me the energy to go back for another round, or I might find that I'd rather take a longer break or change direction completely.
I'm glad you're enjoying your semi-retirement.

Sheri_Oz on 04/06/2012

It is so important these days, I think, to take breaks - some people manage to work less stressfully than others and so may not feel the need for the occasional "sabbatical". I am thoroughly enjoying being semi-retired. At 60, I feel like it is a career break as I have another 40 years left and 40 years is a whole career! Right?

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