Meet 3 teachers who had enough and switched careers, including a woman who won ‘Teacher of the Year’ twice

Teacher helping three students in classroom
Teachers have been quitting en masse for years, citing stress as the main reason, according to a survey by Rand Corporation.

  • Millions of Americans are quitting amid the pandemic, including many teachers.
  • Insider talked to three teachers who left their jobs during the pandemic.
  • All three have found new work and have used the skills they acquired in the classroom in their new roles.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Former teacher Carrie Presley won “Teacher of the Year” two of the four years she worked for school districts in Oklahoma and Texas.

As an accountant-turned-math teacher, she told Insider she believed she finally found her calling, but during the pandemic she made a difficult decision: She quit teaching two weeks into the school year after learning she would be required to teach over 30 students in person. Presley was worried about how they were going to be able to follow CDC guidelines while crammed in a classroom.

“I was really kind of stuck between the health guidelines and the environment I was in, and with high-risk family members, I had to choose between my health and teaching,” Presley said.

Teachers like Presley have been quitting en masse for years, citing stress as the main reason, according to a survey by Rand Corporation. Low pay is also an incentive, since teachers make around 20% less than others with college degrees, per reporting from CNBC. And most recently, even more teachers quit during the pandemic because of health concerns. The National Education Association found that 32% of teachers surveyed said they thought about leaving the profession earlier than planned because of the pandemic. Enrollment in teacher-prep programs has also dropped. That’s why the number of teachers in the US hasn’t kept up with student enrollment; two-thirds of 1,200 school and district leaders surveyed by Frontline Education reported a teacher shortage.

Presley hadn’t planned on leaving her job until her health and the that of her loved ones was put at risk. She said the option to teach remotely “would have been a dream” and that it was frustrating to not have the choice.

Teachers want less stress and more respect

Abby Norman quit teaching after a total of 11 years as an educator, most recently at an online charter school. She said enrollment grew last school year during the pandemic.

“Every single year there were more things to do, there were higher expectations and if you had a problem, it was just treated like you were the problem not like there was a problem,” Norman said.

She now works as a bartender in Georgia, which she said is better for her mental health.

Although Norman said she’s making more and working fewer hours now than as a teacher in Georgia, the median annual salary for high school teachers in Georgia in May 2020 per BLS is $61,360 compared to $19,000 for bartenders in the state.

California-based Dustin Ancalade also made a career switch after a total of nine years of teaching, but he said the pandemic didn’t have to do with this change. He was already taking night classes for a year in software engineering. He stayed in education though, working at Stride as a software developer where he said he feels less stressed. He said his gross pay is slightly more now but monthly net pay is similar.

He said he thinks teachers have “marketable skills,” such as leadership and planning skills, that can be transferred to other jobs. Norman said her teaching skills are “highly valued” as a bartender, such as her communication skills.

Since quitting, Presley started a software engineering program and is vice president and head of video production at research firm FSInsight, but she hasn’t completely stepped away from teaching. She too is using the skills she developed in the classroom in a tech role to create educational materials on cryptocurrency and blockchain technology used by institutional and retail investors. She is making more money in tech than as she did as a teacher.

Some school districts are giving out signing bonuses, but Norman said what teachers really need is respect.

“The extra money is nice, but it’s really more about being respected as a professional,” Norman said. “I’m respected as a professional who is an expert at her job as a bartender. Teachers are not respected as professionals who are experts at their jobs.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

A banker quit to become a chef and saw his bank balance drop to $230. Despite burnout and a pandemic, he would never go back.

Juma (second right) at work.
It took Philip Juma seven years to open his first restaurant.

  • Philip Juma left a career in wealth management to follow his passion to showcase Iraqi food.
  • He had no formal training but spent 7 years running pop-up kitchens and working in restaurants.
  • Juma told us about his tough journey and why, despite the pandemic, a 9-5 holds no appeal.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Food has always been part of Philip Juma’s life.

Growing up in London to an Iraqi father and an Irish-English mother, he remembers bringing Iraqi-inspired dishes into school for his friends to try. Food was Juma’s calling, yet he entered the cold, logical world of finance.

He achieved a 2:1 in economics for business from Leeds Metropolitan University, UK, before taking a job in the City, first for a series of wealth management startups, then for UBS.

He was comfortable – earning a salary of around £2,500 (around $3,500) a month aged 24 – but he knew he wasn’t happy.

