Career Breaks: Why I Lost Myself on the Road

Lost Girls, Quitting & Career Management, Staying Connected, Websites and Blogs — By on March 8, 2010 at 6:00 am

Amanda Pressner Blogging by Amanda Pressner
LG Executive Editor

Friends, colleagues and LG readers often ask: why was it, exactly, that Jen, Holly and I put the brakes on our careers (and in fact, our whole lives!) just when we were finally getting somewhere. Why ditch the super-competitive gigs that we’d been working since graduation to get? I’ve fielded this question on the fly many times, but it wasn’t until my friend and fellow blog editor Michaela Potter of Briefcase to Backpack suggested that I write it down that I really gave the question some serious thought. What exactly were my motivations at the time?

I realized that with a little distance from the actual quitting-not to mention the round-the-world trip itself-the rationale came back to me in a rush. Here’s the essay I originally posted on B to B: Check out their site and read more tales of real life travelers who chucked the working world to indulge their wanderlust in the real one.

****

Why I Lost Myself on the Road

I can still remember staring at a bizarre, other-worldly reflection of myself as I zipped up the skirt on a black Ann Taylor sale-rack suit just before heading out the door for my first-ever internship interview. My hair had been yanked into some sort of severe French twist and I was wearing matching black pumps that I probably thought made me look older and more professional. Realistically, I probably looked like I was my way to a funeral.

Perhaps to some degree, I was.

Back then, as my teens were transitioning to my twenties, I simply assumed that becoming an adult meant the death of childhood, a sacrifice which would require me to toss out the flip-flops and frayed jeans I’d worn growing up in Florida and totally abandon my carefree ways of being. No longer would I ditch class to hit the beach with my girlfriends, watch sunsets over the rim of a rum runner and sneak back home just as morning rush hour was starting for somebody else. Now was the time for me to dive into that very rat race, to begin a new the chapter of my life. It was time to get a real job.

Despite my best efforts to the contrary, I never did manage to retire my rebellious inner teen in order to become a full-fledged grown up. I felt grateful once I landed my very first position in New York City, but after three weeks as a sales assistant at a major television network, I started to feel restless. I knew I wanted to leave such a corporate environment but had to wait nearly two years before I scored a copy-writing gig at a major publishing company. When that job didn’t quite feel right, I jumped again and became an editorial assistant at a women’s magazine in the same Times Square office. I figured I’d finally seized the brass ring-surely I’d be happy doing something creative and glamorous for one of most widely read publications in America, right?

But after another two years and one promotion, I still wasn’t. And so, when the opportunity arose to take the ultimate of all career breaks-a year around the world with my best friends and fellow Lost Girls Jen and Holly-I leaped at the opportunity.

That should have been the turning point for me, the “ah-ha” moment when I realized no job could ever bring the self-fulfillment that travel can, but old habits die-hard. But ever the overachiever, I tried to work from the road, to turn our adventures into story pitches I could sell to magazines back home. Without consciously deciding to do so, I tried turning our round-the-world adventure into yet another stepping stone for my career.

It took me eight of our twelve months on the road to put down the laptop, but just as we were rounding our 10th country, Indonesia, I finally wore myself out and relinquished control. I gave up pitching, gave up working, gave up trying to validate my life through achievements. I lived 100 percent in the moment of our daily lives. And I eventually learned my lesson.

What, after all, do many of us people put on their suit and go to work every day for?

Most people have to wait their whole lives to retire and do the very things that I was all too eager to give up as a career-bent, success motivated college grad in a bad black Ann Taylor suit. Here I was at 28, being given a very rare second chance to appreciate that freedom, and to crawl the globe in search of wild and wondrous new possibilities. Finally, with the help of Jen, Holly and several new friends along the way, I seized the opportunity. I only had four more months to immerse myself in the adventure-but in many ways they were the richest and most fulfilling ones of the trip.

After we eventually returned to the States, Jen, Holly and I debated on whether or not we should go back to desk jobs. I rationed that I probably should take a position that I’d just been offered at another magazine, just to confirm that I was actually “still capable of working in an office.”

“You could,” Jen said. “But what would you really be proving? That you’re able to sit behind a desk…that you can do the exact same thing that millions and millions of people have to do every single day?”

