When I first decided not to renew my contract, and effectively take voluntary redundancy, I had a mortgage to pay, financial commitments and no money at the end of the month. I felt trapped! Which I now see as the whole point of the 9-5 system (that’s another post). When the fear I felt towards walking away was overshadowed by the unhappiness of staying, I knew it was time to bounce.
Money is what stops most people from quitting work when they really want to. I thought it might be helpful to address some of the questions I get asked, which may help someone else who is considering taking a career break.
What are you going to do for money?
I’m not going to lie, when I first started casually affirming my desire to take a career break or a sabbatical, during conversations with friends I would literally say “I want to stop working for a while and claim benefits”. ‘Many a true word said in jest’ as they say. I had been working two jobs for about 3 years, and so I knew my part time job would be a source of income once I moved back to live with my family. Because I had some money coming in I initially decided that I wouldn’t try to claim any benefits, however, when things got a bit tight I attempted to find out what I was entitled to. After a couple of demoralising phone calls, the completion of a few intrusive, tedious forms and weeks of practically waiting under the letterbox every morning, it turns out I was eligible for nothing. Nada. Zip. At that point I couldn’t claim any tax back because it was halfway into the financial year, couldn’t get income support because I had earned too much money during the current tax year and couldn’t get job seekers because I had a part time job, and to be quite honest I really wasn’t going to be looking for another job so why add stress to my life pretending I would be.
Believe it or not I was actually relieved I was not going to be getting any ‘free money’. My ultimate aim was to become self-employed and start my own business, so deep down I knew that a regular cheque for doing absolutely nothing would probably be more demotivating than my full time job.
I will speak more about how I am planning on earning money in future posts but in short there are plenty of opportunities to make money. You just need to identify your strengths, know what your gifts and talents are and make the most of existing networks or create new ones. Oh and work really hard.
Tip: If you can save up some money to last you a few months break or even subsidise a reduced income that would be a really good idea.
What about the financial commitments you can’t meet and your credit score if you don’t pay?
When I moved into my flat I was debt free, but that changed. By the time I rented it out, not only did I have my mortgage, I had new debts and other monthly expenses to think about. I decided the most important thing to do was address the issue. Burying my head and hoping it would all go away or work itself out, would just make things worse. I contacted the Consumer Credit Counseling Service and they helped me to make arrangements to pay back what I could afford now that my income had reduced.
Is my credit score messed up? Hell yeah! But a discussion with a friend helped me to face the fear about what that actually meant. Having a bad credit score simply means I can not get any more debt. Is that such a bad thing? I don’t really want to be in debt again, especially not consumer debt. I don’t feel great about owing money at all and until it’s paid off I know it will be hanging over my head however, in time my situation will improve and I’ll be able to clear the money I owe. Until then there is no point in worrying about that today as there’s really nothing else I can do.
Tip: Clear as much debt as you can before your career break. For some good advice on money management, a great book to read is The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey.
What are you actually going to do all day?
I have slept so much over the past 6 months that I have made up for every day I had to get out of bed with the alarm and every moment I spent at an office desk when I really just wanted to be at home in bed. I needed it! I have also watched my fair share of day time TV although I haven’t stooped to Jeremy Kyle and cornflakes, I think I’m transitioning out of that period in my break. What I have realised is that it’s important to have a routine of some kind and to make a point of leaving the house. I have been working on projects, reading and doing some writing but to be honest I have not been preoccupied with something ‘constructive’ every hour of the day.
I actually think we are sometimes obsessed with ‘doing’ something. So many people never take the time out to do nothing. As in no TV, no reading, no internet, no email, no work, no thing. It actually sounds weird saying it but when you think about it there are very few moments when we just sit and listen to our own thoughts. Most activities we partake in are aimed at drowning our thoughts out…drowning ourselves out.
So back to question ‘what do I do all day?’. Sometimes I’m super productive with a hectic week, and other times I do absolutely nothing.
Tip: If you decide to take some time out, don’t feel like you have to explain every minute of every day to other people. You may not understand right now why your spirit is encouraging you to rest but go with it. If it means some times you stop drowning yourself out, that’s actually a good thing so don’t be scared to just use the opportunity to stop.
Won’t it be harder for you to get another job with gaps in your CV?
I actually don’t know. I won’t know until (if the day ever comes), I have to apply for another job. Here’s the thing. Sometimes you don’t know what’s going to happen next. You just don’t. I could apply for a job in the future and find an employer disapproves of the gap in my CV and assumes I’ve been watching Jeremy Kyle whilst eating cornflakes in my pyjamas (did I mention I don’t do that?). However, it is my responsibility to use my CV and interview to show them that is not what I’ve been doing. Also many employers appreciate the fact that you are returning to the workforce more focused, driven and motivated to work. It depends on your perspective and of course who you encounter during the selection process.
Tip: If you are definitely sure you want to get a new job after a set period of time, make the most of your time. Explore different career paths though volunteering and networking. Find out if you can get work experience or do some shadowing in the field you’re interested in. You may not want to start a business however a small project in your area of interest will help explain the gap if you are concerned. A great book on this is ‘Screw Work, Let’s Play’ by John Williams.
Everyone’s circumstances are different and planning a career break is not a one size fits all approach. However, if you are not happy with your situation, there are always other options. Fear is the most spiritually crippling emotion we can feel so don’t let it hold you back from moving forward into the unknown.