Times have changed when it comes to the workplace. The days of working the same job for 10 or 20 years are long gone, with most people changing jobs over 10 times before the age of 40; retirement ages keep going up, with people expected to work into their 70s ; and Baby Boomers just won't retire and get out of the way to create executive opportunities for Gen X and Gen Y. All these factors (not to mention the obvious one about your boss riding you like a broomstick) are enough to drive anyone to take a career gap year to recharge or explore new opportunities. Numerous books have popped-up encouraging new ways of thinking about work and rest, like The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris. Whether you do this as a calculated exit from your current employer, or negotiate a sabbatical and plan to come back to your role, here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your break:
Get Cashed-Up - Don't just quit work and wing it, plan in advance how long you want to take off and what sorts of things you want to do in your time off. If you're just going to hang around home and catch-up on your reading, you'll need to cover your basic living expenses, but if you're planning to study, travel or try and get a business idea off the ground, you'll need considerably more. Be realistic with yourself, once your finances get tight you lose control over your freedom and will start making fear based decisions, the complete opposite of what you're setting out to do.
Chill Out - It's probably going to take you 4-6 weeks to let go of work and get away from the clutter in your head. Take baby steps in relinquishing your old routine and keep expectations low for the first few weeks. Once you recalibrate and establish a new routine for your days and weeks, you'll find a flow. Be sure to plan lots of down time: read, exercise, catch-up with friends and family, the stuff you never seem to have time for when you're working. If you need ideas for what to do with your time, check out Reboot Your Life: Energizing Your Career by Taking a Break by Catherine Allen. The book outlines real-life stories of people that have recharged their lives by leaving their jobs, with links to over 150 resources for sabbatical programs.
Network - We underestimate the social benefits of working, and unless you're an uber social person, you're likely to find your social circle shrinks when you're not employed. Use the time off to reconnect with old colleagues, college friends, and build new networks through industry or community events. Websites like Meetup are an invaluable resource for finding groups with shared interests or exploring new ideas emerging in your field. If you haven't read the book How to Win Friends and Influence People, pick it up, it is sure to fire you up for networking.
Explore Options - When you have let go of your routine you'll find your mind free to think outside your usual box - let ideas come to you, visit new places and do things you normally wouldn't do to spark cross-over between past and future versions of yourself. You never know where things might take you, so be open to conversations with strangers, a last minute invite to a dinner or event, or volunteering with a group in your neighborhood.
Learn a New Skill - Don't stagnate, be sure you can add something new to your resume at the end of your time off: learn a new language, get a diploma in a new field, volunteer your time with a worthy cause. Spend time adding something new to your resume, you won't regret it. In his recent hit book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg outlines how you can literally change your entire life through the power of repetition and training.
Journal - be sure to keep track of what you do, how you feel, and most importantly the things that you do and don't miss about working. These will be critical to your re-entry into the workforce and improving your situation.
Keep In Touch - Don't disappear from the map completely, keep posting to social networks like LinkedIn and drop the occassional email or text to your coworkers. If you're on a sabbatical you don't want your employer to think you may be having too much fun and not coming back, and if you're between careers you want to keep up the impression that you are still engaged with your industry.
Have you taken a year off from your job successfully? Or unsuccessfully? Drop us a comment and tell us about your experience!