She pointed out it was no great accomplishment to learn to survive in an office. Learning to carve your own unique path in the world, however-now that’s that a goal worth working for.

***

Got a story to share about your own career break-either one you’ve done or one that you’re (secretly) planning? Write to us at lostgirlsworld@gmail.com

Tags: , , , ,

    15 Comments

  • Chrissy says:

    I found your blog about a month into your round-the world-trip and 3 months into my first “real” job out of college. Thank you so much for writing about your experiences. So much of your reasons for leaving it all behind to travel resonated with this free-spirited Colorado Girl and broadcast news graduate turned B2B and financial PR accountant in the corporate financial mecca of Fairfield County, CT. Reading about your adventures was my escape during my lunch hours, and I even planned my very first backpacking trip to Sweden and France with you in mind! (Thanks for the great packing tips, btw.) While I haven’t been on my Big Trip yet, I’ve become a successful weekend warrior, marking off many a destination on my list of places to go and things to see during my time on the Eastern Seaboard.

    Thank you for the inspiration!
    Chrissy

  • Chrissy says:

    I found your blog about a month into your round-the world-trip and three months into my first “real” job out of college. Thank you so much for writing about your experiences. So much of your reasons for leaving it all behind to travel resonated with this free-spirited Colorado Girl and broadcast news graduate turned B2B and financial PR accountant in the corporate financial mecca of Fairfield County, CT. Reading about your adventures was my escape during my lunch hours, and I even planned my very first backpacking trip to Sweden and France with you in mind! (Thanks for the great packing tips, btw.) While I haven’t been on my Big Trip yet, I’ve become a successful weekend warrior, marking off many a destination on my list of places to go and things to see during my time on the Eastern Seaboard.

    Thank you for the inspiration!
    Chrissy

  • Kaitlyn says:

    Like Chrissy from above I am also a recent college graduate and COLORADO girl! I am a Semester at Sea alumni and find your blog a way to relive many of the incredible experiences I had on my trip around the world as well as an escape from my desk job. I have promised myself I will revisit many of the old places as well as some new ones in my future.

    Thank you all for sharing your stories, tips, adventures and travel knowledge with the rest of us envious travelers.

    Kaitlyn

  • My story is a bit twisted in that I started the game a bit late to begin with. After a divorce and suddenly single mother of 2 young daughters I headed back to school to finish a B.S. and grab an M.S. in HRM. With those shiny new “credentials” I nabbed a plum job at a municpality in Colorado, bought my first home, and indeed, they were taking more in taxes than we’d lived on the previous year as a grad student! They also made the mistake of gently advising me that I had just 2 weeks annual vacation. Say What? Now how am going to see the World with but 2 weeks free each year?

    Fast forward a few years (plus a few details), and – after using my coveted annual 14 days leave to explore Belize (back when nobody had even HEARD of that sweet little nation) – I suddenly decided to chuck it all (read: sold house/quit my job) and start my own adventure tour company – specializing in the wondrously pristine land of Belize (this, at a time when the 6:00 news was harping on the “Contras” in Central America.)

    Took a bit of doing of course, and struggled (w/ a part time job) the first couple of years, but I persevered, eventually the business took off and – even I’m amazed that I managed to support us fully running “Soft Adventures” to Belize and Costa Rica for nearly 20 years!

    In short: as I’ve often said, “This ain’t a dress rehearsal, folks” and you surely CAN do anything you set your mind to!

  • Thanks for originally sharing this story on our site and for inspiring so many others to follow their travel dreams! Hopefully there will be many more “Lost Girls”-inspired tales shared on our site because of testimonials like yours.

  • Tori says:

    I’d like to know what you decided to do once you got back to the U.S. Did you take that job behind the desk or did you opt to do something else full time to make money? I’m currently trying to graple with that situation…and i’m also from the wonderful world of magazine publishing.

    Thanks!

  • Lost Girls says:

    Hello all!

    Great to hear from so many readers, particularly all of those Colorado ladies out there! I’d like to consider myself an honorary resident of the state, since my Mom and step-dad have lived out there (and own a gymnastics school) for the past 12 years.

