A little over a year ago I took a pause on a nearly 20-year career in advertising. It was an awesome time in my life filled with stories that would certainly foster some riveting scroll-worthy content, but it could be grueling as well. As a result, I witnessed many colleagues tapping-out or making a significant career change around the age of 40 (if not younger). Like those colleagues, while I generally found it all incredibly thrilling and fulfilling and thought that outcome would never be me, over time, the environment combined with the pressures of new-motherhood took its toll on my mind, body and spirit and my gut was telling me literally and figuratively that I needed to take time to reset. I hoped to focus on my young daughter, my wellness, and determine how I could continue to flourish into my inevitable next chapter. Of course, your wellness pursuit is most certainly not dependent upon you taking time off to make it happen, but I wanted to share how I pulled it off.
You may think that leaving it all behind for a time is exciting and liberating, but to be honest, it was a deeply agonizing decision. I ping-ponged on the idea for well over a year. I feared taking that leap was indulgent and would ruin my corporate trajectory…in fact, I was told as much. I also faced the mom-dilemma of knowing that experts say daughters of employed mothers often perform better in their eventual careers than the daughters of stay-at-home moms, only to be balanced by the other perspective (certainly echoed by our parents) that children need their parents around (as much as you can afford to be there) for their development. Of course, dads could also be faced with these considerations, but in our case and many others, it was me. Not to mention the obvious FOMO of all those precious and fleeting childhood moments.
While decisions like this don’t have to be that black and white, unfortunately, my perception was that the career path I chose and status I had achieved wasn’t conducive to anything that could strike much of a balance between the two. The demands of the industry up to this point had generally expected that you’re all-in or out – it certainly was implied if not expressly stated. And, there are a handful of female heroes of mine that can do it all and maintain a position at the top. But, it seems something always has to give and even a certain senior ranking exec at a well-known social media company recently conceded that point as well. I would also be remiss if I didn’t address that some people out there may believe I was only able to take that time because my husband funded my time-off, but I can assure you, while his emotional partnership was certainly helpful, I’m a self-made hiatus achiever. This came to fruition from a long-term strategy, hard sacrifices, hard decisions, strong intuition, and a “well-intended” pursuit and belief in something even greater after this career half-time.
And, taking a year off doesn’t mean just sitting back and doing yoga during that time (even though I do recommend a lot of it!), but rather, as another friend put it to me, I used my marketing super power for good…which felt great in return. I hosted the greatest teacher appreciation day you’ve ever seen at my daughter’s preschool. I’ve provided free marketing consultation to some start-ups that I truly admired. And I pursued some creative projects that fueled my soul. Meanwhile on the wellness side, I did invest in myself and my well-being by researching and practicing techniques for improved sustainability, mindfulness, self-care, nourishment, fitness…while paying that knowledge forward to others. These are all benefits any employers should hope for their colleagues as I’ve never felt better, had greater clarity, passion and a positive spirit. I’m happy, healthy and ready to take on the world!
With all that perhaps unnecessary context and validation, especially when there are lots of prominent companies out there that understand the value, support and sometimes fund an employee’s extended sabbatical, how did I earn a year-long career hiatus that allowed my wellness reset? To disclaim, I won’t say that my process is bullet-proof for everyone and I realize that this is not a ubiquitous opportunity. I’m also not a financial advisor (as that’s a big part of the potential) – but I share the 7-Step Hiatus Strategy that worked for me as you consider and determine how to play the cards in your own unique situation:
- PLAN EARLY: Start planning at the dawn of your adult life to accommodate a potential career “half-time”. Choose a college degree or professional career path for the first-half that you’re passionate about and has high earning potential (if you’re lucky enough to have an affinity for something that affords both requirements.)
- CHOOSE A SOLID PARTNER: If you choose to marry, do it for love, of course…but also wisely. Find a supportive partner in life and love where “both boats can rise together.” Agree to pass the baton back and forth to each other in partnership when individual challenges arise or energy gets low to ensure you can still win the race as a team.
- EXTEND DINK STATUS: After marriage (if applicable), be a “DINK” (dual income, no kids) in a major market (offering higher salaries) as long as possible. That will help fill the financial coffers.
- ESTABLISH A SOLID PROFESSIONAL REPUTATION: Establish a smart, hard-working, committed, gracious and respected reputation so your personal brand has value for a long period of time, both far and wide. In doing this, people will see your time-off as well earned and deserved and supportive of your break when you look to secure the next position in the second half of your career.
- AVOID DEBT: Maintain your save-to-spend ratio around 3:1 for as long as possible to fill your financial reserve.
- MAXIMIZE SAVINGS: To that end, shop around and make as much interest as possible on the money you save – as they say, it’s good to make money while you sleep. Meanwhile, max out your 401k contributions throughout your career so you can worry less about tapping into those other (non-401k) savings sources to fund your time-off – your 401k should be your untouched retirement back-up plan.
- STAY ACTIVE IN YOUR TIME OFF: Don’t get too comfortable in your down-time: be ready to go back to work at any time, stay well connected to former colleagues, and perhaps, take on small projects or consultation opportunities to keep your resume alive during your break. Choose those projects that fuel your original passion but don’t derail your wellness progress with negative influence.
Whether you have the good fortune at this time to make your wellness pursuit a full-time commitment or not, I encourage you to make the well-intended investment in your mind, body and spirit either way, and feel confident that you’ll discover measurable benefits in improved health and happiness!