Are Societal Pressures Stopping You?

When pondering the idea of a career break, there are a multitude of hurdles one has to overcome. We have touched on the “career fears” that prevent one from embarking on a career break. Another fear we come across are those that society places on us. Many people can’t relate to taking a career break and veering off the expected path in life – and those people are the ones that can make you question your own decision.

Many of our career break experts for Meet, Plan, Go! share the reactions they received when telling family, friends and colleagues about their decision to take a career break to travel. And you may be surprised by how positive people can be.

Meet, Plan, Go! NYC Panel

So what were some of the reactions our panel received?

Brook Silva-Braga (A Map for Saturday)
Co-workers and family were surprised such a career-focused person would up and leave. They didn’t understand my ambition transcended money, it was an ambition for accomplishment and adventure in various forms. But in my experience very, very few people took a negative view of the decision; they were jealous or perhaps confused, they didn’t think it was realistic for them (for a series of dubious reasons) but they thought it was a cool idea.

Jennifer Baggett (The Lost Girls)
It definitely helped that I was going to be traveling with two other women as I think our family and friends mentally thought the decision sounded more structured and a bigger, more “legit” deal doing it together. But I was still very surprised at how supportive everyone in my life was including bosses. Of course my boyfriend at the time (who I was at a major cross roads with relationship-wise) had a tough time accepting the decision – one that ultimately broke us up – but my uncertainly about the relationship was one of the factors that made me decide I wanted to leave NYC and travel.

Although partly fueled by society, but more so just personally, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to achieve certain milestones by a certain “magic” age (getting married, having kids, scoring a high level position in my career, etc.).  So at first I viewed the trip as a last big hurray before I had to buckle down and get really serious – a sort of “well, I’m about to turn 28 so it’s now or never to do this before settling down” attitude. Interestingly, by completely removing myself from my present (and then pretty stagnant) situation and getting out and seeing the world drastically changed my attitude and self-imposed deadlines. Now, at 32, I’m much happier to take things a day at a time and not worry as much about when I achieve certain goals or whether or not society accepts certain things about the way I live or choices I make. And making bold decisions to travel or take time off to write my book or switching jobs when something wasn’t working ultimately made me more successful and opened more doors than if I’d taken the safer route.

Michael Bontempi (Briefcase to Backpack)
It is in this category alone that I think was the true inspiration for Briefcase to Backpack. It was eye opening to me that we live in a business environment that truly does not value the individual. I say business environment as I have friends who are academics who take periodic sabbaticals with the intent of bettering their skills for the benefit of the university.

For me, this was purely a selfish act that had a specific purpose for me. I did not leave my job for a career break, I left my job because I had hit a plateau and it was time for a change.  What I chose to do next is take a career break.

Sherry Ott (OttsWorld)
Some people like to ski down a mountain at deathly speeds, I like to shock people with unconventional life choices. To each his own. I told my family 2 yrs early so they could get used to the idea. Since I didn’t come from a big ‘travel’ family, they were quite confused at first. My father was concerned about my career, stability, future.  My mom’s reaction – “Why can’t you just travel in the US for a year instead of leaving the country!” I had already had experience with ‘bucking’ societal norms as a 36 yr old unmarried, single woman who didn’t want kids.  But leaving my career brought this to a new level. Most work colleagues were supportive & excited for me; my boss and Sr. Executives weren’t quite as supportive though when I sprung my resignation on them with 2 wks notice. Friends embraced it completely and many joined me along the way in my travels.

Brian Peters (No Debt World Travel)
My parents – OK really my Mom – were worried while I was on the road. Otherwise all my family and friends were excited for me. Some admitted they were jealous. Some assumed that it took a lot of money for long term travel, which is part of the reason I continued my blog and wrote my book after I came back. American society focuses on work and making money. I heard a lot of “I wish I could do what you are doing.” When I ask why they haven’t they give the usual excuses: job, mortgage, career, kids, money, etc. Most times they just don’t think it is possible for them and so they don’t even pursue it. If they did even the preliminary research, they would find it is really within their grasp. They just have to reach out and grab it.

Marie Elena Martinez (Marie’s World)
Most people were very excited for me, though I did encounter some jealousies, and tried to tune them out. I heard a lot of “I wish I could do that,” and now, having done it — I can reply “you can!” My mother was supportive, if not worried. My sister, a stay-at-home mom whose idea of a vacation involves fruity drinks and expansive stretches of sand thought I was crazy, but wasn’t shocked. My father, however, gave me a really hard time. He is of the school that you work at the same company for 30 years and retire with dignity and accolade.  He refused to read my blogs, and until I started gaining recognition through my writing, we fought often over my decision to travel. Inwardly, this caused me a LOT of angst. With respect to work, I was headed for a promotion, I was a rising star, and I think my superiors were shocked. I had always openly expressed a desire to travel extensively throughout my working years, I just never acted on it.

Michaela Potter (Briefcase to Backpack)
I always made travel a priority in my life, so I was never bothered by people’s reactions. To me, climbing a corporate ladder, finding a husband, settling down, etc… were never priorities. And because I’ve always been proud of how I live my life, people are very excepting of my travels. In fact, people now associate travel with me and I feel like I let people down if I don’t have any travel plans in the works!

And luckily, I met and married a man who embraces my values and priorities. I did a lot of extended travel and took career breaks before Michael and even while we were dating. And during our career break in 2007 is when we even got engaged.

So my advice is that if this is important enough to you, stand behind your priorities, be proud, and others will respect that. If they don’t, you shouldn’t feel badly about it.

To read more on overcoming hurdles, check out the following articles and resources:

What are some societal fears holding you back?

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3 Comments on "Are Societal Pressures Stopping You?"

  1. Jenny on Tue, 28th Sep 2010 12:30 am 

    Most people are extremely supportive of my decisions to travel. However, I do have to deal with some haters. Some people are miserable with their own choices in life so they want to hate on those who make positive choices. Misery loves company right? I’ve been called self-centered by a few key people in my life (namely family). I don’t think I’m self-centered… I mean is it selfish to want to live a life that makes me happy? If that path is unconventional does that make me a selfish person because I didn’t choose the path that everyone else takes?

    Most people have a case of the jealousies, but are extremely supportive and happy for me. A lot of people talk to me about their dreams, but then follow by an explanation of why they can’t be done. I think if you follow through on one dream you get a skill-set that allows you to see that anything can be had. A very valuable skill set to have.

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  3. Go vs. Stay – Seeking an Adventurous Life in the Midst of a Stable One | AirTreks Travel Blog on Thu, 7th Oct 2010 6:25 pm 

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