As we are confined to lockdown this year, many are awakening to a new found bliss of doing nothing, figuring out how short life is and needs to be lived, and building on their passions. My life was no different last year. I wanted to slow down and practically do nothing. Travel, of course yes! And write too, but all at my pace. Not just the blissful part, but just like how many have lost jobs and dealing with uncertainties, my break was filled with that too. As I write this article 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 sorts. 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 sometime. Not that my job was boring but I needed a change from the role. I was in the peak of my career, good job, handsome salary, and was doing good in life (at least in the eyes of others). But I wanted more of the freedom, the will to travel whenever I want and to explore my passion. Sounds like every other working person's mind right :) That is exactly why I wanted to write about this career break, so you can weigh on what you will miss and what not and whether career break is for you or not. I was sure of one thing, to get back to work at the end of break. Note that this was not sabbatical but I has 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 but yet continue to work or not pursue what they want. And they have their reasons. Because as much courageous or glamorous "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 you have no liabilities, it is tough to quit your job and travel without an income. So I saved up. 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 can 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. I was genuinely happy and fearless. I was looking forward to the coming days. It was such bliss. I was happy to hang out on weekdays in cafes and restaurants, empty restaurants, and malls all for yourself on a Monday! I had plenty of time to just 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 travel and solo travel is the ultimate combination and I embraced it. You wake up and decide what to do for the day or just 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! Chasing 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.
Curious case of Disappearing Friends
I started to socialize more. I was meeting more new people and listening to their stories inspired me. People were/are doing incredible stuff. Some were masters of slow life, and so content that I leeched on to them to learn. I was more open to any new experience in this phase. Great perspectives and ideas were all around me. As much as I met new people and made new friends, funnily this was also the phase when I was losing my friends from the past. Not deliberately, they just started to disappear. They cannot relate to me and I cannot with them! 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 phone, in full formals with a briefcase running with a worried face. And I thought to myself, "hmm that was me!" I smiled to be not 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 of not being part of it. Plus not being around and traveling all the time is sure for your friends to disappear. This break was also a transformational phase for me that even my close friends were not able to relate and landed up falling apart. Most of them were wondering why is this girl 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 your contacts were slowly withering away.
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 no it did not happen. I was soon back home to ailing parents and family issues. This was probably the phase where it was filled with insecurities and self-doubt. You are 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 IT industry, there were a lot of benefits (including subsidized rates on food) which I truly did not appreciate until I quit. And then comes all the voices of your friends bubbling up reminding 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 really 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. There was an income flow but quite erratic. I also picked up on remote work. If you have a bit of coding knowledge then few remote jobs might come handy to you. Freelance writing was another source of money. But let me be honest here :) 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, 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 money and keeping my fingers crossed that it turns up. The money that I was making was not enough for traveling. It was just about 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 am not writing this to discourage.
The Transformational Phase
This was also when I worked on my mental health. 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. Cause 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 offers. 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. This despite changing my lifestyle. 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 realize 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 each and every penny and this was new to me. Am happy when I socialize and travel and that came to a grinding halt. My mom started to help me financially.
I was not getting any call for interviews. This was the most difficult part. I started to get disconnecting 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 hey you get rejected cos Saturn might not be aligned. It took me close to ten months to find a job. Of which three months I took to do some certifications to upskill. And in this time the exploitation by companies on 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 I had cos I believed this was the best for me. It was super tough to keep the head afloat, acknowledge the gaps, and keep trying and trying. 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 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 these,
- 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. This work from home during lockdown was ruining it that I have now blocked my calendar just 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, the 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 first 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 you will be able to pass it on to others. Self-care is a must.
- Dream big, chase your dreams and be excited about it. The universe helps you get it after you put up a fight.
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 email@example.com