In July 2009, Alonna Scott and her husband Ben set off for their year career break – which we followed from the beginning: Alonna gave tips on how she “negotiated a sabbatical“, we highlighted their site along with two other career break couples, saw how they were adjusting to “life on the road“, and we checked in with them during the 6-month mark when they gained their “road experience“.
When I left my job in 2009 to travel for a year, I hardly gave a second thought to what it would be like to come home at the end. I was fortunate to get a Leave of Absence from my employer, and I assumed that I’d return to work refreshed and motivated. But what I didn’t realize is that taking a break and traveling would change my attitude and perspective on life.
Returning from a Leave of Absence
Coming home after my round-the-world trip was exciting – it felt great to unpack for the last time, sleep in my own bed, and choose from a huge closet full of clothes every day. But the end of my Leave of Absence loomed before me, and I knew I only had two choices: quit or return to work. Considering my dwindling bank account balance, I chose the latter.
Unfortunately, the transition back to work was much harder than I expected. Although I loved engineering, had a great job and awesome coworkers – I wasn’t ready for the change in daily routine and the stress of long to-do lists. I also felt a loss knowing that my trip-of-a-lifetime was officially over. And most of all, with a lack of direction and purpose I was left feeling completely unmotivated. I even questioned whether my career break had done more harm than good.
Luckily, all it took to get me back in the game was a little time and some self-reflection.
Making a Change
Once I figured out how my career would contribute to my goals in life, my day-to-day activities had meaning, and I started to get excited about my future again. I quickly realized that I needed a change, and after a few months of searching I found a great job in a place that I have always wanted to live. Taking a career break forced me to step back and think about what I wanted in a career and life. This new self-awareness and confidence helped me “sell myself” in interviews and better articulate my skills and interests. In the end, the process of returning from my career break was almost as life-changing as making the decision to do it in the first place.
A New Perspective on Life
Originally I thought of this trip as a fun adventure that would leave me with great photos and memories. But reflecting back on this past year, I’m surprised by how much I’ve changed. It took a while to recognize it, but the more I find myself in conversations on topics like career, life priorities, global issues, different cultures, or politics, the more I realize that my entire perspective on the world and my life has evolved. Traveling outside of the country for an extended period will change your perspective on the world. Similarly, spending a significant amount of time away from your normal life will force you to re-evaluate your priorities. The following are a few insights I’ve gained from my career break:
- We should all strive to spend both our time and money in a way that reflects our priorities in life. My priorities are experience-based: traveling, spending time with friends and family, and doing activities I enjoy like biking and snowboarding.
- I can control the kind of life I want to live. Waiting for opportunities to come to me won’t do it, I need to decide what I want and make it happen.
- My career supports my life, not the other way around.
- Owning too much “stuff” makes my life feel cluttered. Living out of a backpack made me realize how little I really need to get by.
- Learning about different cultures taught me even more about my own.
- As I traveled, I learned to appreciate many things about the United States, and also discovered that there are many things we could do better.
Prior to her career break, Alonna worked for 6 years as a Computer Engineer at Hewlett-Packard in Boise, Idaho. In July of 2009 she began a one-year Leave of Absence from work to travel around the world with her husband. A few months after returning from the trip, she accepted a new engineering position with Seagate Technology and they moved to Boulder, Colorado. For now she is happy to stay put and enjoy all of the incredible scenery and activities that this state has to offer. You can read about their past and future adventures on Ben and Alonna: Living Vicariously Through Ourselves.