Breaking Free: Five Stages to a Career Break

For me, taking a career break wasn’t what rational people did.  Just quitting work was not “realistic.”  That’s what I had been raised to believe.  To get to where I am now–on a career break in South America since January–I had to go through five stages:

Stage 1: Envy

Having gone through university, I never took the opportunity to study abroad and was always envious of those who had.  My friends who returned from Italy, England and Spain with stories to tell was awe inspiring to me.  Then I had those friends who did the whole backpacking thing after college.  Again, that was a fleeting idea to me because (1) I didn’t have a trust fund and as a 22 year old, I did not have the finances for such an adventure and (2) I was of the mindset that after college I had to get my career started, and that meant entering the job market as soon as I exited university.

Stage 2: Regret

Envy inevitably leads to regret.  A few years into my advertising career, I was working in the New York City office of a company that happened to be based in London.  Upon threatening to resign, I was offered the opportunity to transfer to their London office.  While this was thrilling, my internal self was torn.  Being away for an indefinite period was exciting, but scary.  In my head, I thought about all the moments I would be missing back home and I knew my parents were not thrilled at the idea.  In the end, another company made me an attractive offer and I wound up staying in New York.

Stage 3:  Antsy-ness

One may ask, how can I be bored in a city like New York.  Living in New York, I’m constantly meeting people who are from other parts of the country — people who packed up their lives and took the dive to move to the big city.  I was once expressing to a friend of mine this envious feeling I had toward those people, and my need to take the same sort of plunge.  What she said has always stuck with me.  She told me I was one of those lucky people to have grown up with one of the best cities as my backyard.  For some reason though, I wanted more.  I wanted to live outside of my norm, to live outside of my box.  To live and work somewhere else, outside of NY, had an aura of excitement for me.

Stage 4: Guilt

The year 2008 marked a time of increasing unemployment.  At this point in my career, I had already “lived through” multiple rounds of layoffs at previous companies.  At the time, I was working for a national newspaper, and layoffs were fierce.  Colleagues would come into my office, worried about their jobs and the future of our team.  While I reassured them that we didn’t need to worry, inside my heart, I was truly hoping that my name would make the company cut list.  These thoughts made me feel a bit guilty as I watched the news and read about all the unemployed people struggling to pay their bills.  In truth, I wanted to switch places with them.

Stage 5:  Guts

It was the summer of 2011 and I was working at a digital start-up.  I always considered myself to be a person who did not shy away from a challenge, and I decided it was time to act.  What kept going through my head was the expression, “if not now, when?”  That meant getting some guts, quitting my job, leaving New York, packing up and saying goodbye.

I started to put my game plan together. I would give two months’ notice and travel to South America.  Focused on Ecuador, I started to look for volunteer opportunities in the country and borrowed Rosetta Stone from a friend of mine.

Fortuitously, lightning struck, and in September I was informed that the New York office would be closing its doors.  My head was spinning.  My team members were frantically updating their resumes, while I secretly thought to myself, “FINALLY! The stars had aligned and it was my turn.”


Sheryl Neutuch is a marketing professional from New York who took the plunge.  She is traveling, volunteering, learning and exploring in South America.  She is living her dream.

You can read more about her adventures on her blog, Smiling in South America.

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