Working through the 2008 financial crisis took its toll, and food still held a certain fascination.

“I was in a world that just wasn’t aligned with my morals, wasn’t aligned with who I was as a person,” Juma, now 37, told Insider.

He would spend vacations and weekends working shifts in top restaurants, but didn’t feel like he was able to make the jump. He also didn’t want to disappoint his parents.

You convince yourself that this is what people want from you,said Juma of his high-flying finance career.

It took six years to finally make a change.

Juma worked restaurant shifts alongside a consulting gig

He left finance, becoming an account manager at an energy consultancy. It involved fewer hours and meant that he could earn a wage while honing his experience running occasional supper club pop-ups, working freelance as a chef for hire company and covering shifts in restaurants.

To the dismay of his Dad, in 2014 he quit his job in consulting and decided to start cheffing full time – despite being unable to afford cookery school.

“My Dad said: ‘You’re going to quit a well paid job in finance to become a dishwasher?’,” recalls Juma. “It was hard, I hadn’t worked out anything, but knew that I just wanted to put Iraqi food on the map.”

He spent the next seven years in various cookery roles: running pop-up restaurants, cheffing at events, working as a freelance chef, and a stint managing a Lebanese restaurant in London.

A post shared by JUMA (@jumakitchen)

Pursuing his passion meant a serious dent to his finances.

His income dropped from a take-home of roughly £2,500 a month after tax – to taking home around £300 ($500) after he’d cover the staffing, venue, and food costs of his once-monthly pop-up – which would be three days full work.

His income wasn’t always so low, but was inconsistent, based on wedding seasons or on a job-by-job basis.

“It’s very alienating because it makes you ask whether you’ve made the right decision. ‘Of course I should be out for dinner with my friends tonight – but I can’t afford it’,” said Juma.

By the time January 2019 came around he said that he experienced burnout. He had £167 ($230) in his bank account, no savings, and “nothing to show for it.”

Opening at a famous London food market was a breakthrough

But when the doubts crept in, something would generally happen to give him motivation.

Out of the blue, he received a call to train chefs on a Saudi royal yacht. Earlier in his career he’d been offered a column in the Evening Standard newspaper.

Then in mid-2019, he was given the chance to finally make a consistent income. Borough Market, the famed London food market,was looking for new blood. Juma applied, and was accepted.

Borough Market
London’s Borough Market.

Juma Kitchen, his first permanent site, opened in December 2019. It gained momentum, and Juma estimates that he worked between 14- and 16-hour days.

Then COVID-19 emerged, and restaurants had to close their doors.

“Borough was my first opportunity to make a consistent income, and it’s been taken away from me,” said Juma.

He said that he has suffered burnout during the pandemic. Being open on social media about his need to slow down – and the support he received in return helped him find a better balance and learn that it’s okay to step away at times.

Juma Kitchen is open again, but takings are roughly 60% on what they should be. He’s optimistic that when the tourists and office workers return it will “shine”.

In the meantime he’s been able to build his reputation, appearing on the BBC to cook his food, which has received rave reviews, being invited to cook at festivals.

Make the change slowly – don’t jump all in

Despite the challenges, Juma says he would never go back to the stable comfort of a city career, and no longer suffers doubt about his career choice. He says that his parents are very proud.

Nonetheless, he has advice for anyone considering leaving the stability of a full time career: Don’t jump all in straight away.

“Have a mini earner on the side or cut down your hours so you get some income,” he said. “Structure your life so that you’ve still got the safety net that pays all your overheads, but gives you time to pursue what you love.”

“You need to be ready for a level of discomfort that is interrupting what we always think is the norm.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

I quit my job at Google to launch my own media company. Here’s what entrepreneurs need planned out (and in the bank) before ditching the 9-to-5.

Cami Galles.
Cami Galles.

  • Cami Galles is an artist, entrepreneur, and former sales executive.
  • In 2016, she quit her job at Google to launch her own digital media and entertainment company.
  • Before quitting, Galles says she saved up cash for six months of expenses and proved her business idea was viable.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

“I’m leaving Google.”

When I told my boss about my plans to quit in May of 2016, he did a double take. Google was considered the number one company to work at the time, and my promotion to senior account executive of Google’s Marketing Platform was hours away from being announced.

