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How to take a career break

Photo by Derek Owens on Unsplash
From building in rest periods to taking extended sabbaticals, raising a family or reassessing your career, here's how and when to take a break even when you love what you do.


When was the last time you made a major life decision that wasn’t somehow related to your career trajectory?

Maybe quite recently – a choice about your family, the city you live in, the relationship you’re in, your mental health or even physical health may have created a life-changing shift that has no correlation to career ambition.

But maybe it’s difficult to recall the last time you interrupted your career or took a break. When you do something you love it can be difficult to determine what is done for work and what is done for ‘life’; the relocation to a new city might be for work, or friendships can cross over into collaborations, and hobbies turn into side projects or lead to job opportunities.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with making decisions that relate to one’s career, the constant blur and balancing between work and life requires an additional level of attention to find the choices and experiences that are just for you – not your success, not your portfolio, not your status.

To demystify the logistics and discuss both the anxieties and practicalities of interrupting your career, we asked a range of creatives for their advice on taking a guilt-free break even when you love what you do.

A decade-long pause 

For members of the band Art of Fighting, taking a 12-year break was circumstantial rather than a formal decision, explains member Ollie Browne.

‘We’d finished doing all the touring for third album Runaways and to a degree there was some artistic burnout, but also most of us had young families or day jobs, so let the band take a backseat in our lives for a while.’

Taking a break was free from career-anxiety, added Browne. ‘We’ve never been a particularly careerist band as we’re aware that the kind of music we make is not really a mass-commercial prospect, more a keep-doing-what-we-love-and-keep-the-lights-on kind of thing.’

Being independent helped ease any financial pressure that might come with a pause. ‘Because we’ve mostly always paid for the making of our own records, and then licensed them to labels individually per territory, we’ve often had enough savings after an album and subsequent tours to be able to make another one.’

The intervening years allowed the band to gather life experiences to build new songs, explore new themes and reset the band before making another album.

However, one major adjustment has been adapting to the changes in the music industry, particularly in how music is now accessed and discovered. ‘From a marketing perspective that fundamental shift left us reeling a little when we started to gear up for announcing our return and messaging the new album. If it happened again we’d consider hiring someone to manage our digital presence, as it really is a full time job,’ added Browne.

The year-long pause 

Spending her twenties juggling arts administration jobs alongside independent performing, producing and touring schedules, Bethany Simons realised she needed a change, and decided to do get a visit Europe for six months ­– which expanded to a year-long ‘radical sabbatical.’

Just before she departed for the career break, she experienced pre-departure jitters. ‘I questioned the whole thing. I poured my heart out to a friend and realise just how grand my secret plans were: sort out my life, write a new theatre show, fall in love.’

‘I poured my heart out to a friend and realise just how grand my secret plans were: sort out my life, write a new theatre show, fall in love.’

Taking the pressure off for the year-long pause helped ease the anxiety that can come with a career interruption. ‘My wise friend told me to strike all of my grand plans and just have a coffee in Europe. It was the best advice I could’ve been given – and I ended up visiting 29 countries.’

Savings were essential in the feasibility of having the time off, as was negotiating flexibility with her day job. ‘When I began dreaming about adventure and change, I thought it meant having to quit my job. As it turns out, my boss was willing to hold my position and kept me on working remotely, two days a month. I realise that kind of flexibility is rare, explains Simons.

Setting a spending limit was also helpful. ‘I decided I didn’t want to return broke, so I set a limit and made a pact to return home if or when I hit that amount.’

Ultimately, viewing travel as an investment not a cost also helped ease the financial anxiety. ‘Seeing the world, taking time, learning about yourself,’ adds Simons.

The returns of the investment included a newfound openness, personal learnings and reflections. ‘Before I left, my identity was wrapped up in my work. As I travelled, I learnt who I was without any of those labels,’ she says.

The parenting pause 

Parenting no doubt changes all corners of a person’s life, but the ‘career interruption’ can also cause anxiety.

For artist Tai Snaith, the pause of early parenting admittedly came with some frustration. ‘When my kids were younger, I definitely felt eternally frustrated that I wasn't getting anything creative done,’ said artist Tai Snaith.

