I recently attended an event in NYC organized by Meet, Plan, Go! (www.meetplango.com), a group that encourages people to consider a career break “to travel the world and have it be beneficial to your career.” I love the vision behind this group and the type of people I met there – folks who are interested in new experiences and growth, and not afraid to challenge societal norms.
I give a workshop that was inspired by Meet, Plan, Go! “Take a Radical Sabbatical” encourages corporate executives to think of their careers like a competitive marathoner. Novice runners often make the mistake of training hard all the time, which usually results in injury and/or a sub-par performance on race day. But experienced marathoners know that recovery is just as important as the hardest long runs. It’s while recovering that our muscles grow stronger. The analogy extends to our careers. I think that building in breaks from a professional routine – creating the space to reflect and recharge – improves creativity and effectiveness. It counters the likelihood of burnout and cynicism that is so common.
This week’s Meet, Plan, Go! event focused on ways to ensure that the break genuinely enhances your career. Some of the panelists spent a year traveling and volunteering, then returned to their old jobs refreshed and recharged. Others chose to find a new professional path after they returned, one that built on the experiences they gained while visiting foreign cultures.
Here are some notes from the discussion:
- One panelist had children ages 13 and 9. For over a decade, he and his wife had talked about taking a dream trip around the world, but never found the right time. They finally decided just to make it work and homeschooled their kids while traveling the world for a year.
- A sales rep explained how he closed some lucrative deals in his job. The extra money gave him the ability and confidence to take a leave of absence to travel around the world for six months. When he returned, he was hired back by his company into a more senior position.
- One panelist explained that she had a strong urge to explore different cultures, but could not travel as much as she would like because of her work. When a close childhood friend died, she decided to take action and follow through on her dream. Her friend’s death was a reminder of how precious each moment is. Why spend the finite time we have unhappy and feeling stuck?
- One panelist said, “I'm the type of person who can roll into a town for the first time, not speak the language and figure out how to manage. That’s a life skill that makes me more effective in any job I do.”
- A common theme among the panelists was self-confidence, a willingness to take risks in order to grow, and faith in themselves to make everything work.
The panelists’ comments resonated with me. When I took a 2-month leave of absence from my job at Intel to cycle the length of Japan with my 8-year-old son, I worried that the decision might hurt my career. In retrospect, that trip freed me from a fear of being unconventional and gave me the confidence to embark on a completely new professional role, one that has been more challenging and rewarding than my old corporate job. You never know what opportunities await. The key is to decide what path you want to follow and take action. So what are you waiting for? Go out and create your own adventure!