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Closing a circle – learnings from a career break

I’ve recently returned from a truly epic 3 month career break of travels with my partner. We decided to take a break from work and life in general for a few reasons:

  1. Reconnection time with my family over in Europe. As an expat I’ve lived away from my native Sweden for most of my adult life, and I felt a strong pull to be with the people I spend a lot of time missing and thinking about. 
  2. For my partner (who had never been to Europe) to get to meet my family, see where I grew up and hopefully understand some of those inevitable cultural differences a bit better. 🙂 
  3. For us to explore and adventure together. To step away from the noise of day to day life, have even more meaningful conversations and set conscious intentions for our individual goals AND our joint future. 
  4. Life is short! We used to say “We’ll do that big trip in a few years”. It’s so easy to push things into the future, but sometimes we just need to listen to what we truly need and make some changes now. 

I’ve travelled for extended periods of time (up to 4 months at a time) when I was younger, but never with a partner, so to be honest I was not sure how we’d go or what I’d discover about us as a couple as well as myself. We ended up having the best time together (except those few times when we were both tired, hungry and grumpy)! 

I’ll be sharing a few different learnings more from a career perspective in coming blog posts, but I thought I’d start with a few broader themes and things I noticed. 

  • You set your own pace. I did not realise until we’d left Australia how fast paced we’d both been living to juggle both life and work. We don’t have kids (I’m sure that would have added an extra dimension), but we still managed to stay surprisingly busy. Whilst being away we had some incredibly slow days (hiking in the stunning mountains in Norway, Sweden and Austria) and some pretty hectic ones (driving in big European cities and trying to navigate different rules and paperwork). We were however more aware than ever of our daily pace and the need to adjust it to us, not becoming a slave to fitting everything in. It sounds easy, but this sometimes means saying no to things that you’d normally try and ‘squeeze in’. 
  • Every day will come and go, but it’s up to us to decide how we spend it. Each and every day. We’re wired to live in a ‘doing’ type of society where high productivity is usually rewarded. As important as it is to add value (not always the same as high productivity), it’s important to remember that YOU are in the drivers’ seat of your life. Not your boss, your partner, your kids, your clients or anyone else. Just you! If you find yourself working long days at the office in a place you don’t really like, you are still on some level choosing that and the lifestyle that comes with it. If it’s not working for you, it’s time to choose differently and adjust your life accordingly. Working less might mean a lower income, but would allow you more time with your loved ones. Working more could mean that you can save faster for your house deposit or next adventure, but might mean less time with loved ones. It’s a choice around what’s most important for you. Time is precious so be very careful and aware how you spend it. 
  • It was not as hard as we thought to step away. Making the decision to head off for a big trip and making sure it’s what we both truly wanted, made for strong foundation when we started to plan and make it all happen. Many people asked us how we could afford to take a break like this, and I’ll just say that most people (you certainly don’t need to be a millionaire!) with some determination and willingness to sacrifice some other things can do something like this. 

I’m so grateful we created the opportunity to step away from things for a little while to reflect and re-set. When we’re in the midst of ‘working hard’ and ‘pushing through’ it’s almost impossible to see clearly what is happening around us OR what the best opportunities are going forward. When we close a circle and document what we’ve learned, we also make room for the next chapter to start. A bit scary? Of course! Exciting? Absolutely. 

PS: I’ll dive more into career strategies in my next blog post, but in the meantime I highly recommend this TED talk and very visual wake-up call on how most of us spend our time and money. 

PS2: Don’t forget to check out my range of online career coaching courses