Our Jo did the thing we all dream about, but are too scared to do. She took a career break gap year. And she loved it. Read on to find out her answers to all of the big gap year questions.
At 26 I had friends I loved, was renting a beautiful flat and had my favourite job so far (which just so happened to be at Patchwork). So it felt a bit scary to pack a bag, leave my job and wave goodbye. Fast forward 18 months, 16 countries and countless memories and I’m back home drinking beers with my mates and back at Patchwork. Taking a career break was without doubt one of the best things I’ve ever done and I’ve already started saving for another. Of course, there were a few mini freak outs before I took the plunge but a quick peek at Pinterest always got me back on track.
So if you’re debating whether or not to take a career break, here are some of the questions I plagued myself with in the early hours of the morning whilst planning the trip, and the answers I now know to be absolutely true.
Oh god, isn’t it going to be really scary?
Yep. Really, really scary. Leaving was horrible and there were difficult times throughout the trip but it was so worth it. For every scary moment there were ten incredible, amazing moments and I’ve never been more proud of myself or felt as capable as I do now. Fear is inevitable but a few simple rules can help minimise the chances of anything going too badly wrong.
Don’t arrive somewhere new in the middle of the night. Being tired, confused and lost in the dark is not fun and it’s not safe. A flight arriving at 2am might be cheaper but paying a taxi driver to ferry you around endless backstreets in the dark isn’t good for your wallet or your stress levels.
Confidence is key. Act like you know where you’re going. Even when you really don’t. But also, try and know where you’re going. Poring over a map marks you out as much as your sunburn and baggy hippy trousers do. Knowing roughly how much your taxi ride should be is also a great way to look less new in town and you’ll be less likely to be ripped off.
And most importantly, listen to your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.
Will I be able to get a job when I come home?
Absolutely. The biggest thing holding people back from taking time off work to travel is the worry about getting a job when you return. Society has convinced us that it’s irresponsible to leave a stable job once you have it, regardless of whether you love it, hate it or just want to try something new. Sure, it’s harder to get jobs these days and sometimes it feels so competitive out there that you wonder if you need to gold plate your CV and send it in with a huge chocolate cake just to get an interview. But don’t discount the skills and experiences you’ll gather on your travels – whether its through volunteering or just dealing with organising visas in a foreign language. You will also come home more confident, more sure about what you want to do and to be honest, after a while of being away from an office, you’re actually quite excited to go back to work. That’s pretty attractive to employers.
I admit, I was pretty lucky because my boss let me come back to Patchwork and write about travelling (thanks Liv) but I’ve had plenty of friends and cousins come home from career breaks full of enthusiasm and new knowledge and have found jobs better than the ones they left before. Consequently they are much happier. I get it, change can be scary. But you don’t want to look back and think ‘what if….’
Can I afford it?
No matter how careful you are, travelling obviously costs money. I spent four years saving for my trip and have completely blown my chances of buying a house anytime soon. But for me, seeing the world will always have more allure than being responsible for my own boiler. Experiences trump material possessions every time. You can always earn more money so get out there and do what you want to do while you can. Especially as you’ll probably be working until you’re 80. So you might as well just enjoy yourself now.
Will all my friends be higher up the career/life ladder than me by the time I come back?
Maybe. Maybe not. But does it really matter? Yes, some of my friends are earning up to three times more than me and some have job titles and responsibilities that I can’t even begin to fathom. But if I’m honest, I don’t want their jobs or their lives. Going travelling was the big promotion that I was chasing. Those friends would be rungs ahead whether I’d gone away or not and if there’s one thing I’ve learnt by now it’s that it’s never a good idea to compare yourself and your life to others. Who knows, maybe they are wishing they had sacked it all in and spent a year making coffee in Wellington instead.
The bottom line – focus on your own life and what you want. Traveling gave me time to think about what I want to do with my life and what is important to me. And it isn’t having the biggest pay check or the fanciest job title.
Will people judge me?
No. Some might feel envious and a few friends might unfollow you on Instagram. But more and more people in their late 20’s and early 30’s are packing a bag and heading out to explore the world. Everybody secretly dreams of running off to spend their days on a beach. You’re just one of the people who’ve actually decided to do it.
Will I Find Myself?
Urm, no. Probably not. Not really. You might find yourself eating the best dumplings in all of Beijing at 5am after spending the night on a rooftop bar with new friends. You might find yourself climbing up a live volcano in New Zealand and being so exhilarated that you don’t even feel tired even though you’ve been walking for 8 hours. You might find yourself tucking into a boiled sheep head in a gurt in the middle of nowhere in Mongolia because it would be rude to turn down the hospitality. But you probably won’t Find Yourself. But that’s okay. It just gives you an excuse to go back and try again, right?
Will I regret it?
No. No no no. No one has ever looked back on their life and thought ‘wow, I wish I’d worked more and done less fun stuff.’ I’ve come home more peaceful, more confident and more knowledgeable about the world and about myself. It’s made me better at my job, it’s made me a more appreciative friend and it’s made me more sure about what I want to do with my life. If I could tell pre-career-break-Jo one thing, it’s this – you will come back happier and stronger. Oh and don’t get the massage in Pingyao – you will be in agony for days.
If Jo’s story has inspired you to quit your job and take the plunge, start making your gap year patchwork now – just create your own from scratch, or browse our readymade gap year patchworks for inspiration.