Eight years ago this month, I took a six week hiatus from my job as a news reader at Sky News Australia and went on (what I considered to be) the journey of a lifetime to volunteer at an orphanage in Kenya, Africa. I was at that stage in life (mid 30’s, single) where I knew I had to grab hold of life and do something that would stay with me as one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ memories. You know the ones where you picture yourself old and grey, sitting on a verandah one day (preferably watching the sun set with a Sav Blanc) looking back at photos of ‘that time’ with a satisfied smile.
Something that actually makes you feel like you have really lived!
Do you ever get that feeling?
Of course, no sooner had I planned this trip of a life time, I met the man of my lifetime, on a blind date. Funny how that happens, isn’t it!
Stepping onto African soil, it was the first time I’d been to a developing country and as you’d expect, my mind boggled….I was completely in awe.
Of course, I’d like to think after six weeks in Kenya’s clutches, I came away with a completely renewed perspective on life — but in all honesty I don’t think it was something that slapped me in the face there and then. I didn’t feel I was instantly changed.
Sure, I could appreciate with more empathy how tough life is for many in this world and often despite the challenges, they are (incredibly) met with a broad smile on one’s face. I could, with my own eyes, really understand the diversity of this world, the unfairness of it all and yet, see the beauty in it.
AND yep I definitely felt like I left a little piece of my heart in Africa.
Looking back, I think the change was something that infiltrated me, seeping through my veins slowly but surely, over the coming years. It certainly gave me a taste for adventure; a thirst for something different. (Mind you I wanted to be in Hollywood at the age of 12, so perhaps that’s just me)?!
Three years later though (having sworn to my now husband, I would never live overseas (at.my.age!) I decided Hong Kong was a pretty good adventure to take and worthy of a break in the resume. Of course it was Hong Kong!! And being newly pregnant, I knew I wasn’t going to get any sleep so why not move to the City that Never Sleeps?! Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? And of course being a first time mum gave me a bit more of an excuse (encouragement) to pull the pin on a decade long career, for a little while at least!
I won’t lie and say it was an easy decision to move overseas (this was more than a sabbatical – mind you that said, I was extremely lucky to have the option of returning to my old job a year later, if it all went haywire and we chose to go back home. So in my mind I let that easily justify my decision for a small career-break)!
That was then!
Five years later and well, clearly I must thrive on the idea of pushing myself right out of my comfort zone, because here I am on a slightly different journey with a slightly different career path, now in the middle of China!
Of course, I’ve had many moments (and sometimes still do) where I’ve wondered what the hell were we thinking! But …there is not a moment to be regretted.
And hopefully it’s proof – that your desire for something new, a break, an adventure in life, doesn’t have to mean the end of your career. Maybe it’s not your career as you know it, but a new, improved version! A reinvention perhaps?
One of the biggest concerns people have leaving a job to travel the world, is the dreaded resume gap. And, rightly so! Obviously it’s a valid fear, but many and varied surveys have found once you pluck up the courage to do it, it’s not actually that big a deal (providing you are sensible and have the cash to support yourself). Although let’s not forget there are many ways to travel the world and get paid!
So, whether it’s learning a new language, volunteering, teaching or doing what you love in a different culture, the benefits in theory, should far outweigh the pros.
My old boss used to whole-heartedly encourage a sabbatical. “Definitely makes for better journalists!” he’d say.
My husband upped stumps and travelled the world for a year and a half at 25, backpacking his way around the world! (Still a little jealous of that one!) In my twenties, I was always too busy trying to get my career on track, too scared to leave the country for fear I’d never get my dream job.
Looking back, I don’t think a year out would’ve changed a single thing.
Even better, today, the sabbatical is becoming more and more accepted. You can still travel and keep your job! There are tonnes of websites dedicated to this very cause! I found a couple of good ones right here: and here.
In today’s often highly pressurised work environments, more companies are seeing the importance and value of employees having work-life balance. Ah yes… that old chestnut!
And sometimes, regardless of your age or experience, we just get stuck! We hit a roadblock and need to ask ourselves: “So, what’s next?”
Taking a career break or just a break in general (who needs a ‘career’ to have fun) is often the key to motivation, new opportunities, more creativity, a fresh start! As well, comes a boost in confidence, greater tolerance, higher awareness….more experience…you know the drill!
How much is your Facebook feed filled with those once in a life time adventures we see our friends taking?
We ‘like’ all their pictures of grand canyons and castles, pretty lakes and beautiful beaches. We see them hiking through stunning scenery, tasting exotic foods…embracing new cultures — all moments in time, captured. Sometimes admittedly, we’re probably a little jealous when we’re stuck in front of the computer, belting out our day’s tasks, deadlines to meet…. but mostly we can literally feel their excitement leaping off the page, and smile along with them, knowing these are precious ‘balcony’ memories being made!
And if you’re lucky enough, it doesn’t even have to be a resume gap, but a chance to stay in your current job, overseas. (Yes, they call them (pesky) expats!)
Sometimes it gives you your proudest moments….and how can these not add substance to your resume?
Whether it’s one month or one year away from your daily grind to see/do something different, it’s a chance to grow and gain priceless knowledge.
My very own Linked In profile summarises my 20 year career, capitalising on my skills and experience…but I also note one of my proudest moments is navigating a foreign land with a baby in tow and starting this blog!
If you’ve been thinking about it, perhaps you’re on the cusp of lining up that adventure….I’m sharing this excerpt from an email I sent from Kenya back home to friends and family. (Read or skim at your own pace!)
