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

gap year for adults. A career break to recharge

What if you could could take a break or quit your job for a few months even a year? Would you do it? I would and I did. Here is what I did 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. But sometimes the weekends or that 2 week annual vacation just isn’t enough to do the things you want or need to do. Take time off from work for a few months to a year, a career break can give you that time. It can also give you a chance to rediscover and give you back purpose in life.

I’ve taken several career breaks and have never regretted it. Most people fear taking a career break because it leaves a big gap on your resume but if you use that time to do something meaningfuul it can easily be explained and can even make your look more appealing to future employers once you return from your career break.

I’ve always grown as a person and achieved things I never would have accomplished while working.

Don’t call a career break a vacation because it is not

Don’t confuse a career break with a vacation because they are not the same. The major difference is that 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 taking a break from your job a “CAREER GAP” or “CAREER BREAK” but these terms seem to be used interchangeably with the terms, “SABBATICAL” and “ADULT GAP YEAR” ( which is different from “Gap Year” apparently).

There are other terms too but these seem to be the most widely used and accepted but career break is the term I will use for this article.

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 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 responsabilities.

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 panting, 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 into work and I needed a change.

Kick start 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 year. 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 ecommerce 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 any 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 worth while including travel and working abroad.

Biblical Times: Sabbatical

Taking time of 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 plow 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.

About the Author

Annie André Is a half Thai, half French Canadian/American freelance writer, digital marketer and author of THE LIVE IN FRANCE GUIDE: an expat travel and lifestyle blog featuring destination guides, inspiration, travel tips, personal advice and anecdotes on working, living and playing in France. ( Equal parts weird, wacky and wonderful).

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