Travel around the world? Never get out of your sweatpants and old tee? Have endless cups of coffee while staring into vacuum? Get addicted to daytime soaps on TV?
All alluring pastimes, but there is only so much coffee you can drink, and more than an hour of daytime TV may be seriously injurious to your health! Assuming that you still plan to get back to work outside of your household duties at some point of time in the future, what do you do, in the meantime, to keep the brain rust and body moss away? How do you make your hibernation a productive rejuvenation?
In today’s job world, a lot of us grapple with these issues. Some take a sabbatical to explore other interests. Some go on forced breaks due to now commonplace re-org and downsizing exercises. Some of us take a break to raise families – and those are not necessarily only women any more. Being a ‘Mother’, in the sense of a primary care-giver, is no longer a gender-specific role. As I meet more and more men taking a sabbatical or a longish paternity leave, I realise that career breaks will increasingly become a gender-neutral phenomenon.
Everybody – tired of work pressures, deadlines, commutes, appraisals – relishes the idea of a break, and then promptly freaks out a month into that break! The demons that come to haunt the new homebody are many – what will I do tomorrow and day after and next week? Will I ever get a job again? What are people thinking of me? Am I spending too much time on Facebook now? Should I take up a data-entry or envelope-stuffing job? How do I stop freaking out?
I went through all that and more. There were good days and bad days. But it was a choice I had made based on my personal priorities. Now that I am out of my self-imposed break and back at work, I look back on my hibernating years with fondness. I meet others who are at different phases of their break and wondering what happens next. Here are ten tips I would like to share with them.
- Stay happy and count your blessings: How many people get the option to take a break? If you have the option, you have done something right – with your financial planning, family relationships and with your own inner self. Be happy that you have the freedom to choose. If you are on a break to raise your children, make your uninterrupted time with them count. Enjoy being with them instead of reevaluating your break every hour of the day. At the same time, know that children will still grow at their own pace – just because you are teaching your pre-schooler Math personally, do not expect him or her to become a genius in a year!
- Rekindle passions: Remember your childhood passions? Tennis, guitar, embroidery, or karate? Rekindle those fires. Times have never been better for adults to go back to their hobbies with plenty of classes around. Fulfilling hobbies is what makes you a complete person – the patience, agility, and focus that hobbies require will take you a long way in any sphere, whether work or personal. The willingness to try, unlearn, relearn, and learn better ways is a skill highly valued in workplaces today.
- Read: The single-most enriching way to stay connected with the world outside, when you are locked indoors with a newborn baby, is through reading. Bedtime stories make a fascinating read too, but you might also want to stay in touch with your work world by reading relevant books, publications, and blog articles. You will emerge a much more knowledgeable person at the end of your break.
- Travel: Imagine off-season travel, discounted rates, and no crowds – all because you no longer have to worry about the long weekends and leave sanctions! Travel expands the horizons of your mind, shows you new ways of solving problems, and makes great memories to liven up busy workdays in the future!
- Challenge yourself: One of the dangers of a too-comfortable routine is becoming lazy and risk-averse. To counter that, challenge yourself to accomplish something outside your comfort zone. If you have not really been a sportsperson, try a few table-tennis lessons. If you have never learnt music, try a musical instrument for a few months. If you get good at it, you will feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment, which will also carry you through your first job interviews after the break! If you fail miserably, you will become a much more compassionate parent to your child who just cannot seem to master coloring within the lines!
- Stay connected: In today’s social media era, it is a bigger challenge to disconnect at times than to stay connected! During the break, these connections become your window into the world your formerly inhabited. It is good to know what is happening in your area of work expertise and stay connected with colleagues and other experts in the field. Become a member of a few work-connected organisations and attend their events. It will help you feel more up-to-date and not isolated.
- Upgrade your skills: The break may be a fantastic time to relook at your career aspirations, current skills, and new developments in the world. There are innumerable resources – free and online – available easily today to learn a new programming language, new design software, to get new certification or even acquire career-changing new skills.
- Look for a good fit: Towards the intended end of your break, start looking for opportunities where your break, and what you did during the break, will be considered a big positive and not something that you will need to apologetically justify. For example, while hiring at Cloud Mentor – an education startup – we always preferred mothers returning from a break. Their strengths worked in favour of our venture – they were committed, responsible, they understood children and education. You may be in a great position to understand and explain a growing market segment – children and parents. Consider that as a great asset on your resume. There are companies that welcome mothers returning to work and specialised job sites showcasing flexible options, freelancing opportunities, and project-based work. Use these to find the best possible fit with your requirements.
- Volunteer or intern: Explore volunteering to get back into the work routine. Skill-based volunteering gives you a good opportunity to sharpen your skills again, feel productive, and also contribute to a worthy cause. Organisational structures are in a flux today and you can even intern at startups and small businesses. A stint at a fast-growing startup can get you completely in shape with no ill effects of a break left anywhere in your skills, speed or resume!
- Consider entrepreneurship: By taking a break and by working hard to come back, you have already demonstrated entrepreneurial traits of risk-taking and perseverance. Why not build upon that foundation and launch your own venture if you have an idea and skills to make it work? In fact, you can still retain some flexibility of routine and creative freedom by being your own boss. Launching a venture is akin to bringing up a baby – with all its attendant sleepless nights, hectic days, ecstatic joys, unfathomable temper tantrums, ups and downs, and looking forward to a great future together!