If you made a movie that was a summation of my daydreams over the course of my life, there’s no telling what you would find. It’s likely it would be on the banned list of films. I’ve always thought of myself of a hybrid: a cross between Nelson Mandela, Michael Jordan, and Jason Bourne. A do-gooder who could hit the game-winning shot when the time called for it, but who could also take on a gang of drug lords…using only a spork. Natalie Portman would probably also have a role, but that’s for another time. Who knows, maybe my life will be the plot of the sequel to Inception.
From as early as I can remember, I wanted to be something legendary. Growing up literally on Tobacco Road in North Carolina, I don’t remember a time when a basketball wasn’t within an arm length’s away. I would setup my parent’s trash can at the corner of the carport, using the trash can as a basket and the utility closet door as a backboard. That was until on the day of my birthday, when I overshot the trash can and the ball dribbled to the side of the yard. As I ran out the side to pick up the ball, I noticed a brand new basketball goal and court that hadn’t been there before. I tried as hard as I could to act surprised when minutes later my family blindfolded me and took me around the back of the house to show me my new present. I spent many afternoons and late evenings on that court, frequently re-enacting what became known as the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” at the end of the Duke/Kentucky NCAA Regional Final in 1992. However, unlike the shot itself, my attempts were probably much closer to this re-enactment from Chris Farley.
That was one of many dreams I’ve had over the last 27 years. Others have included winning the PGA Masters at Augusta National, winning the NBA Finals, writing a best-selling book, sweeping a girl off her feet as a bad ass secret agent, saving the world from an Armageddon like disaster, and the list goes on. Deep inside, I knew any one or all of those things would earn my place in history. I would be a legend. Ironically, on September 11th, 2010, I began the only dream, that now looking back on it, has ever really seemed to matter. My last day of work in the “real world” was almost poetic. I tweeted: “Today I walked into my office with a briefcase and I walked out with a backpack.” I could’ve stayed at my job and worked away long enough to move up and eventually probably start my own business. In a moment, by turning in my notice, it’s as if I went from 5th gear on the autobahn to riding a tricycle in the park. Life has slowed down tremendously, and I’m ok with that. Sure, I would love to be getting published in a large travel magazine or working on a book right now, but I’m completely content doing what I’m doing. And you know what, if I get to do those things, than great, and if I don’t, then that’s fine too, because I’m completely happy with my life right now.
One of the biggest question/concerns I hear with career breaks is that of returning. With the exception of having money, this is the greatest concern. I’ve been asked a lot of questions surrounding my career break. What if you run out of money? What happens when you come back and go back into the “real world”? What if you don’t find work? My reaction is probably brash: so what? I’ll do the same thing I did when my father passed away, the same thing as when I was laid off, and the same thing when I was kicked out of my house and divorced. I’ll deal with it and move on. We often spend so much time trying to re-live the past or living in the future, that we miss what’s right in front of us.
I don’t want to diminish the importance of coming back from a career break and settling back into somewhat of a normal life. However, I want to encourage you to live in the present and not to diminish how you’ll evolve and grow during your career break. There is potential for you to develop skill sets while traveling for a year that no cubicle worker could learn in five years. And who knows, maybe you won’t come back. But would that be so bad? Take note from these travelers featured by Matador who went and didn’t come back in their new Breaking Free Series.
Similarly to part one of my series on career breaks, I’ve interviewed someone else for today’s post. Today’s career breaker is Valerie Conners, who recently took a career break and is on an RTW trip. I first connected with Valerie a few months ago because of our mutual love for travel, but also for writer and philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. She is one of my faves in the travel industry and one of the nicest people I’ve come across. I was especially intrigued by her story because she left what many would call a “dream job”, working for the Travel Channel, to travel the world. When I asked her what it was like to leave what many would call a “dream job” to travel, this is how she responded:
I worked for 4+ years as Senior Interactive Producer at TravelChannel.com, a job that allowed me to produce creative travel-based content, manage writers, create multi-media packages, and equally important, work with some of the finest – and funniest – people I’ve ever crossed paths with in work or personal life. I cherished the freedom I had as a freelancer in my 20s, which gave me the chance to travel and work abroad often. I always dreamed I’d have another chance to travel long-term, but figured it was no longer a part of my reality, as I had my job and home tying me down now. Until one day it dawned on me – the only thing stopping me, was in fact, me. I could easily live out that round the world trip of my dreams, as long as I was willing to move on to a new chapter in my life, one that likely would no longer involve my producer position.
I liked what Valerie said about her willingness to move on to a new chapter in her life. This is something important I’ve come to learn. Taking a career break has been about cutting ties and closing one door and opening another. It wasn’t a sign of giving up, but rather moving on and evolving.
Three months into my career break, one of the best things I’ve taken from it is how it has changed my perspective on life. I’m a firm believer in the idea that my experiences and how I react to them are preparing me for the future. I asked Valerie how her trip thus far had changed her perspective and this is what she had to say:
Thus far – and heck, even if the trip (god forbid!) ended tomorrow – it would still rank as the greatest experience of my life to date. I started the trip with 2 weeks in Turkey, then moved on to 5 weeks in India, and frankly, that was the most challenging travel experience I’ll likely ever know. Every day was a new adventure and a new challenge, and truly put into question all I deemed true about humanity – in ways that were both horrible and magnificent. I’ve stretched myself to do things that make me nervous or scared or feel awkward – and the truth is, I still feel nervous and scared and awkward, even 2+ months in, but I still do what needs to be done, because I have to, if I want to live out this trip. To push myself constantly – whether it’s in assessing what defines kindness, or fright, or poverty, or beauty – or stepping up to do things that make me scared and that I would never have to face at home, I know I am growing and growing. And I am so grateful for it.
As I’ve said before, long-term travel isn’t for everyone. However, I encourage you not to discount it. If you haven’t traveled much, I wouldn’t recommend planning a two-year trip right off the bat. Take Keith, The Traveling Savage, for example, who is taking a series of one-month trips. I’ll end with one last quote from Valerie, from when I asked her what advice she would give to someone who is considering a career break:
If it’s a dream and a passion – make it happen. Obviously there is concern over finding another job upon returning home, but I think it’s a matter of believing that at the core, following your dreams fulfills you and fills you with a confidence and experience most employers would hope to find in prospective employees.
*Disclosure: The wireless Internet used to write this post was complimentary of Borders and Seattle’s Best Coffee. While I bought nothing at Seattle’s Best Coffee, I do not in the least feel guilty. On my last visit I bought a $3.99 small hot chocolate, which was on the same level of quality as Swiss Miss Cocoa, of which an 8-count box of Marshmellow Lovers is valued at $1.77 at Walmart. I was not compensated by Walmart for mentioning their name, although I wouldn’t turn-down an offer for money or a lifetime’s supply of hot pockets. If you enjoy travel, which I assume you do, I recommend you adding Valerie Conner’s blog to your regular reading material, as she’s chronicling her journeys at Passenger Conners.