    Anyway, I digress!

    Chrissy: Congrats on your trips to Sweden and France! Short trips can be just as rewarding as the epic-long ones, so keep enjoying everything this country has to offer. Since returning home, I’ve become a big fan of US-based travel and just got back from an incredible trip to the Crescent City of New Orleans.

    Kaitlyn: We’d love to hear all about your RTW adventures–where did you go, and when?

    Global Granny: Thanks for being such an active commenter on our blog! Seriously, we’d love to hear your LG of the Week story and learn more about how you built your business in Belize. As you might have read, LG Holly Corbett has spent the last two weeks down there, and Jen Baggett and I went on one of our first non-Europe international adventures there during our first year of “real world” work. One of the best weeks of our lives!

    Michaela: Thanks for inspiring me to write this story in the first place. Funny how you keep remembering little things about your travel experiences and inspirations when you reminded to share them!

    Tori: The answer is….both! I did end up taking a desk job for a year and a half–I served as the senior nutrition editor at Shape magazine, a position offered up to me that I simply couldn’t refuse after taking a year off (my last staff position was assistant editor, three steps down!) Eventually, I negotiated a three-day-a-week position with the company in order to write the book and now I’m working again as full time freelance writer. In general, I like to mix things up, and freelance time is great for both networking and creativity.

  • Great post! Not sure how I’ve never seen the site before. I ran across it when reading Belize Tweets. Belize is my favorite place in the world (French Polynesia is definitely a close second though). Ambergris Caye is an annual getaway for me and reading the recent posts makes me anxious to get back there.

    I left behind CA and my litigation career to move to Taiwan with my (now) husband. We met through mutual friends from our online travel group, and we dated long distance until I made a leap of faith by getting married and moving here last summer.

    Rather than dealing with depressing legal matters, I spend my days doing some freelance writing, trying to (finally) get several blogs launched, and taking a photography course – all while traveling as much as I can. I’ve been to 18 new countries in the last year and literally just finished flying around the globe (in a matter of 5 weeks).

    I was very nervous about leaving behind a decent career and moving to a foreign country, but it was the best decision I’ve made. The opportunity to move abroad and be immersed in another culture has truly been a memorable experience, especially since I get to experience it with the love of my life.

    Keep inspiring others to travel – there is so much beauty in the world. I continue to be amazed every day – whether it’s just a new day in Taiwan or waking up in yet another country.

  • Jillian says:

    I love this entry. Been following your blogs and find you to be an inspiration to not only young women, but EVERYONE. I know you’re book will be wildly successful because your story is about the Universal Truth – abandon worry and fear and go in search of what your heart is calling you to do, and you will wind up in a better, happier place.

    I, too, am a bit career driven – and somewhat of a perfectionist – constantly looking for the next opportunity to take me to “happiness”. I am realizing with the help of friends, family, and reading stories such as your own that happiness really only comes from Self-Awareness.

    Bravo!

  • Hey, we came here when i did an good google search. Neat site you got here! Keep it up!

  • Lia says:

    Hello Lost Girls! I think what you did (leaving the corporate world) and embracing the freedom of life is very brave and courageous! You are living the dream. For me, taking the first step is the most difficult process I need to get through. But you showed me that it is POSSIBLE. I’m left inspired after reading your post… Thank you so much!

  • Amanda you are the strength of the LG and the most powerful piller of the group. I am really inspired from your story and loving it. Most of us waste their life in doing odd jobs and doing nothing sometime, but the travel can keep you update and refresh your life with a twist of new peoples and cultures all the way..

    Thanks Again Amanda.

  • Lost Girls says:

    @Amsterdam Holidays Thank you for this great compliment–Jen, Holly and I certainly all bring different strengths to the table (or backpack? overnight train ride?) but I like thinking that I’m the “motivator!” 🙂 Thanks for reading and loving the story–travel is the best possible way to reset yourself after a period of staleness or discomfort. Even when you’re pretty damn happy, travel can remind you how lucky you are…

  • Lauren says:

    Okay, I’m on my way to my first “big trip” (details still in the works)…but how did you guys finance it all? Especially after working in the magazine business?