Adult Gap Year: How Taking Career Breaks Helped My Career And Life 

By  Annie André

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gap year for adults. A career break to recharge

What if you could take a break or quit your job for a few months or even a year? Would you do it? Here is why I took a career break and how it actually helped my career

Why take a career break?

Everyone needs to get away for a while—to recharge, reset and do the things that matter to you.

Unfortunately, that 2-week annual vacation just isn’t enough to do the things you want or need to do. Taking a few months off from work can give you that time. It can also give you back a little purpose in your life.

It can be scary taking a career break because of that employment gap it leaves on your resume but if you use that time to do something meaningful, it can easily be explained and can even make you look more appealing to future employers.

I’ve taken several career breaks and have never regretted it.

A career break isn’t a vacation

Don’t confuse a career break with a vacation because they’re not the same.

The major difference being, a career break usually involves time off from your main job or career to achieve a life goal or experience something significant.

Some people call a “CAREER BREAK” a “CAREER GAP” but these terms seem to be used interchangeably along with “SABBATICAL”, ADULT GAP YEAR” and Gap Year”.

How long do career breaks or gap years last?

Because career breaks are typically unpaid, the length varies depending on your goals, financial situation and obligations but typically they can last anywhere from a couple of months to a full year. Most people cannot sustain a career break longer than one year due to financial reasons and responsibilities.

What can you do on a career break?

What you do on your career break is entirely up to you but here are some examples of things people are doing on their career breaks.

  • Take care of a newborn or stay home to raise older children
  • Volunteer Abroad (family programs exist)
  • Education: Studying to improve your skills or get a degree
  • Training for an adventure career such as a ski instructor or sailing instructor
  • Start a business
  • Prepare for a career change
  • Pursue a passion or hobby such as painting, writing, marathon
  • Travel: see the world, learn a new language
  • Paid work abroad to fund your travels: Possibly outside your career field like teaching English, waitress, tour guide, au pair etc.

Here’s what I did on my two breaks.

My first career break

When I was 29, I had a good job that I hated.  I was newly divorced ( married way too young) and I needed time to get grounded while taking care of my two toddler sons.

With a little savings in the bank and no child support, I quit my job to accomplish three things.

1- Stay home and take care of my kids.

2- Support myself with a job I can do from home

2- Prepare for a career change. I was working as a corporate Treasury and Foreign Exchange analyst and I was burnt out. Most of all I dreaded going to work and I needed a change.

Kickstart the entrepreneur in me

I knew that I could transfer my skills and talent for working with numbers into a job working as a web or marketing analyst but with no experience in this field no one would hire me.

Solution: I created my job and taught myself what I thought I needed to know. That was my first foray into entrepreneurship.

Ultimately I achieved all of my goals. Best of all, I was hired as a web and marketing database analyst with a salary increase.

My second career break

10 years later, It’s now 2011. I’ve since taken a second career break which has lasted for about 4 years. My break started back in 2007 when the company I worked for had a massive lay off. (Thank You silicon valley).

The timing couldn’t have been better. I was ready for another career change and it just so happened that I was remarried and had a newborn on the way.

So I did it all over again.

Entrepreneurship Again

This time I used my layoff as a catalyst to launch my new career and create an e-commerce store.  It was a lot of work but I handled all aspects of running my shop including designing and creating handmade sleeping masks to sell in the shop.

I ran my shop from my home for 3 years. It was very fulfilling and I know if I wanted to get a job in this field I could. But I don’t want to work for “The Man” anymore.

Travel Long Term / Live abroad

Something happened to me and my values. After being home with the kids, my husband and running my business the way I want to I realized that I enjoyed all this personal freedom.

I also realized that I missed travelling.

So here I am now after almost 7 months of planning with my husband.  I am living in France with my husband and three kids since October of 2011. Before this, we lived in Montreal for 8 months and Maryland for a few months visiting family and friends.

Entrepreneurship A Third Time Around

While in France, my goal is to build a portable business based on my passions and talents which I can run from anywhere as long as there is internet access and somewhere to plug in my computer.

Some might call me a lifestyle entrepreneur and digital nomad (for now) rolled up into one because I’m building a business and hopefully a career around my life rather than a life around my business. One that I not only enjoy and am good at but also pays the bills while giving me the mobility and freedom to work when and where I want.