But after a decade of building someone else’s dream, generating millions in sales for my employers, I knew it was time to bet on myself and launch my own digital media and entertainment company.

Although it was a scary risk, and earned me lots of side-eye, I’m so glad I left Google. Today, my business is thriving and I’m proud to call myself an entrepreneur.

These days, people don’t think I’m crazy for leaving a cushy corporate job. Instead, they ask me how they can quit their 9-to-5 and start their own business, too. Before you leave your job, here are the things you really need before you change careers or start your own business.

1. Health insurance

Have a plan for health insurance before you leave your job. A health setback can crush your capital and sink your business before it starts.

Though insurance is a major worry for many people looking to leave their jobs, you can find affordable options. To continue your employer’s insurance for a few months, check out the COBRA options available to you. You can also use Marketplace, a resource to compare prices of health insurance in your state, choose a plan, and simultaneously find out if you qualify for government healthcare. Even if the enrollment window is closed, changing jobs is considered a major life event. That way you can enroll right after you leave your job and seamlessly stay insured.

2. Cash for six months of expenses

Don’t dive into entrepreneurship without any savings. It’ll cause stress, anxiety, and leave your wallet crying for mercy! Try to save at least six month’s worth of cash before quitting your job. That way, you’ll have a comfortable savings cushion to cover you through the first lean months of being an entrepreneur.

3. A determined mindset

Without the right mindset, all the business plans and org charts in the world won’t save you. If you don’t believe your business can be successful, who else is going to believe it?

There are two key traits you should strengthen before you leave your job: Mental stamina and positive reinforcement.

A new venture or career change can take over a year to really take off. You need to have the trust and mental stamina in place to weather the rough beginning so you can see your business thrive.

To improve your mental stamina, keep an eye on your why. You should have a strong reason why you started this business. When you keep that reason in mind, it strengthens your mental resolve and keeps you pumped about your journey (even when your bank balance is less than exciting).

As your business gets off the ground, look for all the positive reinforcement you can find. That could be anything from your first sale to a like on Instagram.

To keep things positive, sometimes that means NOT talking about your business with family members who won’t get it. Of course, discuss this with partners or people directly affected by your career, but the uncle who always criticizes you? He doesn’t need to know. You can give him an update when you’re raking in the dough.

4. Proof of possibility

Look for other people in your field who are making it work. When you see that your business is possible, it gives you more confidence to pursue that path.

Check out your competition and study them. What works for them? What doesn’t? What would you do differently? All that information will help get your idea moving forward even faster.

5. A passive or low maintenance income stream

Going from a steady salary to zero ongoing income can be tough. Try to find a passive income stream to take some of the pressure off your business. That could include:

  • An investment property
  • Selling items on eBay
  • Pet sitting or dog walking
  • Driving Uber on the weekends

If adding an income stream doesn’t work, you can always cut back on expenses. Cancel memberships you don’t need, consider selling your car and using public transit, or get a roommate to save on rent.

6. A quality headshot

This photo isn’t just for your website. It’ll be plastered all over Linkedin, social media, your email signature, other social media profiles, speaking opportunities, and entrepreneurial bios. If a publication wants to feature you, you don’t want to send them a selfie.

Invest in a high quality, professional photograph that represents your unique personality and business. This is your first visual introduction of your brand and it’s worth getting right.

7. Know the answer to “So what do you do?”

You should be able to summarize the value of what you do in just a few sentences.

For example: “I’m a singer and entrepreneur who helps women and brands connect with each other through music, media, and events. That way, my clients experience enjoyment while generating revenue.”

This description can change slightly based on who’s asking the question. Just be sure to include the value you bring and say it with a smile. When you answer this question with confidence, that speaks volumes.

With these tips, you’ll be able to say goodbye to your 9-to-5 and start your business with confidence.

Cami Galles is an ex-Google executive turned entrepreneur with over 15 years of experience spanning music, digital marketing, and real estate investment. Learn more on her website.

Read the original article on Business Insider

6 ways to figure out if your side hustle idea will be a quick failure or a long-term success

side hustle video influencer young entrepreneur
The more you can understand what your audience needs from you, the more you can build something of long-lasting value.

The number one thing I love to do in my free time is brainstorm new business ideas. I find it fun thinking about problems and solutions in the form of innovative, unique, and interesting side hustles. My friends know this about me and at some point, at every dinner or phone call, I ask them if they want to chat about random ideas and see if any of them have potential for success.

