A number of times in my life I’ve found myself between jobs. Usually, this is a euphemism for unemployment, which at times it was for me, but typically it was a natural break between activities. An example of this was I lost my job at a tech company at the end of the dot-com boom in San Francisco and decide to enroll in a Master’s program back in Canada. While I was assembling my application material and waiting to hear back from the universities I applied to, I found myself without a fixed occupation.
I’ve come to believe that these sorts of breaks are desirable and well worth considering if the opportunity presents itself!
Historical Perspective on Work and Careers
Talk to anyone from the greatest generation (born between 1901 and 1945) about work and they’ll suggest you get into a company, remain a steadfast employee for decades, work as hard as you can and hope for promotions. Job security and a paycheck seemed to be the most that anyone hoped for. The idea of deliberately being without work would seem insane to this generation.
The world has changed since that time. Job security is a thing of the past and workers need to manage their own careers. Moving between companies is the best way to advance in your career, and workers who stay with the same employer beyond a decade start looking more like suckers than loyal.
Beyond Changing Jobs
While most current workers recognize this, we’re moving into a time where it isn’t just jobs that change, but entire careers. I was at a talk given by a real estate appraiser a while back. He confidently predicted that within 5 or 10 years there won’t be real estate appraisers anymore and that an automated system will have replaced people working in the profession.
If you aren’t ready to retire, seeing your profession come to an end must be a surreal experience. For some, this constant change is exciting. Zach Weinersmith (of SMBC webcomic fame) wrote a comic detailing our “11 lifetimes” and encouraging us to make the most of them. He touches on the same idea in an interview with Business Insider where he says “Something that really appeals to me, a person doing research should change careers every seven years. You do something for seven years and you’ve applied everything you can to it so you ought to switch.”
Using Breaks to Make This Transition
A break in your working life helps to make these changes. When a job ends and you suddenly have loads of free time, it’s natural that you will play tons of golf or video games, take up gardening, or travel extensively. This is worthwhile and you should lean into it and enjoy your life. If you have any ambition at all – or if money starts getting tight – you’ll reach a point where a life of leisure starts losing its appeal and you’ll be ready for the next stage. The big indicator of this is you’ll start feeling bored.
This is a GREAT time to attack your next career with gusto. Spend some time really thinking about what you would enjoy next. Figure out what the cost is for getting qualified – both in time and money. After figuring out what you’re interested in doing, obtain any needed qualifications and launch into your new venture.
What About Money During This Time?
One of my friends recently said “quitting is a luxury good” after one of his sisters quit yet another job without having anything else to do or any money to live on. This *ISN’T* something you can do if you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck. I would suggest this as something reasonable for someone who is heading towards early retirement and can easily afford the 6 months, 1 year, or 2 years they might spend on their break.
Another approach to this might be to set a minimum net worth amount, and once your investments are depleted to that point you’ll go back to work – or sooner if you start feeling the urge. You need to have your retirement well planned before something like this is possible. Consider contacting a financial planner, like Boomer & Echo, if this is something you can’t work out on your own.
I firmly believe that we only have one life to live and a high salary isn’t worth devoting your life to something you’re sick of.
Financial Loss Losing Established Career
“Golden handcuffs” will keep some of us in a job we’re unhappy in. A government pension, a drawn-out vesting period of stock options, or seniority in a union are all reasons why you might want to stay where you are. It’s a calculation everyone needs to make if the payoff is worth the price.
In *SOME* situations, it’s possible to arrange for unpaid leave. This could accomplish the same thing, but with the option of returning to your current employment at the end of your break if nothing more appealing presents itself.
Be Honest If This Would Be Dangerous For You
Some people would be perfectly content never working again and being able to watch daytime television all day for the rest of their lives. If this is you, you’re probably best to keep working until you’re ready to retire for good. With that being said, maybe you should consider early retirement. Moving to part-time work once you can afford it is also worth considering.
Have you ever had an extended break from work? How did it go? Did you find any worthwhile insights during that period or were you just anxious to get back to work?