But these are my goals and intentions, yours will no doubt be different.


You might think that career breaks, gap years and sabbatical are a new fancy or a passing trend.

I can assure you, taking a career break is not a new idea.

It’s not reserved for middle-aged people having a mid-life crisis.

And It’s also not just for wealthy people with a huge savings account.

As I mentioned earlier, I took my first career break over 10 years ago. And even before that, I took a gap year after high school to live and work in Japan and travel around Asia that turned into three years.

I thought I was a trailblazer but I know now that taking time off from work and life is an old concept.

1960’s: Gap Year

The British have known for a long time the benefit of taking time off. During the 1960’s, they coined the term GAP YEAR to describe an adult who took time off from life to travel or work abroad. The British also use the term A YEAR OUT. I had never heard of this term until recently but apparently, it’s widely used in Britain.

Since then, the term gap year has grown in popularity, especially among Americans and perhaps by coincidence, it seems to have taken on a new meaning. Now a gap year is mainly used to refer to younger people taking a year off from school, before college or even during high school.

While an adult gap year seems to be more closely related to a career break in that it is used to describe any adult who quits their job or the normal rhythms of their day-to-day life to do something worthwhile including travel and working abroad.

Biblical Times: Sabbatical

Taking time off from work goes back even further than the 1960’s. Back to biblical times. Every seven years, the ancient Jews who farmed took a year-long break during which time they were forbidden to plough and work their lands. They called it a SABBATICAL YEAR.

So there you have it. Taking time off has been around for a long time. It’s here to stay.

Have a plan

Taking a career break can be scary especially if you have a family. It requires a lot of planning. You may experience doubts and question yourself not to mention all the Nay Sayers who will tell you that you are committing career suicide but don’t let that stop you if you.

Having taken several career breaks and gap years, I can honestly say that the adventures you experience on your career break will be something you remember for the rest of your life. You won’t regret it if you plan it well. Life is nothing without a little ADVENTURE.

  1. I have been on the road for 7 years now, a permanent gap year doing jobs around the world and there is no letting up. I couldnt agree more that a gap year is a great way to spend some time after college or between jobs to readjust. Or you can do it like me and make it a full time gig.

  2. Hi Annie,
    Thanks for the advice! I really appreciate it ;) I think it will be a f/t job preparing the kids and us for this change. LOL, I love what you said about bribery! Sounds like us too! Knowing we will only be gone a year might be ok for the kids..in that it’s not permanent. I hope we can save $ too for trips while we are there (out East I mean) and that should keep them busy. I’ll definitely keep in touch about how things go…thanks again! Joanna

  3. Hi Annie,
    Just connecting with you again..my husband and I are still planning for his sabbatical in China next year…we should know by spring if all is a-go. Any hints on how to convince our teens (13, 15) that it will be a great experience? They really don’t want to leave their friends, sports, Facebook, comfy bed etc. We’re talking tears here..sigh. Thanks!

    1. Hey Joanna,
      thanks again for reconnecting. We are in France now for the next year. We’ve been here since October 5 2011.
      That’s rough about the kids. I know with my kids it was hard the first year we left our home in california. It made it very stressfull for me because they were so stubborn at first and wanted to make a point or stand about how unhappy they were.

      I tried to find a bunch of activities for them to keep their mind off of their friends off home.. I also had to resort to bribery. I know it sounds awful. But it is a big change for them.

      is there activities you can sign them up for in advance to keep them busy in the beginning? If they are going to school it might help but homeschooling is going to be rough on them with no social interaction. (speaking from experience). I gave my boys a computer to share and they can skype with their friends. It’s free you just need internet access. My sons are also 15 and 13. And ever since their friends found out we are living in France they tell my boys how cool it is. Now that their friends think it is “cool” they seem to accept it much better.

      Also, i recommend teaching them about the culture before you leave. And learning the language too. Rosetta stone is a good one to use. You can get a used copy on ebay as they are quite pricy but worth it. The more your kids know about the place where you are going the easier it will be, relatively speaking.
      Hope that helps. I know it’s not much but i’m sure you will figure it all out.. Good luck and keep me posted. i would love to know all about your trials and tribulations.

    1. Hey Eugene Thanks for the welcome back. while i was away i was planning out a new content strategy for my blog to give it more focus. That and we move to France. I am lovin your content strategy hub.

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