While coming up with a long list of business ideas is easy, spending the quality time to check and see if these ideas can actually turn into something requires a series of practical steps.

If you’re collecting business ideas wondering which could turn into long term success and which are doomed for quick failure, here are six ways you can put your idea to the test before investing money into getting a business up and running.

1. Get the idea in front of an audience

Side hustles are created for people to help solve a problem they have in their life. Even if you think your idea is brilliant, it can’t be validated until it’s in front of a group of people, who are your ideal target audience, to see what their response is.

For example, if you’re thinking of starting a career coaching service for women in their 30s who want to make a career transition to another industry, find 10 to 15 people who meet this criteria and spend 30 minutes to an hour understanding their perspective, what kind of coaching they’d like, and how they feel about your idea.

If you are thinking of creating a modern stress ball for those who work in high-energy and fast-paced careers, first spend time chatting with this audience to see if this is something they’d use and then create a test product for them to try out before you build the real thing.

This data will help you pivot or change the purpose of your business. The more you can understand what your audience needs from you, the more you can build something of long-lasting value.

jen glantz
Jen Glantz.

2. Have a pulse on industry trends

It’s common for entrepreneurs to start side hustles in industries they aren’t too familiar with. Sometimes being new can allow you to see what problems no other company has ever tried to solve. Spend time keeping a pulse on trends, projections, and innovations happening within a certain space.

An easy way to help you do this is by setting free Google alerts for topics and keywords within an industry so that you can review daily updates about what’s happening. You can also read industry blogs, listen to podcasts, and attend conferences, all before actually starting and launching your product or service.

What you learn will help you brainstorm ways to make your side hustle stand out and be practical to the ever-changing needs of your customer base.

3. Understand your competitors

Before getting too deep into planning your idea, look into better understanding your competitors. Map out their business plan, identify what they’ve done in the past that’s worked well for them and what has failed, and see what opportunities they haven’t even tried yet.

Once you know the performance of at least three to five competitors, you can really understand how your side hustle can fit into the overall landscape of the industry and potentially service customers in a new or different way.

Look into the marketing of these companies (check out their website and sign up for their emails) and use analysis tools like Rival IQ for help on how your competitors are performing on social media platforms.

4. Eyeball your business plan

A great step to take to really see if an idea has what it takes to grow into a success business is to write out a full and formal plan. Once you can identify how the business will grow and scale, what kind of budget you’ll need, and what the overall solutions are to the problems you’re solving for your audience, you’ll be able to have a blueprint for next steps.

Print out a free business plan like this one and see how much of it you can fill out. Over time, consult with mentors and other experts in your industry to expand on your business plan and see if your idea has legs or is just a decent idea.

5. Chat with a handful of mentors

Side hustle ideas should be shared. The more people with business and industry knowledge you share your ideas, the more you can refine your purpose and product based on their expertise.

Join communities where these experts might be (Facebook groups or conferences) and ask if they will meet with you for 15 to 20 minutes, and come prepared with questions catered to their insights and experience.

6. Be willing to pivot, pause, and plan

A lot of successful businesses started out as something completely different than what they are now. Take Amazon, for example, which started off as an online book seller and has now turned into a platform for buying everything you could possibly need and getting it sent to your doorstep quickly.

If you notice you’re hanging onto an idea that’s not getting a good response from your target audience or industry experts, understand that if you don’t pause, pivot, and re-plan, you might not find the success you’re looking for.

Be willing, as a new entrepreneur, to bend your idea from its original state. Following these steps will help you get clarity on whether or not an idea is worth pursuing.

Read the original article on Business Insider

3 steps to pivot your professional reputation and explore a new career path

career coaching
A reputation pivot is the shift someone makes when their current career is no longer serving them.

  • Lida Citroën is an personal branding and reputation management specialist.
  • If you feel unsatisfied with your current job or career path, Citroën says it’s never too late to consider a professional change.
  • To pivot your professional reputation, assess your new target employers or clients to determine what skills they’re looking for. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

With the onset of the global health crisis in 2020, many professionals and entrepreneurs were forced to consider doing something different as industries struggled, jobs dwindled, or customers stopped buying. In 2021, many of those industries, jobs, and customers are still reluctant to fully engage, leading professionals to evaluate other long-term options.

