Relocating around the country, raises, stock options, graduating from a cube to an office, getting my first assistant – these were the highlights of my life in corporate America. I managed my career to continuously provide more income, more recognition, and more responsibility. Isn’t this what every single female without kids is supposed to do? After 12 years of climbing the ladder, I realized, maybe it wasn’t what I was looking for after all; instead I wanted to climb Kilimanjaro.
I got my first passport when I was 30 years old and went to Turkey, an ambitious trip for the first time out of the country. That’s when it happened – I caught it – the desire to travel. Not travel to spas or resorts but travel see the world, its cultures, and its landscapes. Specifically I was enthralled with how other cultures looked at their careers, family life, responsibilities, retirement, and spirituality. It was all so foreign to me, a simple Midwesterner.
After that first trip abroad, whenever I took vacation, it was always to somewhere out of the country and I was never ready to come home when my week or two was up. I would meet people from other countries that were doing long-term travel as if it were a typical right of passage that everyone takes. Yet Americans somehow missed this right of passage that the Brits and the Aussies were enjoying. We were like them in every other way, but why were we so vastly different when it came to work/life balance, and international travel? Were we missing some gene – one that was left on the other side of the world when Columbus made the voyage?
I spent the remaining two years of my corporate career miserable in my little white box (that office that I had once longed for), tethered to my blackberry, eating lunch at my desk every day, and sitting through meetings hour after hour. I never really loved work before, but now I really didn’t like it. The term ‘golden handcuffs’ all of a sudden became extremely meaningful to me. There had to be a way to step off the career merry-go-round, even if it was only for a little bit. I started squirreling away my money buying time; time that I would cash in when I took my career break.
I left on a plane from New York to Africa awash in emotions. I was equally scared and excited about what awaited me over the next year. Yet the thought of living out of one suitcase was probably what terrified me the most, and where would I find myself at the end of my career break? Regardless of these fears, this was my mini-retirement; I was confident I’d figure out my next steps by the end. After all, taking this career break was the best demonstration of someone that was willing to take risks and make things happen – something I could easily put a positive spin on when I was job searching again.
My journey took me to new cultures and countries. I lived with locals, took language immersion classes, stayed in villages, dined on rat, stroked live tigers out in the wild, rode elephants, went on safari, scaled mountains (yet sadly I didn’t make it to the summit of Kilimanjaro), learned to sail, studied at cooking schools, traveled with photojournalists, and most importantly became closer to my family and friends through the documentation of my travels via my blog. Along my journey, my plans changed. I discovered a desire to travel within developing countries and I rearranged my itinerary to go to India, Morocco, Egypt, Laos and China. I volunteered in India for a month and discovered a new love; teaching.
My career break lasted for 16 months, yet in reality, it’s still in motion as I am now changing my career and taking the ‘road less traveled’ once again into travel writing, photography, and the world of living abroad teaching English as a second language. In addition, I’m taking the opportunity to inspire and assist other corporate Americans realize that it’s ok to get out of the rat race for a bit and take a break (don’t worry, it’s not necessary to eat rat like I did!).
My outlook has changed; I feel the corporate merry-go-round is still turning whether I’m on it or not. The important thing to realize is that there are a million different merry-go-rounds you can get on; it doesn’t have to be the one that everyone else is riding. I can hop back on at any time, or maybe, I may have just realized that life can truly be whatever you want it to be. Sometimes you just have to take the first leap.
Read more about Sherry’s around the world travel adventures on her blog
View Sherry’s global travel photography