Career Break

Today, during a conversation with one of my work husbands, the words “Career Break” popped into my head. Completely out of context of our discussion but that’s just how my head works sometimes. Random things pop up and I’ll have a little jaunt down memory lane. Don’t get me wrong, our discussion wasn’t boring. My brain just works in mysterious random multitasking ways.

Back in 2002 when I have had only 4 years of professional experience in the structural engineering consulting field. I decided to pull the plug, it wasn’t because I hated what I have chosen as my ‘career’ nor did I hate the people I worked with every day. Honestly, I got spooked.

My father’s generation, heck even as recent my brother’s generation (9 years age gap separates us) believed in loyalty and would work for the same company until retirement – with joy & satisfaction OR not. So it’s not surprising that many of my mentors have worked in the same firm since finishing high school, college or university. However, some people chose familiarity and comfort over true happiness. They stay in their company or line of work past that point and their bitterness, resentments and general malaise grows inside and eventually becomes infectious.

After graduation from engineering school, I chose not to practice as a typical engineer. I knew myself. Back then I tended to give myself unnecessary stress and I had a preconceived notion that I would over worry and doubt my designs every step of the way. Personally, I wanted to be able to sleep at night and not second guess myself and my work. So I chose the ‘easy’ way out. I chose to be in the production team, generating the drawings by using computer aided drafting softwares after the engineers came up with the design. It worked out for the better as I could understand their designs and was able to point out potential mistakes.

After 2 years with a well known, historical firm in Toronto I left for what I thought would be greener pastures. Mind you my first firm gave me a well rounded training and I am grateful for the knowledge. Firm #2 gave me the chance to work on my first overseas, large scale project. It was an office tower in London England. I learned more, I grew professionally and enjoyed the challenges that came with the job.

However, I sat beside a man who’s worked at the firm for 40 years. He’s well respected, well known and very knowledgeable – yet, with his retirement within months I sensed his bitterness on a constant basis.

I would go home to my then boyfriend and be afraid that’s how I’ll be in 30, 40 years or worse. Unsatisfied, unhappy, resentful of my job of the career I’ve built for myself. I want to look forward to and enjoy a well balanced lifestyle that I am happy with physically, emotionally and mentally – a mixture of family life, travel and work. I wanted to know that I can be more than just an engineer or CAD operator.

So I started thinking of exit routes, alternate careers I may enjoy. No one including myself would believe or could fathom what I came up with – floral design.

I planned a dream fulfilling trip to Europe with the boyfriend and handed in my resignation. About 95% of my family, friends and colleagues thought I was crazy for leaving a prestigious firm with a bright career ahead.

Sadly my father passed away from cancer while we were in Europe. I stopped short my travels and flew to Hong Kong to be with my mom and family. As I didn’t have a job to return to, I was able to spend a bit more time with my mom. With the death of my dad, I gained more perspective of the life I want to live.
I want to live my life fully. Live with no regrets.
My father spent his whole life looking out for others, taking care of others and neglected himself and his health. He did everything he can to provide what he never experienced, as a child, to me, my mom and my brothers.

The result was 2 years of exploration into the world of flowers in retail shops and studios. No more 40 to 70 hours work weeks. The pay was much less but I got to be surrounded by beautiful delicate flowers and plants every day. I got to help people celebrate milestones in their lives. I even thought of owning my own flower shop.

Then the condo I had purchased with my boyfriend was constructed and ready for us to move in – I returned to the better paying world of consulting engineering to afford the mortgage payments. However, there would be more career breaks in 2008 and 2012.

Since leaving consulting engineering in 2012, I have taken university courses to explore alternate careers. I have spent most of 2013 traveling and learning from different cultures and gaining different perspectives in life. I am on a spiritual journey and getting to know my true self, each step of the way. I am now in the beginning phases of co-creating the life that I truly want for myself…

These days companies are more understanding, some offer personal days, paid leave, unpaid leave. One incentive that I’ve heard of and the one that I like best is the one where the company helps you literally bank time or money such that while you’re at work you get paid 75% of what you earned. Then when the time comes, you take leave and they continue to pay you from the amount of time you’ve banked.

If it’s time to unwind, reflect on what you need and if that 2 week annual leave isn’t going to cut it. Talk to someone and see if you can take additional time off work. These days its easy to start a job because we all need money to pay those bills and put food on the table so we can survive. At the same time, do not let money be the reason for you to stay. I have changed how I view and spend money to afford my career breaks and travels. Time away from the hamster wheel and see double check if you are on the path that you intended for yourself – can be life changing and very rewarding in the long run.

Some questions to consider…

Does your current job or career make you happy?
Do you go to bed with a smile even after a long day?
Do you wake up in the morning with energy and a light heart?
If not, What would make you happier? Is there something you can change?

Career breaks can be whatever you want it to be.
Try out a completely different career.
Can you make money from your favorite hobby?
Take time off and enjoy a hobby.
Call it an “early retirement”.
Put yourself first and foremost. If you are taken cared of there is one less person in the world that needs help and in turn, you can offer yourself to help others.
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