For me it tells the story of a girl (slightly naive, yes) viewing another side of the world with fresh eyes and a desire to help (not to mention a well deserved pause in the daily blow-dry routine)!
In truth, as much as we were there to help….these kids definitely helped shape us in more ways than one. And that’s what an adventure does, no matter how big or small.
It’s good for the soul!
“Finally made it to an internet cafe!
We have been in Africa for 13 days now! It feels like a lifetime!!!
It is an amazing place; I’m not sure words can describe it!
We are staying in the Kenyan countryside…so it’s hillbilly time and I feel like I’ve stepped back in time.. to the 1940s!
The countryside is beautiful, very different to what I expected. Very green, lots of lush, rolling hills…almost like the English countryside. The weather is crazy – much like the country! One day it is scorching hot, the next raining and the entire region turns into a mud bath! Most roads are rich red dirt!…(About now I am really wishing I brought boots with me…my sneakers will never be the same again!) 🙂
We ended up staying with a host family as there isn’t really any room at the orphanage and it is VERY basic and quite dirty!!
In hindsight, it is just as well because we spend really long days at the children’s home and get pretty feral and filthy!..so it’s nice to have the luxury of coming home. Spoilt!
The host home is quite palatial! NOT what we expected…but while it looks fantastic, it is very much back to the Colonial days! The power goes off quite frequently and often we have no water, so there have been quite a few days without a shower!?!
The lady we are staying with is a widow named Mary and is an amazing, wise old Kenyan woman who keeps us very informed and makes sure we get lots to eat! Any ideas I had about coming back five kilos lighter have gone right out the window! We are eating really well…although it’s very basic food and really healthy as it’s all from the farm. So plenty of beans, corn, potatoes and fruit!
(Can’t wait for some cheese and biscuits and a glass of Sav Blanc!) Ha!
The children’s home is about 10 minutes away and we usually walk half an hour each day to catch a Matatu – which is their main form of transport…little mini busses which they pack to the rafters with people (literally). They are really smelly (especially when you are wedged under someone’s arm pit) and drive like utter maniacs! Most try to rip us ‘tourists’ off but we’ve learned the tricks of the trade and are pretty firm with them now.
If it’s raining, we get driven in the back of a pick up truck to school and we always get picked up each night! Usually going a different route each way, just in case we are being watched.
So back to the children’s home…it is like a mini farm with a few cows, a field of corn and is really quite tranquil (if you can look past the poverty)!
The kids are absolutely brilliant! So very talented and LOVE having visitors. (Most volunteers they’ve had in the past have been Italian so they are quite intrigued by us three Aussies!) We are starting to really connect with them now, it’s a slow process as a lot of them don’t speak English so well. They range from six to about 19 years old.
It amazes me how they are all so ambitious and most want to be doctors, lawyers (even a news reader)! Secondary school is very expensive though and college is really out of the question for many. Ironically all of them are not orphans, strictly speaking – a lot of them have a family member alive but believe it or not they feel they would do better off in a home like this.
We have been working really hard during the day trying to tidy things up for them and make their life a little easier. We pulled all their rundown, rather grotty old bunk beds outside earlier this week and cleaned them, sanded and painted them all – just to freshen things up for them. They are so thrilled. (So if you need any painting in the future, I think after 22 bunk beds, I’m your gal!!) ha ha! We plan to buy them some new sheets as most don’t have any, let a lone a pillow.
Tomorrow, we are taking them all on a picnic down to the river. Hence why we are in town today…and I’m on the internet. We are getting all the “party food” we’ve decided to make hotdogs, given they live on stodge – (their diet pretty much involves any combination of maize, beans, potato and cabbage, x 2 daily.) They also love fruit and never get it and there is plenty here….On that note, I have never peeled so many vegetables in my life!!
(And all with a broken knife that has no handle!)
Everything is so primitive, not to mention the cooking, which is done over fire in massive steel pots.
They wash everything by hand with a bar of soap…including these steel pots.
The kids do ALL the cleaning…as soon as they are home from school, they are non stop busy for about two hours, doing everything from hand washing and gardening to cooking dinner! The elders basically sit around and ‘supervise.’
We are trying to help them as much as we can, while we’re here.
We’re also walking A LOT ….have been visiting local schools – taking uniforms, clothes, blankets, toothpaste etc for those who live with guardians but are sponsored by the orphanage. Yesterday we walked for miles in scorching heat with tonnes of bags!…..The kids totally freak out when they see us…most have never seen a white person, so come screaming and running at us. Then they are scared to touch us, but once they do, EVERYONE wants to shake your hand.
In fact most adults in the region have never seen a “Muzungoo” (white person) so yell this out at us frequently….it’s like being a monkey in a zoo!
We end up having to greet everyone we see in the local tribal language “kikuyu.” There are around 42 tribes in Kenya…which are basically split into regions….each has their own language…and Swahili is the national language and the children are all taught in English.
So I have to say, I’m having an amazing experience. Each day there is something new to learn and see.
The people really are friendly and I feel a lot safer than I thought. Having said that, EVERYONE you cross paths with asks you to buy them something, whether it be food, a bike to a new house!!
They think we are filthy rich and I guess compared to them we are.
You can’t go out alone at night though of course…..
The main town is only 15 minutes away…it is just like a little country town….but sooo rundown…the shops are very bizarre….I think a picture will have to illustrate that one!”
What about you? Have you taken a career break? Did it change your life? Perhaps you’ve been thinking about doing it for ages?
I hope I’ve inspired you!
This is your chance to do something truly extraordinary!
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