‘I did hear people say it would change, but it was hard to hear because at the time it feels like it would be forever, but they were right, it passes.’

In time, small pockets of time for creative work come back into her daily life. ‘I remember thinking, I don't have to watch them in the bath anymore and I’m having uninterrupted sleep, I can focus! Looking back, it was a good time to collect those thoughts of frustration and then make them into something,’ says Snaith.

In Motherhood & Creativity, Rachel Power shares the various challenges and pleasures mothers have faced when combining motherhood with an undiminished passion for their creative work.

While Power believes becoming a mother is a ‘confronting and transformative experience,’ she is quick to say it is not the only transformative experience a woman can go through.

‘People experience that in all sorts of different ways throughout their life, but undoubtedly, motherhood is a very confronting experience,’ said Power. ‘You have a whole new relationship with yourself, with the world, and that inevitably is going to feed the themes of your work – sometimes directly, and more often indirectly.’

The project pause

At times, our personal lives can interrupt our working lives or push us into taking a break from projects or our careers.

For designer and publisher of Offscreen Magazine Kai Brach, a relationship breakup was the catalyst for reassessing aspects of his life.

‘Since I had to move out of my apartment at the time, it was easy to just put the few belongings I have in a box and go travelling for a while. Offscreen never adhered to strict publishing cycles, so it was pretty easy for me to say, "Folks, I'm taking a break to recharge. The next issue will be a while!"’

Spending two months hiking across Germany was the perfect way to slow down and put daily stresses into perspective, says Brach.

Yet there was still uncertainty about what would happen to the publication’s readership by pressing pause. ‘I thought about whether many readers would be bothered by the break, but one of the benefits of being an indie publisher is that there is an almost personal and very genuine relationship with readers and everyone I spoke [to] totally understood that I wanted a break to recharge.’

‘Everyone I spoke to totally understood that I wanted a break to recharge.’

Savings allowed for the pause in terms of economic security, but the break further solidified a broader approach to earning, work, and how Brach spends his time. 

‘I would always recommend having a financial buffer as it's impossible to do without it. But even more important [to taking a pause] is to adjust your lifestyle over time to a small footprint, not just environmentally but also financially. I generally live a very frugal life. My living expenses are fairly low. I don't own or buy a lot of stuff. That makes adjusting to a period of 'no income' much easier. A lot of people consider frugality just a necessary and temporary restriction to a more luxurious life. For me, living a fairly simple life gives you the ultimate freedom: to work less and spend more time doing other things you enjoy,’ adds Brach.

The regular workday pause 

Pressing pause on a project might not be feasible for all, but daily breaks or introducing more flexibility into your week might be a way to still benefit from the creativity that comes from interrupting our work with more life.

For founder of Inventium Dr Amantha Imber creating opportunities for regular pauses for her staff both annually and in the working day has been crucial for job satisfaction and productivity.

Staff are encouraged to work when and where they can find focus and flow, and have access to unlimited paid leave.

‘For me personally, I find that the flexibility allows me to equally prioritise career and motherhood and not feel to guilty that I’m neglecting either.’

The most impactful breaks can be short, she adds. ‘I find disconnecting from devices for a four or five day period can reset my brain and give my mind space to wander and stop being reactive to incoming requests that happen when you are constantly connecting.’

A more flexible approach can be adopted by many organisations, as it’s not about big budgets, but rather cultivating trust.

‘Inventium is a small business and our budgets aren’t huge, yet we have been able to really embrace flexibility,’ she adds.

On average, employees take around five and half weeks per year. ‘You could say unlimited paid leave costs us, but it pays itself back in droves because engagement is through the roof and staff tenure has doubled.’

Be it spending a summer in Paris, or finding a working schedule that favours deep work over long hours, there is something to be said for allowing for our working lives to be interrupted with, well, life and being in the world.

A break can be a welcome reminder you are more than what you do, even if you do what you love.

Written by Madeleine Dore, originally published by our friends at ArtsHub.

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

13 Nov 2019

The Big Idea Editor