The past year has been an opportunity for us to pause and reflect on the course we are on. Do I love my work? Do I like being able to work from home, surrounded by family? Do I need additional schooling to reskill or to upskill my abilities? 

Many professionals and entrepreneurs may have a change of heart about their career, find themselves uninspired by their workmates, or find their skills irrelevant to their current work or the market. This, in turn, leads them to evaluate their path forward and make changes.

For these individuals, a new career path brings hope, possibility, and enthusiasm but the inevitable question emerges: Am I completely starting over? When shifting your work, attention, and reputation to a new direction, a reputation pivot can ensure great success.

What is a reputation pivot?

A reputation pivot describes the shift someone makes when their current reputation and career are no longer desirable or feasible, and they want to take the positive assets of their reputation with them to do something very different.

For example, the doctor who seeks to become a children’s book author, the venture capitalist who sets out to become a motivational speaker, the sales professional who launches a food-truck business, or the college football coach who becomes an actor.

When facing a shift, it’s critical to bring forward the qualities, characteristics, and reputation successes that are positive, memorable, and valuable, and, at the same time, shed the aspects of one’s reputation that don’t serve the new audience.

How to pivot

Here’s an example of a reputation pivot: Bruce loved being a popular restaurant owner in his vibrant college town. Each school year, the area was buzzing with young people eager to partake of his varied menu of American cuisine with a Latin influence. They sat at his bar, running up large bar tabs, and dined in his restaurant, which always stayed open late to accommodate their youthful stamina.

When the global health crisis hit, he had to navigate the new restrictions and keep his business running. With fewer college students on campus and seating availability shrinking due to distancing restrictions, Bruce wondered whether his future was in the restaurant business after all.

In talking through what he loved about his work, Bruce acknowledged it was interacting with “his kids,” as he called them. He often had long, heartfelt conversations with them at the bar or dining area. He even joked that some saw him as their “Dad” away from home. This gave him pride, as he’d never had children of his own.

Bruce believed his passion was working with young adults. He wasn’t personally inspired to become a social worker, therapist, or counselor, but helping young people venture into entrepreneurship excited him. “Being an investor means you’re their guide. I can share my experience as a business owner – the successes and failures – and support them through the financial, emotional, and business challenges and opportunities,” Bruce said.

After selling his restaurant, he gathered other investors who had similar passions and more experience in the industry. They launched a small boutique firm, catering to emerging entrepreneurs in specific markets. Bruce marketed his reputation and brand as “Dad” to the young entrepreneurs. His website showed images of him with former students celebrating birthdays and graduations. His LinkedIn profile and online review sites were flooded with kind sentiments from his former patrons, some of whom had now come to him for investment guidance.

Bruce leveraged his reputation as a caring, empathetic, and talented business owner who related to, and had the respect, of young people. He was not focused on investing in hospitality ventures because that brought up painful memories. Many of his contacts from the restaurant and bar business dropped off his priority list, and were replaced by fellow investors, youth advisers, and counselors, and college entrepreneur programs who all referred potential candidates to Bruce. 

Here are three main steps for pivoting, and how Bruce employed them.

1. Inventory current reputation assets 

For Bruce, he started by examining what was working: He knew how to bond with young people, gaining their respect and confidence quickly. He enjoyed being around them, hearing their stories of college challenges and offering support when needed. He was also a well-respected business owner in the area. His restaurant had been a staple in the community for 20-plus years and he was known for being generous (supporting many fundraising efforts), friendly, and insightful. He’d started many food crazes before they became national trends, earning him respect as a visionary entrepreneur.

Bruce was also smart about money. When economic times were tough, he pared down his menu to keep staff employed. When he was forced to shut down indoor dining, he invested in systems to make outdoor dining more comfortable before many of his competitors had done so. When the time came, he was able to sell his equipment and real estate for a handsome sum, even though the nation was still struggling to return to regular restaurant operations.

2. Assess the target audience

For Bruce, the target audience he’d served (literally) for so long was the same group he’d be working with next. He was no longer looking to offer a dining experience to college kids away from home but would now be seeking college-aged entrepreneurs and inventors whom he could invest in and help nurture to business growth.

While he felt he knew the audience, he still had a lot to learn. Bruce created spreadsheets of what he knew, what he didn’t know, and where he could get the needed insights into his target audience.

