Slow down – I’m on a career break

Hello there! I am a Chartered Accountant currently on a career break. Someone suggested I start a blog so I did! Feel free to check it out here or on LinkedIn, and please comment, as I am interested to find out what other people are doing with their career break. Here's week 1's blog. 

Slow down – I’m on a career break

If we are already connected on LinkedIn, you will have seen that I am currently on a career break to establish a better work / life balance for the rest of my professional career. I am calling my weekly post on the topic “slow down” as this is initially what I needed to do when I handed in my notice in January 2017 to step off the career track and head for the stands. However, two months in to my career break, I am discovering that far from slowing down, I have enjoyed a rich variety of activities that look set to provide very fertile ground for my personal development.

Good for you, you might be thinking! Fair enough, and I do not intend this to be a self-congratulatory list of my accomplishments over the period of my freedom from work. I have started this thread to help others considering a career break, and so I want to provide you with something of value for you to take away from reading my weekly post.

My first piece of advice is to look at your personal network. This might sound obvious, but when you are working and your focus is on the day-to-day, you probably don’t think about your wider network, as everyone and everything you need is close at hand and you don’t have time to look any further than your immediate needs. When you consider or take a career break, your network becomes important because you need to look at your community as a whole, personal and professional, and what is important to you in order to plan your future. This includes where and on what terms you will re-enter the workplace, or another phase in your life, such as studying, travelling, self-employment, entrepreneurship or retirement. The way to assess your personal network is to take a pen and paper, draw yourself in the centre and then draw your network around you like a mind map – friends, family, workplaces, colleges, universities, voluntary organisations, clubs, groups, societies, professional bodies, places, countries, hobbies, neighbours – each as a bubble connected to you in the centre of the paper. Reflect the relative size and importance of each of these aspects of your life by the size of the bubble and its proximity to you. Sounds easy, and really obvious, but it is effective in assessing the strength of your community. In our social media age, it may also be worth indicating the platforms on which you conduct your relationships with your network. The first time I did this was on an in-house training course many years ago, before the proliferation of social media platforms, and it was especially useful in helping to identify people in my life who are likely to be supportive, whatever it is I aim to achieve. From a career break perspective, it is also a way of identifying the people in your network that would make good mentors who can advise and support you in your development, and good referees from a career point of view.

The all-important follow up is to seek out opportunities to engage with your network. For most of us, friends and family and anyone associated with our most passionate hobbies and interests are the kind of network we are already engaging with regularly. But what about old colleagues, alumni organisations, and professional bodies? When did you last take advantage of what they have to offer in terms of support and resources? For me, engaging with the ICAEW’s “Comeback Community” for career breakers has been an eye-opener, with great resources in terms of keeping in touch technically and socially. Members – check out the Institute’s many resources at https://my.icaew.com/security . Previously, my relationship with my accountancy institute was via the professional firm I was working for, and was fairly distant and perfunctory, but now the relationship is direct and more personal. The career break space allows you to consider all your personal and professional networks side by side.

If you are interested in the difference between the “purpose and mindset” of social and professional networks, there’s a great infographic at https://econsultancy.com/blog/10755-personal-versus-professional-social-networks-infographic/ based on research conducted by LinkedIn and research firm TNS. It’s all about where we “spend time” and “invest time” when we network – my interest is in the overlap when you are between jobs.

My second piece of advice this week is to check out this book: “The things you can see only when you slow down” by Haemin Sumin, the Buddhist monk found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/haeminsunim?lang=en . A beautiful and practical book, in the fashionable mindfulness vein, and I make no apologies for that. If there is one trend I welcome in the current sabbatical-from-common-sense that is 2017, it is the pursuit of peace of mind.

I am enjoying a career break for what it is – it’s not a holiday, it’s not retirement and it’s not an “adult gap year”. It’s a chance to develop and move beyond the everyday. Personally, as a former “desk jockey”, it has also allowed me time to:

  • Clear out my rented storage unit from my house move 3 years ago

  • Volunteer to visit schools to talk about careers in accounting

  • Start an online course in digital marketing (career break meets career change?)

  • Learn to SUP (stand up paddleboard) in nearby Saltford

  • Help my husband build a small patio at the end of the garden, ideal for taking a morning coffee in the sun, and for chatting with the neighbours (who I barely knew when working)

  • Check out my new pension rights which kick in later this year on reaching 55, and do some retirement planning

  • Finally understand the allure of cryptic crosswords

  • Genuinely offer help and support to family members without conflicting with work responsibilities.

Are you also on a career break, and if so, what are you doing with your time? Or are you considering a career break, but don’t know if it’s a good idea, or even possible? Message me, and perhaps we can explore the pros and cons together.

Until next week!

Anonymous