3 Life-Changing Lessons My Career Break Taught Me

Truth time.

Throughout most of my career, I was a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.

While those around me thrived, I suffered from a lack of enthusiasm and the sneaking suspicion that this wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing with my life. 

8 years and 3 companies later, I ran away to business school with hope of finally figuring myself out. It was an amazing two years, but the answers didn’t quite rain down on me like I hoped they would.

I graduated from business school and started a new career - I gave it a chance, but deep down I knew – it wasn't "me" either.

Up to this point, I had let life to happen to me instead of going after the life I wanted.

I wanted to change my approach, so I got myself a life coach.

During our time together, I came to the realization that I needed a break. A big break from life with the freedom to travel around the world and to reconnect with family and friends. 

After 18 months of diligent planning and saving, I left with $40,000 to set out on a career break that turned into a 20-month adventure around the globe. 

Dreams were realized, perspective and meaning were found and happiness returned. 

It was a magical experience and life-changing moment that continues to have ripple effects in my life 4 years later. 

And now I’m going to share with you 3 life-changing lessons I learned from my break.

Courageous leaps are sometimes required and always scary but they are also the moments when you feel the most alive and present in your own life. 

You are steering the ship - not your family, your boss or your own fears that can often hold you back. 

You won’t be able to know your final landing spot ahead of time but that’s a good thing – life may deliver opportunities that you couldn’t have previously imagined. 

I was offered (and accepted) a job working for a dream company in Boulder, CO that didn’t exist before my career break.  A wish I’d put out into the universe 4 years earlier came back to me in a bigger way than I could have imagined.

Sabbaticals and career breaks make you even more interesting and give you lots of great stories worth telling.  

There was a director that sat on my floor at my last corporate job.  He was actually the first person to interview me for the job I eventually accepted.  I always felt like we should have a connection because of that experience but after years of passing each other in the hallway with just a smile and a hello, I realized that was not to be the case. 

But when it was time to leave my job and head out on my big break, the director took time to pull me aside and tell me, with sincerity, that he thought what I was doing was amazing and that he was proud of me for being so brave. 

And when it was time to end my break and start the job-hunting process again, I found it so easy to stand out, find connection with others and have an interesting point of view during my interviews because of the experiences I had on my break. 

It only took five weeks of job hunting and dedicated focus to land 5 job offers after I returned.

It turns out that most companies find those brave enough to follow their dreams and take big leaps interesting and highly desirable. 

Career breaks are not a magic cure-all. 

My career break was a fantastic experience but there was a lot of behind the scenes work done with my life coach beforehand to change my mindset, broaden my perspective and start seeing the possibilities ahead of me. 

I also spent 18 months being very mindful about how I spent my money and working towards a goal that required changing a lot of old habits (retail therapy after a stressful day anyone?).

And while returning from my break was a relatively smooth experience, there were still tough choices and compromise to be made. 

I landed an exciting, but still corporate-ish, job so I could pay off the last $42,000 of my MBA loans (tough choices). 

I took a pay decrease to have a job I thought I would enjoy much more (compromise).  It took me 21 months, but I finally paid off all those loans!

Along the way, I found the courage to listen to my inner voice again and follow my own path in life, no matter how unique and twisty that path may be. 

This gift continues to serve me well today, as I move to become a full-time life coach and am using my own experiences to help others find the same clarity and courage in their lives that I found in mine.