3. Decide which reputation assets to leverage and which to shed 

Early on, Bruce knew he wanted to retain the camaraderie, support, and father-figure style he’d enjoyed in the restaurant. That wouldn’t change. But he now wanted them to respect his business acumen, self-discipline, structures, and protocols for investment viability. He also knew that some of the casualness he’d tolerated before, which at times bordered on disrespect, would need to stop. This was a new, serious business and he was not in the hospitality space any longer.

With a clear understanding of how he wanted to be positioned (reputational goals), an assessment of his target audience’s needs and desires, and a positioning plan for growing his reputation in this new direction, he was ready to venture out. Bruce kept a close eye on how his value was perceived by his core target audience – the young entrepreneurs – as well as his business partners, the investment community, the media, and the local community. As his business grows, Bruce feels empowered to use the available levers he’s developed to course correct, learn, and scale his offer, and enhance his reputation.

Is 2021 the year for you to pivot?

Have you reflected on your career and realized that what you’ve been doing is no longer inspiring, fulfilling, or meaningful personally or professionally? Pivoting takes thought and strategy, but the time might be perfect for what you can offer. Following the steps above will help you to evaluate your goals and get where you truly want to go, rather than maintaining the path you’re on.

Read the original article on Business Insider

I worked for 25 years before taking an 11-month career break, and learned 5 things that anyone can do to reap the benefits of a ‘sabbatical mindset’ – even without taking time off

Chris Litster
Chris Litster.

  • Chris Litster is an executive at Buildium, a platform that helps property managers become more efficient and profitable.
  • Several years ago when the company he’d worked at for 10 years was acquired, he said goodbye and decided to take 11 months off from working.
  • For him, the benefits were huge, but Litser also says during a year like 2020 when taking time off might not be an option, there are 5 lessons that anyone can add into their daily routine to adopt the ‘sabbatical mindset.’
  • He encourages reframing your professional priorities, taking the opportunity to dabble and expand your network, and embracing a simplified, more personal bucket list.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Several years ago, I was lucky enough to take a sabbatical from work. 

It sounds like an exceptional luxury. It was. I’ll always be grateful for the 11 months I was able to take off in the middle of my career. It was a choice I was privileged to make and a chance few people ever get. 

I’m writing now in a very different context. The crisis of the last year has impacted so many people’s careers in unexpected, challenging and sometimes devastating ways. Many find themselves between careers or exploring new directions. Others are waiting for jobs to come back or new opportunities to surface. 

There’s no getting around how trying this experience is. But one question may be worth asking: Can this time also be an opening to regroup, refocus, and refresh, so that you’re approaching your next opportunity with purpose? 

The answer may be a flat out “no,” and that’s understandable. But for some, this unexpected break may be able to serve as a critical, even strategic, pause on the career journey. I’d like to re-share my experiences and observations in the hopes of helping others “hack” their own sabbatical, whether your break is planned or unplanned. 

Among the most powerful lessons: You don’t need a few months, or even a few weeks, to reap the benefits. A sabbatical mindset can be achieved with no formal break at all. 

Lesson 1: There’s never a perfect time 

Plenty of my colleagues were supportive of my decision to take time off, even though I didn’t exactly have an endgame in mind. But when my kids found out, one of the first things they asked was, “Are you going to be able to find a job again?” It was a more polite version of what a search firm told me: “You’re stupid. You’re in the prime of your career. Taking a year off will make you irrelevant.”  

These concerns are fair enough – but I think there’s an internal voice that lets you know you’re officially burned out. I knew for a while I wasn’t running on all cylinders. And when your work suffers, when your family life suffers, when you’re no longer in the driver’s seat of your own life, you just have to press pause and recalibrate, or you’re heading for trouble

I had a vague plan for my time off. The first six months were going to be purely about rest and recuperation. The second half would be about refocusing on career plans and next steps. Of course, disconnecting and achieving that was easier said than done.

Lesson 2: Embrace a different kind of bucket list

As I drove home from my last day of work, I practically had a panic attack. “What did you just do?!” just kept repeating in my brain. I spent the first several days of the sabbatical just wondering constantly about what was going on at the office and compulsively checking my calendar app. After spending so much time at a company, it wasn’t exactly easy to make a clean break.

