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Michaela Potter and Sherry Ott, the founders of the popular website Briefcase To Backpack, recently launched a new course designed to teach others how to take career breaks to enrich their lives. Called Career Break Basic Training, its aim is to get you from the desk to the door with experienced support along the way. Having been featured in the New York Times, Briefcase To Backpack is the premier resource on career breaks and Michaela was kind enough to answer a few questions about Career Break Basic Training.

michaela and michael

First of all, what exactly is a career break?

Career breaks can mean different things to different people – traditionally it is time away from your career or job. For instance, people may take a break to raise children – others may take a break to care for an ill family member.

Our idea of a career break is more defined around the opportunity of stepping away from your day-to-day life in order to reexamine your life goals with the chance for self-discovery and inner growth. And we feel one of the best ways of doing this is through travel because it gives you the chance to get out of your element. By visiting other cultures and opening yourself to new experiences, you can learn so much about yourself – thus giving you insight you might not have gained from remaining at home.

For most people that thought is terrifying, what are the benefits of a career break?

There are numerous benefits of taking a career break or sabbatical, including what I already mentioned. For those who are burnt out at their job, time away allows them to rejuvenate and return with a restored sense of balance and energy. And for those who feel like they have hit a wall in their career, a break allows them to refocus on their career path.

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This is what my husband experienced after he left his job without securing another one. He felt that our break away together was a great opportunity to reflect on his previous 14 years of experience and it helped him to reevaluate his career path and see if he was on the right track. Within months of our return he secured a new job in the position that he desired.

Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of taking a career break is the chance to move a part of your retirement up in time. The definition of retirement as we knew it is gone. There is no longer security in Social Security, pension plans, or 401Ks. And more and more adults are having to work longer than they had ever anticipated.

According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, the median number of years a full-time worker stays at their job is 5.2 years. And as our friend Kirk Horsted of Break Away points out, with most people working for about 50 years, that’s approximately 10 career break opportunities between jobs.

And even if you did “successfully” retire when you were 65, you may not be able to take advantage of opportunities you could have when you were younger. Perhaps the best statement I heard regarding this was from travel writer Rolf Potts. At a book reading he was asked why he started traveling. He stated “because retirement doesn’t always reward you with time to travel.” This was in reference to his grandmother, who had waited for retirement to travel but was struck with an illness and unable to do so. This ignited a fire in Rolf to travel while he could. And he’s now regarded as an expert on long-term travel.

How can Career Break Basic Training get someone from their desk to actually traveling on a career break?

Many times people who are longing for a career break or long-term travel experience can feel very isolated, given that a life sabbatical tends to be a fairly unique endeavor in American culture.

  • The three main ingredients behind the design of Career Break Basic Training – inspiration, structure, and community – helps members to prepare and plan an experience that is most meaningful to them.

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The inspiration component allows members to build a foundation and strong understanding of what exactly it is they want to do with their time off. This will help fuel them as they encounter some of the challenging logistical aspects that we address through the structure of the course. And the community lets them know that they don’t have to go through this process alone, especially if they don’t have a support system in place. In addition to using our personal experiences, there are a large number of travel-savvy been-there-done-that experts featured throughout the lessons and community to help encourage and keep members motivated.

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Can’t someone just “take” a career break – why use the Basic Training?

Deciding to change your career or take time off from your current job can be very challenging on the mind and soul. Add travel plans on top of that and you may get discouraged enough to abandon your career break dreams. In addition, there are so many resources out there it can be very overwhelming as to where to start. We help would-be career breakers sort through all of that travel information overload.

I think some of our current members say it best:

  • career break basic training members“Basic Training consolidated all of the issues and questions in one place and allowed me to develop my own laundry list and spared me lots of ‘discovery’ time on the Internet – for sure. Having someone organize the process of planning for me is HUGE and I think that you can’t emphasize that enough.” – Karen Bloom
  • “If I had done this a year ago, I may already be on the road – it probably would’ve given me a kick in the butt to get going a lot sooner!” – Katie A.
  • “I can honestly say that the structure that you have given me, the resources you have introduced and the experts that you have tapped make planning for an undertaking like a career break so much easier. There are things that I’m not sure I would have gotten up to speed on without this.”  –Matt Sussman
  • “Considering that there is tons of info out there on the Internet, attempting to wade through all of it and then trying to decipher what’s real and what’s fake could take weeks if not months. For someone like myself who is really committed to creating this experience, the dollar value just in terms of time alone is invaluable.” – Rodney Washington

Does the course cover a variety of people or a specific type (e.g. solo travelers, etc.)?

Just as every snowflake is different, so is every career break. We can’t tell people how to plan one that will be perfect for them, but the course aspect is designed so that they can decide that for themselves.

career break experts

Because there is more to planning a career break than the travel aspect, we’ve enlisted the support of many experts in the fields of financial planning, international volunteering, teaching ESL, insurance, and downsizing, among others, who provide valuable tips. And our career break vets are passionate about sharing their unique stories, wisdom and experiences – whether it’s about working on the road, solo travel, budgeting, Couchsurfing, or traveling as a family, couple, or solo.

And through our forums, group discussions, or personal blogs, members can have conversations and ask questions on any number of topics that may be of interest to them. Given the vast experiences of our career break vets and experts, there is bound to be someone that can address any issue.

From your own career break, what’s one moment that made you realize it was worth doing?

I’m actually a fan of the multiple career breaks and have taken advantage of my time between jobs to do extended travel, much like Kirk suggested. I’ve currently taken three career breaks over the past 10 years with an additional six months of travel after university, which I refer to as my gap half-year.

And the impetus for my passion for travel actually stemmed from my time studying abroad and backpacking during college. I found travel to be an even better education than what I learned in the classroom and it was from then on that I decided I would incorporate travel into the rest of my life.

Thank you very much for answering these questions and shedding more light on career breaks Michaela. Those of you interested to learn more or take your own career break can check out Career Break Basic Training for more information.

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