26 October 2011

About 90% of the people we talk to before their career breaks say "I want a career break but I don't really know what to do."

Our responses include "Here are some suggestions...", "What do you enjoy doing?" and "Can I have one of those jelly babies please?"

But sometimes inspiration can come from unlikely places, so here are 6 and a half more unusual ways to choose a career break.


Way 1: Go somewhere on a poster

When I was at school, one of the classrooms had a picture of Neuschwanstein on the wall. I didn't know where it was and wasn't even sure it was a real castle, it looked so much like a fairy tale one. I always thought how much nicer it would be to play princesses instead of being at school. So, years later, when I got the chance to visit, I grabbed it with both hands. It was even better than I expected, and I even took my own poster-quality photo (humour me). Not of the castle, but of the view:

View from Neuschwanstein


Have you ever been entranced by somewhere you've seen on a poster or a billboard? It could be a great starting point for your travels.


Way 2: Fulfil a childhood dream

What did you want to be when you grew up? How far from your childhood dream is your current reality? Of course, you might be perfectly happy with your life even if it turned out differently from what you envisaged when you were a kid. But a career break can be a chance to return to some of those passions - just to remember what it felt like.

I wanted to be a fighter pilot when I was a kid. It just looked exciting - all that zooming around! Of course, fat girls with an alarming propensity to chunder at the slightest non-linear movement don't make terribly good fighter pilots, so it never happened.

Fighter planes

Top Gun has a lot to answer for. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

There's often one key element of a job that appeals to kids. What was it that appealed to you? Was it the excitement, for example, of being a firefighter? Doing something to help people, like being a nurse? Or did you want to spend all your time doing what you enjoy, like football players and ballerinas do?

When you've figured out what it was that made you so enthusiastic about your childhood dream job, you can work on finding a career break that will inspire the same passion.


Way 3: Conversation in the pub

Pub conversations have led to inventions, great works of literature, new businesses and... er... fights. But let's ignore that last bit.

Pubs are the places we go to moan about work, catch up with our friends, and set the world to rights. A conversation here could lead you to helping you make a decision about what career break to choose.

For example, do you spend time talking about things you would love to do "if you got the chance"?

Or, in talking about how to fix the world, have you thought of how you could help fix one little bit of it, through volunteering?

Projects Abroad Pro - IT volunteer in India

This man has decided that helping Indian women learn IT skills is more constructive than sitting around staring into his beer. (Image: Projects Abroad)

And if bitching about the boss is the order of the day in your local - well, what better reason could you have for making a complete change? You can choose the type of career break that will help you get the skills you need for your new job.

And if you don't have any of these conversations (or all your friends are too drunk to say anything helpful), do the pub quiz and decide to go to the first place that comes up in the geography round. Unless it's Scunthorpe.


Way 4: That'll show 'em

Career and travel advice articles tend not to include this sort of thing because it's kind of negative. But it could work for you.

Most of us have been on the receiving end of criticism, negative feedback or low expectations. You might have been lucky enough to be surrounded by people who always encourage you and believe in you. If so, just skip to the next section while the rest of us stare at you with suspicion.

It can feel horrible when someone says you'll never do something, or be anything. It might be something small like "Ha ha! You on a pair of skis?" or something huge like "You'll never amount to anything."

International Academy - skiiers and snowboarders

Yes, this could be you - snowsports schools have a really high pass rate. (Image: International Academy)

These hurtful comments can come from teachers, parents, the school bully, a mean partner, even so-called friends.

But a career break is a chance to show those people - and yourself - that they were wrong. Even if you just want to prove to yourself that you're not the person everyone thinks they know. A career break is a great way of breaking out of your comfort zone - and you'll be with strangers who have no pre-conceptions about you. Brilliant.


Way 5: Have a theme

A bit like the "Childhood dream" suggestion above, this is one that appeals to your innermost desires. Think about the things you're passionate about - your interests and your hobbies, and then think about how you could theme your career break around them.

For example, if you're a bit of a gourmet, you could theme your travels around food. It doesn't just involve stuffing your face (pleasant though that is), it can involve writing a travel and food blog, taking cookery courses, working as kitchen staff at summer camps, volunteering in a food-related community development project - you get the idea.

PGL catering staff

Plus, working while you travel is a great way to fund a cupcake habit. (Image: PGL)

If you're not weirdly into a particular topic, you can theme your career break around something more general, like water. You could learn to dive, do marine conservation, coach swimming, or become a ski instructor (yes, frozen water counts too!).

Sometimes the challenge of incorporating your theme into something irrelevant can be fun - and actually is good exercise for your brain. For example, if your theme was art but you really wanted to do some volunteering with kids, you could suggest you do art classes with them - or even draw them yourself!


Way 6: Follow in someone's footsteps

Edmund Hillary. Ranulph Fiennes. Ellen MacArthur. We've all read inspiring tales of explorers and sportspeople who've achieved extraordinary things.

But while we can't be the first person to climb Everest, or don't have the financial or physical resources to walk across Antartica, we can look to our heroes to help us choose what to do.

Ellen MacArthur

Not only is she a pioneering sailor, she can also work the pixie cut. Emma Watson, take note. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

For example, if you've always admired Edmund Hillary, you could do a trek to Everest Base Camp on your career break. If you want to copy Ranulph Fiennes, you could travel to the Arctic or Antarctica - it's expensive still but within reach, and there are even volunteer opportunities in Antarctica. 

Or if you liked the idea of sailing but fear the loneliness of Ellen MacArthur's solo trip, you could train as yacht crew - this has the added bonus of letting you work while you travel! We've got a blog article on that too.

You could even follow in my footsteps, but you're going to have to get a whole lot worse at packing first.


Way 6 and a half: Reference a quote from the A-Team

This is only half a way because it's kind of niche.

The A-Team used to say "Back in 'Nam" if you remember, a reference to the war (when they were sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit). I went to Vietnam on my career break, and the only reason I went was so I could say "Back in 'Nam" like the A-Team. I absolutely loved it, the locals loved me (because of my enthusiasm for being in their country), and my career break ended up changing my whole life - and leading to this website.

Sometimes the silliest reasons for doing things turn out to be the best reasons of all.

Vietnam - mountains and trees

Vietnam - a lot more peaceful than it looks on the telly.

This post was written by Rachel Morgan-Trimmer, founder of The Career Break Site. She loves it when a plan comes together.