Why Taking a Mid-Career Sabbatical Could Change Your Life



Is there a dream that you tabled years ago and having been meaning to revisit? Maybe you aspired to write the Great American Novel, but became accustomed to the office lifestyle. Or perhaps you’ve toyed with the idea of taking a mid-career break at 40 to lay on a beach in Ibiza or hike the Appalachian Trail. More people are taking a sabbatical or mid-career break in their 30s and 40s, whether to pursue personal passions, travel, volunteer, or consider a career shift.

In fact, so many people are temporarily opting out of their 9-to-5 jobs that there are books written about it and consulting firms helping people come up with sabbatical ideas. Not only that but companies like PricewaterhouseCoopers, REI, and Adobe now offer the option to take a paid or unpaid sabbatical. As of this year, 29% of millennials in the U.S. plan to take significant career breaks for travel or relaxation prior to retirement. Those who take a sabbatical could find their outlook dramatically changed upon return. A study in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that those who took a hiatus experienced a decline in stress while on sabbatical and once they returned to their jobs.

While the terms sabbatical and mid-career break are often used interchangeably, they mean different things. A sabbatical is a defined period of paid or unpaid leave from your company, after which you return to your previous job. In contrast, a mid-career break is when you quit your job and resume your career later—often at another company and sometimes in a different field.

No matter which you’re considering, here’s some advice and wisdom from people who unplugged from their working lives to get back in touch with their sense of adventure and re-envision their careers.

Why you should consider a sabbatical or mid-career break

Falling into a bit of a rut is perfectly natural. Even if you like your job, you might start to feel burned out. Or maybe you don’t love what you’re doing, but are going through the motions because you have to pay for cat food and Netflix.

There are endless reasons to take a mid-career break or sabbatical. Abbie PeGan, a 32-year-old public relations professional, took a career break in 2016 because she didn’t feel passionate about her job.

“I never took the time to figure out what I really wanted,” said PeGan. “In my 30s, I realized I had proven myself but was still clinging to the same goals and ambitions I had at 22.”

Sometimes people take a break because their professional lives are interfering with personal goals. For example, Denise Riebman, 46, who is now a career happiness coach, took a break in her 30s to teach English in Nepal and travel through Asia. She’d planned to do the trip after graduate school, but put it off when a great job fell into her lap. After a few years, the travel bug bit her hard, and she wanted to explore.

Others like Mike Scanlin, 51, take a break to start a business or creative project. Scanlin left his venture capital job when he was in his 40s because he wanted to start his own software company.

How it can benefit your career

Taking a step back from your job doesn’t mean you’ll have to go back to your intern days of fetching coffee when you return to the workforce. Many people say taking a sabbatical or mid-career break benefited their career by allowing them to broaden their skillsets, hone their direction, and ultimately find more career satisfaction.

Riebman found that when she was ready to return to her career, employers were impressed by her experience. “I used to work in the poverty alleviation field,” she said. “I feel like this experience teaching and traveling to Asia gave me an advantage during interviews as it showed depth of character, exposure to global issues, and ability to adapt to very different circumstances.”

PeGan agrees, but also says that taking time off to travel changed how she approached her work life and gave her greater balance. “Before, I didn’t really respect anyone who wasn’t making life about work,” she said.

For Scanlin, who still works part-time in venture capital, the process of starting his company, BorntoSell.com, has taught him important technical and managerial skills that make him more valuable in his field.

Sabbatical ideas that might suit you

Not sure what you would do if you had several months or even a full year on your hands? To get the ball rolling, think about what might enrich your career, or consider goals you’ve been putting off (but really want to achieve). Here are a few ideas to get your sabbatical wheels turning.

-Volunteer. Volunteering during a career break is a great way to experience a new culture and gain valuable skills relevant to your career. It can also make a trip abroad cheaper, since the organization you volunteer for might cover room and board. You might decide to do something related to your current field, like marketing work for a non-profit in a different country. You could also try a new field that has always tempted you—volunteering can allow you to gain necessary experience.

-Start a business. If you’ve always dreamed of being an entrepreneur, a mid-career break could be an opportunity to explore different ideas or even launch your startup. While you might end up returning to your day job, your business could become your full-time gig.

-Rest, recharge, and have fun. It’s okay to plan a sabbatical that’s about exploring non-work-related passions. Pick a few things that have been sitting on your bucket list for years and make them happen. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn how to scuba dive or run ultra-marathons. These experiences will help you rest, recharge, and prepare for the next chapter of your career. Also, you never know what kind of career revelations you might encounter while diving into the ocean to look for starfish.

Tips for pulling off a mid-career break

If you’re already fantasizing about giving notice, canceling your Netflix subscription, dropping your cat off with family, and setting off on an adventure, there are a few things you need to do first.

-Save, save, save. Once you know you want to take an unpaid sabbatical or mid-career break, start saving your pennies. Make a budget for how much you think it will cost, and then create a savings plan to figure out how long you’ll have to save to make this a reality. If you’re choosing the mid-career break route, make sure to build in an emergency fund to cover your expenses for three to six months once you return, in case you have a hard time finding work when you’re ready to resume your career.

-Ask your boss. Just because your company doesn’t have a formal sabbatical program, doesn’t mean they won’t be willing to grant you paid or unpaid leave. Before you assume you’ll have to quit your job, talk to your boss. Make sure to let him or her know that you love working for your company and believe that taking a sabbatical will help you grow as an employee. If you’re afraid that tipping them off to your plan might put your job at risk, try talking to someone you trust in HR about sabbaticals, or wait until closer to your ideal departure date to broach the topic so that losing your job won’t impact your sabbatical plans.

-Consider your field. Some fields are more in demand than others, making a career break less of a risk because it’s easier to find work. If your field has fewer opportunities, have a larger emergency fund to tide you over and make sure to keep up with your connections while on hiatus.

Taking a sabbatical or mid-career break could just change your life. SoFi members can check out SoFi Career Services to learn more about how we can help you plan your next career move—whether to a new job or a beach in Ibiza. Not a SoFi member? Go to SoFi.com to see how SoFi can help you.


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