One Career Break Inspires Another
[singlepic=1799,250,,,right]Brian Setzer experienced his first career break in 2006, taking a leave of absence from his job to travel for a year. That break inspired him to take yet another one four years later, this time leaving his job. He’s now riding his motorcycle around the US before heading overseas. He is documenting his current travels on Bike and Boots.
What motivated you to go on a career break the first time in 2006?
In 2005 I went a on a Grand Canyon rafting trip with my dad. One of the guides went to New Zealand to travel and work for their summer. It got me to thinking how cool that would be. After returning from the trip the concept kept coming back to me. I found Bootsnall.com a month later and realized that there were other people, including Americans, who took career breaks or even left corporate jobs altogether. Upon realizing that I wasn’t alone, the dream that was forming of taking a break to travel started to become more concrete. I wavered between quitting or asking for a year leave of absence. Ultimately, I realized I liked the company I was with and thought that a year trip would be enough.
How did you approach asking for a leave of absence to travel? What advice would you give to others?
[singlepic=1798,300,,,right]My career break started July 1 and I asked for the leave sometime in March. I had planned to wait a little bit longer, but received a call about a potential promotion (and move) before I asked to take a leave. My boss and I were close so I told him about the offer, which he knew about, and that I had planned to ask for a LOA in a few weeks. After his initial surprise he could see how the leave was for me personally and not about my job. His opinion was that if the offer was there now, it would come around again later, and that I should do what was best for me. I agreed and after declining to be interviewed for the promotion submitted my request for a one-year leave of absence.
As for advice, I think that talking to my boss first helped so that I could explain where I was coming from instead of handing him a letter out of the blue. He wasn’t the one who was going to make the decision regarding if the LOA would be approved, but it was nice to have him on my side early on. I didn’t know about anyone asking for something like this before and didn’t know how it would go over. To my surprise it was very smooth. Within a week our VP of Operations said that he couldn’t say exactly what I would be doing when I came back, but that they would find a job for me. After a few calls and emails from HR it was all setup.
You said in your website that things didn’t go exactly as planned on your first career break. What obstacles did you run into and how did you overcome them?
Yes, I wasn’t referring to the normal itinerary changes that always appear with a big trip, this was health related.
My plan was to spend 3 months traveling in the US driving Oklahoma – Illinois – Oregon – California and then 9 months around the Pacific and SE Asia. Two months into my trip I woke up in the middle of the night and could barely move. I had a severe pain in my back that appeared out of nowhere. After trying to crawl my way around for a couple days I knew I needed help. I drove to my sister’s in Portland and a week later flew to San Diego where my parents lived.
After getting an MRI I was put into the hospital to treat an infection in my spine. At that point I was using a walker to do what little moving I could and was simply relived that they found something they could work on. I was in the hospital for two of the next four weeks and on a six week IV antibiotic treatment after that to get rid of the infection. No one ever figured out what it was or how it got there, but they were able to get rid of it. After that was 6 weeks of physical therapy to return my range of motion.
[singlepic=1801,300,,,right]I was ok in early December and went to Australia with my family for three weeks as a test. (They had already bought tickets to meet me on my trip for two weeks at Christmas.) Once that trip went well I came back and bought a ticket to SE Asia for the remainder of my time off. In all I lost about most of 5 months of my year off.
I’ll also quickly mention that I have Ulcerative Colitis which is similar to Chron’s Disease. I knew that going into my trip and chose to do it anyway. In preparation, I had stockpiled medicine ahead of time as best I could. Mainly though, I have learned to listen to my body and know when to back off. Having chronic (and unplanned) illnesses are something that can be dealt with to travel.
I’ve been involved in the travel community since 2005 and can’t remember anyone coming back saying they regret it. Usually the question is, “when can I do it again?”
Upon returning to the US, what was the most challenging thing about returning to your job?
I ended up coming back to the promotion at a different location. Simply moving up would have been a challenge on it’s own, but this was a job situation that was by far the most difficult I’ve ever been in. I was immediately working long stressful hours just to get by. A far cry from how I’d spent the previous year.
Oddly, one of the hardest parts for me was getting all of the policies and procedures back into my head. After not thinking about them for a year they tend to get a little fuzzy. I’d be in a conversation with my boss and he was taking those things for granted before moving onto other issues. Identifying and troubleshooting problems at the new plant was actually easier to dive into since each of them are looked at uniquely and you aren’t relying on a set of rules on how to proceed.
What things did you learn on the road that you applied to your career?
[singlepic=1797,250,,,right]I learned a lot about how to give orders that could be followed and asking critical questions. When you’re on the road most of the tour guides, hosteliers, etc are dealing with a new group of people everyday and aren’t always concerned about your personal experience. As I picked up on this I became pickier about who I chose to provide my services. I tried to be clear about what I was expecting from a tour or room and find out if what that is what they provided. I’m a very laid back person and I wasn’t doing this as the ugly American. I was mainly trying to find out if what they were going to do anyway is what I was after. There are always going to be changes and the unexpected, that’s part of the joys of seeing the world. Still it developed my abilities to know how to give clear directions and ask questions to find out the information I needed.
Now you’ve decided to take off again, did you prepare differently for this break? What motivated you to do this again, this time cutting ties from your job?
This time was very different. Instead of thinking that a year break would be enough to see what I wanted to, I am accepting that my travel bug is really a flu and trying to incorporate that into my life going forward, whatever that brings. I also own a house this time, which I am still trying to sell – anyone interested?
If I return to a career it will be closer to friends and family where I haven’t lived for a long time. That is a long ways down the road though.
[singlepic=1800,225,,,right]You are actually taking the first part of your break and traveling through the US via motorcycle. What has been the most surprising thing so far on your journey?
This trip is just getting going, but I really enjoyed New Mexico. I love open spaces and natural beauty. Deserts are very subtle – they make you slow down to find pockets of color and hidden wonders. In two weeks I saw so much – Carlsbad Caverns, the International UFO Museum, White Sands NM, Native American Ruins and Rock Art, Santa Fe, Los Alamos, great stuff.
Any advice you can give someone who is considering asking for a leave of absence for a career break?
Put yourself first. Decide what’s important to you and then find a way to make it happen. I find travel rewarding and enriching so that’s the path I chose to follow. I’ve been involved in the travel community since 2005 and can’t remember anyone coming back saying they regret it. Usually the question is, “when can I do it again?” Each situation is going to be different about how much time should you give or how long to go for. Once you’re moving towards an end you desire you’ll find a way to deal with the challenges that appear.
Enjoy your break and I hope to see you out there!