Career Breaks: Why I Lost Myself on the RoadLost Girls, Quitting & Career Management, Staying Connected, Websites and Blogs — By Amanda P on March 8, 2010 at 6:00 am
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 [email protected]
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