In the Career Break Closet


Are you stuck in the closet – afraid to come out and act like you really want to? I bet you are. In fact – I bet about 90% of you are. You are lurking in the dark, afraid to declare your secret desires, but willing to watch; from a safe place.

You are in the career break closet.

Research shows that about 90% of the people who read online media do not actually participate in the conversation; consumption vs. production. That’s fine, I understand, communicating online isn’t for everyone.

However I’m willing to believe that a percentage of that 90% are not lurking because they want to, but because they feel like they have to. They are staying in the closet because they can’t yet let people know about their career break plans. They must stay in the closet in order to remain at their jobs and while they quietly plan their getaway.

Keith and Amy Sutter from Green Around the Globe share their time in the career break closet:

Keith & Amy Sutter in Jordan In January of 2009 Amy and I made the big decision, to travel the world for a year. And with all of the excitement and anxiety that comes with such a big decision there was one unpleasant aspect that regularly kept us up at night. We now had a huge secret to keep from everyone we knew. There are practical elements to keeping your decision a secret initially. What if you decide not to do it? What happens if something comes up? A family member gets ill, you get ill. There are any number of potential events that could change your plans. So Amy and I went into the “traveler closet” for 6 months. This meant that as we were doing our initial research, reading books, blogs and anything else we could get our hands on, we had to be sure to keep it all under wraps. When friends came over for dinner we had to spend 10 minutes scanning the condo to make sure an incriminating book was not left laying out.

When we did start telling people, starting with close family we had to bring them into our “circle of trust”. We had to make sure we controlled who knew when. Practically it was to make sure we handled giving notice at our respective workplaces on our terms and in a professional manner. We could not afford, either financially or professional, for word of our plans to leak back to our companies before we were ready. The other reason to control the information is so that we would be the ones to personally tell every one of our family and friends. That reason was selfish, we wanted to be there to see or hear their unfiltered initial reactions. One of the best parts of planning the trip is telling the people you are closest to and getting their reactions.

I completely understand this feeling. When I was planning my career break to begin in September 2006, I actually started the planning a year prior to that. Even though I’ve never been married, I likened the planning process to that of a wedding. After all, most people who take a career break don’t simply decide one day and leave in a week; it takes time to shut down your ‘normal’ life in order to branch off into the adventurous unknown.

My year of being in the closet was one of the hardest I can remember. It was full of self doubt, stress, worry, indecision, and temptation. Only my closest friends knew of my plans as well as my family. I thought it was important to ease my family into the concept of my career break; especially my father.

As it got closer to my departure the really difficult things had to start happening. The ones where you knew there was no turning back…such as telling my landlord and subletting my apartment. It was exhilarating and terrifying all at once.

Then there was work. As an IT manager we were always planning out into the future. When we started having to plan out past my future at the company – and only I knew about it – stress overwhelmed me. The thought of committing to things at work knowing that I would be leaving and would never even see or really care about that project was not as fun as once might think. In fact, my sense of responsibility got the best of me when I started having nightmares about leaving my job…the job I hated.

Meet, Plan, Go! So – why I am feeding all of your career break closet dwellers stories that will keep you in the closet? I’m telling you this stuff because I WISH there would have been something like Meet Plan Go when I was in the closet. Hence, it’s one of the driving reasons why we developed the site and the nationwide event.

When you can finally tell people, it makes all of the waiting worth it and sometimes it even comes with benefits! Here’s Warren and Betsy Talbot’s story:

Betsy & Warren Talbot When we made the decision to leave our lives in Seattle to travel the world there was a huge question around when I would tell my employer. After all, I would be walking away from a great job as a Director and leaving a career behind. We set the date for 2 years out to give us time to save and sell everything we own, and as a result we were torn between sharing our excitement with others and the fear of being exposed at work. To help relieve some of the pressure we started our Married with Luggage website/blog using the aliases Husband and Wife.

However, the truth is that keeping the secret was something that I knew I could not do until we left. After months of wrestling with the decision, we decided that the pain of keeping the secret was not worth the risk posed by telling everyone. Thus, 14 months before we were set to leave on our multi-year trip around the world, I told my bosses about our plans. The response was overwhelmingly positive and they have all been more supportive than I could have imagined. In the year since telling them I have been promoted, given a new opportunity to drive change, and have been assured that if I ever want to return the door would be open. After so much angst it was an amazing feeling to be able to share my plans with everyone in my life.

Sometimes coming out of the closet can be the best thing for you! If I can even get one of you closet lurkers to speak up, then it will be worth it! Come on…speak up, tell us about your career break dreams and preparations, ask us questions, and feel free to come out of the career break closet for a little while; your in good company.



Other comments

6 Comments on "In the Career Break Closet"

  1. Gillian on Tue, 31st Aug 2010 10:19 am 

    Keeping our secret was both comforting and anxiety producing at the same time. Comfort in that we had grand plans but didn’t have to answer to anyone and anxiety producing b/c we worried about when we would have to tip our hand. I can totally relate to Keith and Amy’s scanning the house before company came over – we once somehow overlooked the huge world map we had out! We didn’t come out until our house was on the market. It was a hugely positive experience that taught me that secrets are not for me. Our current plan to leave our home town is no secret…except I haven’t exactly told my boss yet…soon enough! Cheers!

  2. Nick Laborde on Mon, 6th Sep 2010 7:57 pm 

    I have to admit I am one of those closet dwellers. I’m slowly getting the word out but like your experience, my main issue is with work. I work in a family business, not my immediate family. You would think that would make it easier but it doesn’t.

    Of course it’s not going be as hard as it is in my own head.

  3. The Career Break – Your Definitive Moment to See the World | AirTreks Travel Blog on Thu, 23rd Sep 2010 5:30 pm 

    [...] suit and into backpack straps, helping people accept the idea that this is not as difficult or antisocial as you might [...]

  4. Kelsey on Fri, 3rd Dec 2010 9:53 am 

    I have to say, I’ve never really understood why people feel the need to hide their travel plans or career break plans. Why keep something so important a secret? If you have friends who would judge you for such things, maybe it’s time to find new friends.

  5. Sherry Ott on Fri, 3rd Dec 2010 10:42 am 

    Kelsey – I agree, I didn’t really keep it from my friends. However, I had to definitely keep it a secret from my employer and so that made things really tricky. Plus – I also had to be really careful who I told in fear of it somehow slipping out and my employer finding out! In a perfect world I would have loved to shout it off the top of the Empire State Building…but instead – I had to stifle it for about a year!

  6. Kelsey on Fri, 3rd Dec 2010 11:20 am 

    True. Then again, that’s part of why when I’m at home I always take jobs that I don’t care about losing or that are temporary in nature!

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