What is A Career Break or Sabbatical And Why You Need One!

If you’re stuck in a rut or burnt out from the rat race, here’s why a career break can be a game-changer for personal growth, career success, and work-life balance.

By Annie André ⦿ updated January 10, 2024  
what is a career break and is it right for you?
what is a career break and is it right for you?

A career break, sometimes called a sabbatical, may not be the status quo; however, if you’re in a rut or burnt out from the rat race, a career break may be just what you need. But what is a career break, and can it positively affect your future career and life?

Do you need a career break?

You’re supposed to get an education, work hard, buy a house, raise a family, and pay off your student loans. All the while stashing money away like a squirrel so you can retire comfortably during your golden years.

Hopefully, by the time you retire, you’ll still be in good health to finally do all those things you put off for later and won’t get run over by a car like my father did the year before he retired.

What if you could take time off before you reach retirement, and what if it could positively improve your life and help your future career?

What is a career break?

Sometimes, you just need to take a break for your sanity.

A career break is an extended period of time where you QUIT your job to do something new, different, worthwhile or different. A career break also gives you the time you need to recharge your batteries so that when you return to work and your normal routine, you’re hopefully refreshed, enriched and have a better perspective and outlook on life.

Think of a career break as a detour on the road of life where you stop the car and take an alternate, more scenic route to your destination while enjoying the sights along the way.

The term career break is closely related to the following terms and is sometimes used interchangeably.

What’s the difference between a sabbatical and a career break?

A sabbatical and a career break are closely related. Both involve taking an extended period of time off from work; however, a sabbatical usually implies that you have an agreement with your employer to take a period of paid or unpaid leave with the understanding that you can return to your job.

Sometimes, a company will continue to give you certain work perks and benefits, but not always.

Fun fact about sabbaticals:

Did you know that taking a sabbatical year goes back to biblical times?

The Torah mandated that ancient Jews who farmed take one year off on the seventh year of the seven-year agricultural cycle. During this sabbatical year or shǝvi’it (Hebrew for Sabbatical year but literally “seventh”), farmers could not plow, plant, prune or harvest.

What’s the difference between a gap year and a career break?

The British have known about the benefits of taking time off for a long time. During the 1960s, 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.

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.

An adult gap year seems to be more closely related to a career break to describe any adult who quits their job or the normal rhythms of their day-to-day life to do something worthwhile, including travelling and working abroad.

Fun fact about students who take a gap year: 

According to research by the Gap Year Association, Gap Year students perform better than their peers who don’t take a Gap Year. The research shows they also report higher job satisfaction, and many students report that their gap year had a direct impact on their career choices.

A career break is not a vacation.

Don’t confuse a career break with a vacation. The major difference between a career break and a vacation is time and what you do. Career breaks and sabbaticals usually last more than a few months and up to a few years. And it’s usually to achieve a life goal, experience or something significant. A vacation is, well, a vacation for a short period of time.

The downside to taking a career Break

If your company doesn’t have a sabbatical policy, and you want to take a career break, you’ll have to resign completely, and your job at that company will not be waiting for you when you return.

How long is a career break or sabbatical?

Because career breaks are typically unpaid, the length varies depending on your goals, financial situation or family obligations, but typically, they can last anywhere from a couple of months to a full year or more.

If you’re lucky enough to work for a company with a sabbatical policy, the length of your sabbatical will depend on your company’s policy.

What Can You Do On A Career Break

What you do on your career break is entirely up to you. In general, career breaks and sabbaticals are not just about taking time off for the sake of taking time off. A career break can be time for personal development, to work on special projects or to raise a family.

Here are more examples of things you can do on a career break.

  • Travel and see the world (read how this person put travel on her resume after a gap year abroad and got a job)
  • Take an adult gap year to move abroad for a year: (Doubts About Moving Abroad? Read How We Overcame Our Fears And Moved To France)
  • Volunteer abroad
  • Learn (a new language, to ski, to sail, etc.)
  • TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language)
  • Take care of a newborn or stay home to raise older children
  • Take care of a sick or ageing family member.
  • Start a business
  • Train for a marathon
  • Learn a new hobby (painting, pottery, sewing)
  • Training or education to stay up-to-date with professional skills
  • Go back to school (get an advanced degree)
  • Recover from an accident or illness.
  • Look after a dependent
  • Spend more quality time with your family.
  • Write a novel 
  • Volunteer Abroad (family programs exist)
  • Training for an adventure career, such as a ski instructor or sailing instructor
  • Pursue a passion or hobby such as painting, writing, marathon
  • Take steps to change careers
How To Change Careers When You Don't Know What To Do How To Change Careers When You Don't Know What To Do

It’s hard enough making a career change when you think you know what you’d rather be doing but what if you have no idea? Here are five ways/resources to help you discover a fulfilling career path more efficiently and more quickly.

Have a plan

Every year, people around the world successfully take career breaks, sabbaticals and gap years.

Taking a career break can be scary, especially if you have a family. You may experience doubts, and the people around you may think you’re crazy, especially if they think you’re committing career suicide. And you may have to get a little creative to finance your career break, but with a little planning, you can do it.

Having taken several career breaks and one gap year to live in Japan, which turned into 3 years, I can honestly say that the adventures you experience on your break will contribute to your evolution. It will also 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.

Below is a TED Talk about the “Power of time off.”

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a 'petite commission' at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase through my links. It helps me buy more wine and cheese. Please read my disclosure for more info.

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Annie André

Annie André

About the author

I'm Annie André, a bilingual North American with Thai and French Canadian roots. I've lived in France since 2011. When I'm not eating cheese, drinking wine or hanging out with my husband and children, I write articles on my personal blog annieandre.com for intellectually curious people interested in all things France: Life in France, travel to France, French culture, French language, travel and more.


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