Should you take a career break?
Four questions to ask yourself.
Welcome to Thrifted Design Leadership, the weekly newsletter where I share design leadership tips I’ve begged, borrowed and stolen from my betters ✨
A career break has been on my mind for years. I knew I needed time- but it’s scary! It goes against my every instinct to give up paid employment ‘and see what happens.’ And how do you know when the time is right?
The reason I knew I had to take a career break, was when I discussed it with the people I respected most in my life. Mentors, peers, parents and friends said, unanimously
“I wish I’d done that at your age”
But there’s a big gap between dreaming about it, and actually doing it.
So here’s the questions I asked myself, and the plans I put in place. Maybe it can help you if you’re on the same precipice, cautiously peering over the other side, heart aflutter for what might be.
4 Questions to ask before taking a career break
What market forces may affect your time out?
Last October was my first time truly considering taking a sabbatical- right as tech workers were being laid off left right and centre, and the economy was incredibly unstable. Media was doom and gloom. As a child of the last recession, common fears of being perpetually unemployed or underemployed rose to mind.
Relating to a point below, this is why you need to trust your intuition. We are constantly analysing the situations around us, conscious and subconsciously. Another reminder that everyone should read The Gift of Fear.
If it doesn’t feel like the right time? Inspect that feeling. But trust it. A career break without planning is just ragequitting a job.
October wasn’t right. But, January was. It was a feeling I got from my work, but also from the market, the opportunities that were being presented to me, and the conversations I was having with other designers.
Like all big life decisions, no timing will be perfect, but there will be the right time for you
What’s your runway?
Can you tell I’ve worked in startups too long?
An unpaid sabbatical is not for the financially faint of heart. You have to get very comfortable with looking at your finances in detail and being honest about what those would look like without a monthly salary.
We all, unfortunately, need money to live, and unless you have a particularly generous parent, partner or glucose guardian, it’ll likely be your savings paying for this time out. So it’s time to get brutally honest.
What are your fixed and variable outgoings? Are there any big expenses you’ll need to make over your planned leave? Taxes, building fees, dentist appointments etc….
What could you cut? 'Unfortunately, my vintage charity shop habit will be the first to go.
Do you have any minor income streams? Painting peoples pets, selling on Depop, giving conference talks? These can buoy you along in a less formal way than a traditional 9-5.
Calculate your burn rate (how much you spend per week/month), and evaluate how long you have until you need to find paid employment again. And yes, I do mean in a Google Sheet… Try cutting your expenses by 5, 10 or 15 percent. How much time does that give you? Is that time worth giving up the charity shop habit?
How stable is the rest of your life?
Who will be affected by your loss of income? Children, partners, parents, pets? How precarious is your housing situation- could you cope with a 34% rent increase from your career break savings pot?
As a sporadically clinically depressed person, I know what it is like to want to give up everything and just hibernate for a year. A career break should not be that. It should be a time to recharge, introspect and plan for your most fulfilling life. Work is a valuable piece of routine for the depressive.
Know yourself well enough to know the difference.
How will you use your time?
You don’t need to know exactly what you’ll do in your break. That’s part of the joy of it! But you need to think of some structured activities to get there.
We discover ourselves through effort (and by that I mean, making things with your hands or your brain or your voice.) How will you build, as opposed to consume, in your time away from formal employment?
Personally, I had a clear goal (figure out through conversation, research and creative practice what sort of design leader I wanted to be) that couldn’t be accomplished alongside my 9 to 5. When I’ve answered that question- that’s when I’ll be done.
How will you evaluate when your career break is over? Is it when the money runs out? Do you want to put an art exhibition together? Is it when you line up the job of your dreams, or get accepted into a Masters program? Only you can decide.
So- have I persuaded any of you? Does this resonate with your own reasons for taking a career break? I’d love to hear your experiences- let me know below!
Notes from the editor
First, I am overwhelmed by the support on my last post.
Doing something like taking a career break is scary as it challenges many of the commonly held beliefs of what success looks like, and what career aspirations should be. Knowing that there are over 100(!) of you cheering me on out there, reading these words- means so much.
Thank you all so much for being part of this journey with me. Here’s to many more.
Next week is one from the backlog - The Future of Fashion in Games, adapted from my Develop 2022 talk. Don’t miss it!