But after a week or so, I did stop refreshing my work email. Once I had disentangled myself from work life, the way my energy came back was actually eye opening. And I was able to start filling my days with the things I’d been meaning to make more time for for years. 

We did do a family trip during my time off, but if anything, my sabbatical was about checking off a bucket list of ordinariness. I woke up without knowing what I was going to do that day… and that’s the way I liked it. I had breakfast with my family most mornings. I drove my kids to school. I did the grocery shopping and played tennis and even tried yoga, now that the excuse of “I’m busy with work” wasn’t true anymore. More than any grand plans or life-changing adventures, the opportunity to truly live in the moment and enjoy the people I love is what restored my energy and enthusiasm.  

Lesson 3: Master the fine art of dabbling

To say I didn’t work at all during my sabbatical would be a lie. I was “working,” but it was at a dramatically different pace and with a very different kind of focus than before. 

I made a point of casually messaging and connecting with colleagues and individuals in my network – the kind of people I’d met over the years and really liked and trusted, but never had much time to connect with outside the office. I didn’t have much of an agenda other than catching up and using them as a sounding board while I sketched out the next phase of my life. It was an opportunity to work through exactly what I was and wasn’t looking for next, putting me back in the driver’s seat of my career. With no real end goal to pursue, my ideas had time to incubate, and evolve. 

It turned out, though, that I was engineering serendipity. Opportunities began popping up through conversation, and my new schedule allowed me to explore some exciting part-time collaborations – like an entrepreneur-in-residence role at VC Michael Skok’s new investment firm. Yes, I had planned on not working for a year, but I realized it was a great way to be exposed to all sorts of companies at different stages and test-drive different roles. It let me explore my options for the future in a low-pressure environment that still left plenty of time to be home for family dinner.

Lesson 4: The sabbatical may have to end, but the benefits don’t

These networking coffee chats eventually led to the role I’m in now – running Buildium, a SaaS-based property management software company in Boston. Sure, I had other offers come my way, but because of the reflective time I had during my sabbatical, I knew they weren’t right. This position ticks the boxes that I now know really matter to me: A work environment I love, a mission I believe in, and a balance with family time.

This was the biggest benefit of the sabbatical – I didn’t just get to sleep in on weekdays; I got a chance to reorient and clarify my priorities. I’d been so focused on striving towards an executive role that I forgot what else matters. Taking time off allowed me to find a healthier way to work, and afterwards I learned to prioritize being home at 6:30 p.m. for family dinners every single night. Sure, it wasn’t always perfect, and I sometimes I still found myself answering emails after the rest of the family has gone to sleep. But I wouldn’t give up quality time again for the world. 

Lesson 5: You can find that same perspective without going on sabbatical at all

I’m acutely aware how lucky I was to take nearly a year off. More and more people are taking DIY sabbaticals like me, but I know many people in my life who simply don’t have the luxury of taking an extended break – even a few weeks off is a privilege many just can’t afford. My company does offer all employees a sabbatical for certain tenure milestones, but it’s rare in other corporate environments. 

That being said, I feel that several of the benefits of a sabbatical don’t actually require a formal one. With a little mindfulness, the lessons of an extended break can be achieved on a much shorter time frame:

  • Identify your non-negotiables and stick to them. Whether it’s getting home for family dinner every night or going to the gym every day, if something brings you joy or clarity, make it a priority in your schedule on a regular basis. If you keep putting these things off until you “have the time,” you may miss out completely.
  • When you’re off, really be off. Turn off your email, stay away from the computer, and be present in whatever you’re doing. When I was fully and completely away from work the speed with which my creativity and energy returned was amazing – literally, a matter of days.
  • Make time to talk with people you respect and trust. The casual coffee chat is the first thing to get cut in a busy week, but having this sounding board is invaluable to clarify your goals and hurdles and expose you to new opportunities. It’s a wellspring of inspiration that offers value beyond job offers. 

It’s all too easy to feel like we’re a passenger on our own career journey. Taking a moment – whether with an extended sabbatical break or just on a quiet Sunday afternoon – to ask yourself what you truly prioritize is the best way to put yourself back in the driver’s seat. 

Is your current role getting you where you want to go? Is your work environment helping you make your life richer? No one wants a career where you rack up regrets as fast as bonuses and promotions. Press pause however you can, and you might fast-forward your life in the process.

This version of this story was originally published on Business Insider December 13, 2019.

Read the original article on Business Insider