• Sharon Kelly

How 'Ditching My Desk' Will Help My Career

It wasn’t that long ago that the idea of taking a career break to travel would have been considered career suicide. But now it is far more acceptable, and more people recognize the benefit of taking a break for whatever reason and in particular, the benefits of taking a break to travel.

Taking a career break to travel full time doesn’t just mean mooching around a beach in South East Asia, doing basically nothing for 6 months. Of course, it may include some time on a beach in South East Asia 😀 but can also include exploring ancient cultures and civilizations in Egypt or Ethiopia, or volunteering in Uganda, or wandering around the cobblestone streets of Europe and getting lost in the ancient medinas of Morocco. Travelling full time can mean you can experience history in places like Pompeii in a way that no textbook can give you. It will allow you the opportunity to cross off some long-held bucket list items, such as seeing an opera at La Scala in Milan or riding a camel in the Sahara in Morocco. Travelling full time can be about those fun, unique experiences like driving a vintage Fiat around Florence and the Tuscan hills or floating in the Dead Sea in Jordan. And it can - and in my opinion, should - include those sombre times when you are reminded of the depths of despair and human suffering alongside hopes for peace, reconciliation and 'never again' when walking along Juno Beach in the footsteps of the thousands of soldiers who landed there on D-Day or touring Auschwitz or the Khmer Rouge memorials in Cambodia.

Taking a career break to travel is about life and experiences outside of your previous small corner of it (and sometimes it is about further appreciating just how small that corner was). It is about making connections and the people you meet along the way - some only for a day and some for a lifetime. It is about challenging yourself and getting out of your comfort zone. It is about embracing the highs and the lows, rising to the challenges and accepting the defeat.

During my almost two years of solo travel, I reaped many personal benefits but I also saw how travel can help me professionally as well.

Cultivate a diverse mindset

Whether you fully immerse yourself and live in a foreign country or whether your visit is shorter, taking a career break to travel means experiencing different cultures, often encountering language barriers, which results in you having to hone your communication skills, sometimes finding new ways to communicate. The exposure to diverse backgrounds, experiences and ways of thinking is especially valuable given how diverse the workforce is today.

Renew energy and gain perspective

Even if you love what you do - as I did - after doing it for 25 years, it can be time for a break. Burnout has become a widespread epidemic and taking a career break can be just what is needed to renew your energy and gain perspective. And not only do employees benefit from time away, but an organization will also benefit from an employee with a renewed sense of purpose and drive.

Develop greater empathy

Within an organization, empathy helps with management and collaboration by helping to understand the other person’s perspective. Outside the company, empathy can help you develop and market products and services for your customers. While I feel this was always a strength of mine, travelling only heightened it - whether it be gaining new empathy for travellers or newcomers to Toronto after trying to navigate around the transit system in Brussels within my first week or after seeing young children working all day in the heat and sun in Uganda breaking down rocks to sell to construction companies.

Taking calculated risks

People who are naturally curious and not afraid to take calculated risks in their personal lives will bring these qualities into their professional lives as well. The whole concept of taking a career break is a calculated risk in itself and doing so to travel demonstrates a natural curiosity.

Sharpen decision-making abilities

The ability to make decisions, often in urgent situations and with incomplete data, is a key business skill. Throughout the 20 months, I was constantly weighing the pros and cons to make decisions. And as I was travelling solo, all decisions fell to me. I had to trust my judgement, go with my gut and make changes as necessary.

How else will my career break to travel benefit me professionally?

I had to ask better questions, be prepared but also be flexible, have patience and tolerance, be assertive, handle the unexpected, trust my judgement and pay attention to details

After my career break, I have thousands of pictures and countless memories. I have some new friends and a few souvenirs to decorate my home. But I also have a renewed energy and purpose, ready to take on exciting new roles and opportunities. I have valuable soft skills that enable me to be successful in my next steps. And I will have lots of stories to tell during social times 😀

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