4 lessons I learnt from taking a career break during the pandemic

At 23 years old, I set out a goal to achieve professionally by the time I’m 30 years old. I was ambitious, hungry and fearless. It’s like when you put your mind into something, the universe conspires to help you. Indeed, I was exceeding all my expectation by the time I was 29.

Infographic of my career detour

Through it all, I was fearless in accepting minor setbacks to rip the bigger rewards within a short period of time. I was constantly moving and reinventing myself yearly.

But I was increasingly tired.

It’s like you are in the winning streak of playing video games but you forgot to stretch your legs or your neck. While it lasts, everything feels fine with just a hint of discomfort. When the game ends, your body realises it has been on an adrenaline rush and now it’s time to break down.

That’s how I felt when the pandemic put the economy on hold. I was spacey, losing sleeps with uncontrollable burst of negativity. I was on full throttle for 7 years. Never missed a work call during my holiday. Never stopped thinking about issues at work while falling asleep. Never noticed the increasing level of stress building up inside over the years.

When the pandemic finally forced everybody to stay at home, I finally decided probably it was time to just not do anything. My years of paying taxes should allow me 3 months of recharging comfortably. No boss. No deadline. No call.

It was probably an unpopular opinion to quit a salary paying job in a pandemic because nobody is hiring. No one knows how long this will last. I’ve always been the black sheep (and a tiny bit too optimistic) so the prospect of defying popular opinion excited me.

I quitted my job and embarked on 3 months of doing nothing with vigor. Here are the lessons I learnt during this time

Learn to appreciate yourself

Throughout my 7 years of hard work, I’ve never once truly appreciated the effort I’ve put in. I derived satisfaction from outer recognition through promotions or salary raise. But I myself never actually appreciated my own work. It created such misery when the praises stopped. People laughed at Snoop Dogg for thanking himself for never give up as a sign of narcissism. Yet it’s the level of self-awareness that we all need because we have the power to achieve greatness.

As I started listing down all the things that I’d done and the level of focus it took, I was surprise that I never once thank myself. If it was somebody else, I’d gladly give them a medal of honour for overcoming difficulties themselves. Sometimes when you are doing things, it felt normal but in fact it was extraordinary.

Learn to make decisions for yourself

It sounds completely absurd as I have always made decisions before. However, as a kid, I felt my parents made all the decisions for me. When I started working, I felt that I was moving in the direction that my boss told me (or at least the pressure of performing at work). As I stayed at home doing nothing, there is no pressure of doing anything.

I didn’t have to wake up early. I didn’t have to work out. I didn’t have to answer any emails. I didn’t even have to dress up. Yet, I still did it. I found out doing nothing exhausted me. All the drive and pressure that I thought was external before was coming from within. I made the choice to be productive and ambitious. I’ve always lived my life the way I want. I just need to learn to balance life better.

Learn to be with yourself

Many people have done a career hiatus before to travel or focus on family. But I chose probably the worst time ever to take a break. Everything has been in lock down so I can’t “find myself” with a trip to Bhutan or spend time with my grandparents or party my way to exhaustion. To top it off, the lock down means I have to stay home period.

I learnt to spend my day productively through writing blogs, recording podcasts and baking. When you have nothing to worry about, the day seems longer. You get bored out of your mind. Yet, I decided to detach myself off social media because everything seems too negative. I started reading newspaper for current news. I chilled at the balcony looking at the sky like a prisoner looking through the barred window. I figured when you have so much time doing nothing, prison escape like in the movie seems completely plausible. When my mood plummeted, I also learnt to deal with it without the stimulants of the surroundings. I recognized my body going into slumber mode in the afternoon if I ate too much carb for lunch.

I understood my body and my mind better.

You can’t see the forest for the trees

As I was restarting my job search, I forgot the reasons why I stopped working in the first place. I started to doubt myself on why I quit. I momentarily forgot the sense of relief and freedom of being at home, not having to answer to anybody. Throughout my 3 months at home, I achieved internal balance to find my purpose.

It was difficult to restart job search in a pandemic-ridden economy but it was not impossible as long as I know my strengths. I tried many things out of my comfort zone during these 3 months and did not get good at it. It was discouraging but it was not the point. I carved out the time to try everything under the sun (and got rejected for it). It was helpful to write down the reasons why I embarked on this 3 months of exploration to slap me out of confusion when things did not turn out well.

Just before I called it quit, I celebrated my 30th birthday in a sea of confusion as I didn’t know who I was or what I was gonna do by the time I’m 40. It was in away the right time to reflect. As I’m starting a new chapter in my career next week, I couldn’t help reminiscing on the 3 months of doing nothing. I’d like to call it the best part of my career because it was the break I needed for the new chapter so I can be fearless for the next exciting years of my life. The best is yet to come.

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