8 things I learnt on my career break
As you may have gathered if you have been following me for a while, just over a year ago I left my job as a lawyer to take a career break. After thirteen years in a law firm it was a very difficult decision as I loved my job, but I instinctively felt it was the right thing to do for my health and wellbeing. It was, without doubt, a risk for numerous reasons. I’d like to say it came about after years, or at least months, of careful and considered planning, but that is far from the truth. At the time, I just wanted out. Now. Call it what you want: burn out, overwhelm, exhaustion. All of these things. I knew I wanted more time with my family but I also needed time to re-discover my passions and invest some time in myself and in my health. I can honestly say it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Here are some of the things that I learnt.
1. Disconnecting is hard
So much of my sense of identity was wrapped up in my career. I didn’t realise just how much until I left. Going from ambitious lawyer to stay at home mum was a bit of a leap, to say the least. I had to transition from running a busy investment funds practice to running a house, from holding the hands of clients through their legal dramas to holding the hand of my six year old through his own (but certainly no less complex) dramas and from spending hours and hours enthusiastically reviewing mountains of legal documents, to spending hours and hours at the local skatepark, tennis lesson, swimming or gymnastics enthusiastically watching and cheering on my son as he changed and grew and developed before my very eyes. It was so totally worth it, but it took time to let go of that part of me that wanted to work my ass off, strive for the next promotion, make my clients happy, impress my boss, get to the next level, scurry around being busy and prove myself worthy (of what, I’m not sure?). And guess what? The world didn’t implode because I wasn’t lawyering anymore. To be honest, I missed my colleagues the most. I missed the camaraderie and in-jokes and sense of all being in the shit together. However, missing the people aside, what I learnt is that by stepping away from my career I could examine what it was that I really wanted from my working life. It helped me identify which parts of my working life were making me happy, and which were not. This was huge for me.
2. Perspective is everything
Identifying what I wanted out of my career, and life in general, had much to do with gaining perspective. I had been in a rut (no call that a GIANT crevice) for so long that I could barely see beyond the corners of my desk, let alone have a big picture view of the kind of life I wanted to live. Gaining perspective was made possible both physically, by no longer being cooped up in the office for hours on end, and also mentally, by the head space that I created that allowed me to dream, plan and be creative. As time went on, I felt like the fog lifted and I had the mental clarity to be able to be honest with myself about the aspects about my life that I wanted to change, and the aspects that I wanted to keep and improve. I was able to start thinking about designing a lifestyle with a bit more balance.
3. I am a creative person
I was told to give up art when I was fourteen as I was so bad in art class that my teacher didn’t think I would pass the exam. Rude. I thought my chalk drawing of a badger was pretty great, but my art teacher…. not so much. That single conversation as a teenager meant that I had always seen myself as supremely ungifted, creatively. However, what I learnt this past year is that creativity comes in many forms and it is the process of creating something, not the result, that has the greatest personal impact. Over the course of the year I got my creative juices flowing through designing a blog, cooking, food photography, writing, vision boarding, journaling and creating show and tell presentations with my son (yes, that counts!). I mean, I’m not saying that I did any of these things to the high standard set by my chalk badger, but the sense of satisfaction and pleasure I gained was truly surprising. As the author Brene Brown so aptly says, “The only unique contribution that we will ever make in this world will be born of our creativity”. I’ll just leave it at that.
4. Finding a passion is transformative - where focus goes, energy flows
I think that one of the reasons that the year was such a fulfilling one for me is that I found a passion project to focus on almost immediately. I signed up to a year long online course in nutrition and health coaching. This aligned not only with my own desire to improve my health through nutrition and lifestyle changes, but also allowed me to turn my dream of creating my own wellness coaching business into reality. I threw myself into it fully and intensely and absolutely loved everything about it. I became immersed in a community that was all about the connection between nutrition and health, mutual support, inspiration and transformation and it was such a refreshingly positive world to inhabit. My wellness coaching business Island Nourish was born and I entered the exciting/terrifying new landscape of entrepreneurship. That is a whole other blogpost…
5. Being vulnerable and authentic creates connection
When I started blogging about my wellness journey I was determined that I would be truthful about how I was feeling, my struggles and my victories. I knew that to connect with people, what I said would have to be authentic and to be authentic I would have to be a little vulnerable. This was an extremely big deal for me but in the end, it was an incredibly powerful experience. I formed exciting and unexpected connections with people and made some new like-minded friends in the wellness tribe that thrives online too.
6. Body-mind connection can change your life
When I say that yoga and meditation changed my life I can almost sense the collective rolling of eyes of those of you that haven’t (yet) been converted. But they did. I have dabbled in both for several years but it was only during my year off that I implemented a consistent at-home practice. I am definitely no expert (and have a HUGE amount to learn) but I know that this will be a lifelong practice, and that’s comforting. I won’t bore you with the details (maybe I will in a later post), but I honestly feel that I have tools now that I will be able to rely on for life. I have found that both practices have helped with anxiety, especially flight anxiety, but also with energy levels, focus, gratitude and overall feelings of balance, rest and calm. They have had such a profound effect on my wellbeing, that I feel I can’t quite explain it. For you doubters out there, don’t knock it ‘til you try it. And I recommend you read Dan Harris’ fantastic book, “10% Happier” which is a brilliant examination of the practical application of meditation for those of you who are fidgety skeptics (like I once was).
7. Self help books work
Let’s face it, self help has a bit of a sketchy reputation. I guess you either love it or hate it. I’d never really dipped my toes in until I read Jen Sincero’s book “You are a Badass – How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life” and have never looked back. When I first picked this up, I cringed at the rather obnoxious title but I was at a pretty low ebb and I decided it definitely couldn’t hurt, so I tucked in. I surfaced about three hours later feeling like I’d had a much needed pep talk from a very cool and straight talking best friend. I’ve just read it for the third time. Other than being laugh out loud (I feel like I’m too old for the LOL) funny, Jen offers some really valuable exercises to help identify one’s own subconscious self-sabotaging beliefs and to address them head on, along with some sage advice from the point of view of a woman who has clearly been there and done that. Badass indeed. I also discovered some other great writers on self development namely Brene Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert, Gabrielle Bernstein and Gretchen Rubin. Badasses all.
8. Everyone needs a coach
Perhaps the most transformational thing I did on my year off was bag myself a career/life coach. I found my coach a few months before I had even considered becoming a coach myself. I’d never really considered the value of coaching before. In all honesty, I didn’t really have a clear sense of what a coach could help with and had a vaguely judgmental view (based on absolutely nothing concrete) that it was probably self-indulgent twaddle. HOW WRONG I WAS. My meetings with my coach Jen (no, not Jen Sincero but that would be so cool!), have become such an important, inspiring and enjoyable part of my weekly routine. On a basic level, my sessions with Jen help keep me focused on my big picture, long term goals and aspirations but also help with the granular actions and steps required to keep me on the path that I want to pursue. Put simply, coaching has helped me to understand myself to a much higher level and I have been able to use what I have learnt to overcome certain roadblocks and move closer to the life that I would like to live. I just wish I had found coaching years ago.
Obviously I realise that not everyone is able to do what I did and take an entire year off from work. I know that I am extremely lucky to have had such a luxury. As I said, it was a risky endeavor for sure, but ultimately it became such a valuable time for me in terms of time spent with family, self development and my health that I know I will never regret it. If you are thinking of taking a similar career break I would be happy to talk it over with you – get in touch!