It is almost three years since that I walked out of the PR firm that was my employer for eight years. Yes, eight long but exciting years. A year before I called it quits I had become obsessed with the idea of traveling the world and taking challenges. Since that day I have cycled alone from Mumbai to Goa in India, traveled across India in 25 days taking 25 non-stop trains, learnt rock climbing in Thailand, attempted learning religious music in Brazil, participated in a fighting festival in Peru( I am serious), learnt Salsa in Colombia and traveled through 14 countries. Sounds super exciting, right?
Well, it truly was the best time of my life. But the 18 month long trip had its fair share of ups and downs as well.
Now you do not need me to tell you that a sabbatical or a long term trip is an exciting prospect. But I could tell you whether these mid-career breaks have any value beyond recreation, rejuvenation and the brag value they provide. Let’s admit it, not all of us are going to come back and write a bestseller like ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. But should that deter you from planning your own sabbatical? Not at all, contrary to what many believe, a mid-career break isn’t professional hara-kiri. If you focus on learning and plan it well, it could actually be a power booster your career needs. Here’s why.
Upskill yourself for the same industry:
Here is a confession, I had quit with the thought of becoming a travel writer and having some sort of career in travel content. My ideas were vague, but the kind that motivated me nevertheless. But at the back of my mind, I always knew that I could come back to my Public Relations career. And provided I upskilled myself, I would also be able to demand a better role and compensation.
Indian meal in Medellin with friends: learning to cook is definitely upskill-ing, right?
Hence when I was traveling, I focused on picking skills that would make me a better PR professional. Understanding the digital medium better, becoming a better writer, training myself at social media content and meeting PR professionals in other countries to learn from them, I did it all. Travel provided me this unique opportunity to learn things that I would never have been able to in my everyday job. It also allowed me to understand the way the industry was evolving and to prepare for the future. During the sabbatical, my goal was not just to firefight for the day, which sadly is what most professionals do on a daily basis.
When I got back from the trip, I continued receiving offers from companies and some also looked at my travel experience as an advantage. Fortunately, I have not had to go back to my PR job for lack of choice yet. But even if I have to in the future, I know that I continue to be a competent
Laboratory for a second career:
Many of us are stuck in careers we no longer enjoy or in roles we no longer relate to. But we continue working in the field nevertheless, because we believe there is no way out. A few months off from what you do everyday can help you test yourself in another field of your interest. For years, I wanted to be a travel writer but never got close to getting an article published. I only have myself to blame for this and no one else. But let’s admit it, with our demanding jobs it does get difficult to devote time and energy to something else.
I tried fighting in Peru as a second career, clearly it did not work out.
A sabbatical is a perfect laboratory for your second career. In my case I was able to start travel writing and within a year had my articles published in titles I used to follow closely(well, not all, BBC travel still eludes me, so does Vice). Had it not been for the sabbatical, this would not have happened.
There are many other out there who use career breaks to try things that interest them. It is a testing phase in which you can decide whether the other appealing career is practically feasible for you. There are some who spend time in Mysore learning and figuring out whether becoming a Yoga instructor is feasible for them, others try out Salsa in Cali(Colombia) to the same effect. But it is not just these careers, you can even test something more conventional. Maybe you want to move from IT to advertising, it is possible if you take some time off, travel and experiment.
Becoming a better you:
I know, I know, this sounds too esoteric and cliched, but it is actually true. If you plan your sabbatical around things that will help you further develop your personality, then it can benefit you in ways that cannot be quantified. In my case, I took up some of the challenges for this specific reason. It was to face my fears of height and fights that I took up rock climbing in Thailand and fighting at the festival in Peru respectively. Like most people, I understand the beauty and benefit of social dancing and that motivated me to learn Salsa in Colombia.
My Salsa skills are not as smooth 😉
These projects helped me become a more effective person. Today I find it easier to try new things, to interact with people and also to have a different perspective on things. And sometimes these qualities make all the difference as opposed to what is written in your resume.
The other interesting part when you go out of your regular path is that you get hit with life’s great surprises. You meet new people, get introduced to new ideas and, sometimes, to a new way of life. And if you keep your options open, something better than you ever imagined may come your way. This is true of so many people traveling the world.
People decide to settle down in a new country that they had planned to visit only for a week, or they start a job that they had absolutely no idea existed. I know a Dutch friend who ended up marrying a Bolivian girl and started a restaurant in La Paz, Bolivia. The same surprise entered my life when Roar Media, a digital media platform I was trying to write for, actually offered me to start & lead business operations in India.
It is now almost nine months since I started building the brand, while working part time on Eccentrips. And this would not have happened had I not visited Sri Lanka for one of my challenges and met the founder.
A change in perspective:
The most important result of my sabbatical is that my parameters of success have turned upside down. It is no longer money or titles that I chase. Of course, it would be foolhardy to think that money is not important. But mindless monetary pursuit is no longer my drill.
Having more sustainable parameters for success helps us do more meaningful work which in turn means we have a better chance of doing well. That sounds like a good career result to me. Don’t you think so?
If you have come this far down in the article, then of course you are really interested in a long term purposeful trip. But you may be thinking, how the hell will I make it happen? Doesn’t one need a lot of money to make a sabbatical happen?
Yes, it is true that a sabbatical needs planning. Soon, let’s talk about how to prepare for a long term trip. Like they say, by failing to prepare you are preparing to fail. In this case if you don’t prepare you may never do it.