Earlier this week, I was listening to the torrential subtropical rain washing over the earth after a full day exploring ancient Mayan sites, light fog enveloping the Macal River, a glass of Pinot Grigio sweating in my hands. In front of my eyes, the Belizean jungle all green, warm and splendid. My surroundings felt like my state of mind: powerful, peaceful and yet electric, wild, and abundant. I was wrapping up my intentionally planned 15-month career break doing one of the things I love the most: traveling and feeling marveled at life itself, Belize being country number 14 on my sabbatical adventures. As I write this article, I’m only hours away from closing the chapter on one of the most extraordinary phases of my life, a period marked by moments of sheer enchantment, heartbreaking sadness, mental confusion, wins, losses, emotional freedom, and spiritual awakenings. I’m excited to return to work, and before my career resumes, I’d like to share my sabbatical reflections with you, my dear readers.
Taking the leap
Choosing to step outside the safety of my corporate job was a long process. Since I was a little girl, I dreamed of traveling the world for months on end, but there was never enough money or time, and plenty of excuses. Combined with the spiritual awakening of my 40s, the COVID-19 pandemic brought a sense of mortality that translated into a pressing desire to break free from what felt old, constrained, and unfulfilling. For almost two years, I sat with that appetite for new beginnings, digesting why I should or shouldn’t leave. With my husband strongly advocating against my move to depart (“you must be crazy for leaving that job!”), I was still swimming in fear when I gave my boss the notice that I wasn’t coming back, but the waves of dread didn’t feel as potent. I had done a good amount of emotional and spiritual work to become a stronger swimmer.
Why taking a career break was the best decision I made
I hired a career break coach to help me plan and live a powerful sabbatical anchored in these themes: Explore (i.e., travel), Express/Create, Spirituality/Connection to Source, and New Ways of Being. Growth is the word that more closely captures and summarizes the outcome of my endeavor. I constantly forced myself to get out of my comfort zone by traveling solo to new places, engaging in spiritual and personal development activities, having tough conversations, and openly sharing some of the ups and downs of my journey for the world to read. Each time I did, I built muscles I didn’t know I had. These are some of the main lessons I picked up along the way:
Learned the importance of honoring my dreams
I honored my inner child with massive doses of wanderlust, checking off bucket list items that seemed to belong in the outer galaxy decades ago as they were so far away from my reality. Honoring our dreams is about living in alignment and creating a life that tastes of satisfaction. We’re here to feel joy and thrive, and the more we create time to do the things that matter to us, the greater the quality of our lives.
Demystified my fantasies
During the past 15 months I lived spectacular adventures in 14 countries, and in the process I also demystified the nomadic lifestyle. For most of my adult life, I fantasized about constantly moving from place to place, thinking that perhaps I had missed my calling. After being on the road for months on end, a realization dawned upon me – while traveling brings me immense joy, I discovered that I cherish having a routine and a place to call home. Should I have not traveled like I did, I would keep on fantasizing on what should have been, as opposed to knowing my truth of what is.
Reconnected with my intuition and feminine energy
My feminine energy has been restored and continues to grow. It took losing my uterus and honoring my travel dream to see the process unfold, but today I embrace being a woman in ways I have never done before. Masculine energy is great and vital, but mine was off-balance for far too long. I’ve been programmed to associate being busy with being productive and successful, and the result is that I was constantly tired and competing against myself. I’m learning to deconstruct that narrative. I trust the universe a lot more easily now, inviting miracles and abundance in. I’m more in tune with when I’m trying to overwork and overachieve, able to shift that mindset more easily. I value rest and allow my body to rest when it needs.
Being connected to feminine energy also means that I now listen more intimately to my intuition and the whispers of my soul. I pay attention to the signs that my body sends me when something feels right or wrong. Often in my life, I prioritized what seemed rational. For instance, working in a place that felt lukewarm because it was prestigious and paid well but sucked the joy out of me is an example of prioritizing mind over soul. I still make some decisions based on rationality, but I’m aware when that’s the case. With that information, my decision is a mindful choice that I can change if and when I feel ready.
Welcomed self-expression, authenticity, and my wild inner child
My self-expression has skyrocketed. I’m letting go of the shame of being who I am: someone who can be loud and takes up space. I no longer feel the urge to people-please, to be liked by everyone. It’s becoming safe to be me. It’s fine to set boundaries. And though being me meant losing meaningful relationships, which deeply saddened me, I have no regrets about showing up as I did. Showing up as me also brought me new, delightful friendships more aligned with the person I’m becoming.
Accepted my emotions
I’ve accepted my low grade emotions, no longer hiding or resisting anger and sadness. I let them pass through me, for they’re not who I am, but give me clues into how aligned or off-alignment my life feels. Similarly, I’ve accepted that sometimes I feel so overjoyed that the world seems incapable of holding that space for me for too long. The difference is that I no longer feel I have to hide this beautiful thing just because I need to match the energy of the room.
Restrained my sharp inner critic
I also quieted down my sharp inner critic, acknowledging that when she shows up, she either wants to keep me “safe” (stuck in old ways of being) or small. She’s still around and will always be, but her power over me has significantly diminished. I now have the tools to recognize her and let her go.
You’re enough, child!
I reconnected with my inner wild child, the little girl who’s free, authentic, and self-expressed, the one that was often shut down through comparison and criticism. For that reason, she hid her light so she could fit in. I engaged in many meditation sessions where I held her deeply in my arms and told her that she’s now safe to be who she wants to be.
Improved the quality of my marriage
The quality of my marriage has improved significantly over my career break. By finding my voice, setting boundaries and regaining my power, my husband also changed. Our respect for each other grew, and our love and relationship developed new layers.
Understood the importance of community and trained coaches
I could have chosen to take a career break entirely alone, but I know that the results wouldn’t be as powerful. A big part of my investment was allocated to hiring life coaches and joining communities of like-minded people who were not afraid to open up about their vulnerabilities. Receiving guidance from trained professionals and groups of women who could listen to me and provide insights with a non-judgmental view felt like oxygen.
Accepted that life is messy
In the past 15 months life didn’t always unfold the way I envisioned or in the timing I expected, and my career break was marked by many periods of anxiety and self-doubt. I was often not living in the moment, but instead I was tuned in to the constant buzz of my chatting mind: would I find good work? Would I be relevant in the corporate world? Would I run out of money? Am I ridiculous for writing so openly about how I feel? There were days when I felt like running away with the circus, and others when the safety of home was paradise on Earth. I cried for days missing my adventures abroad, and felt uneasy for not knowing exactly what I was going to do next. I was very aware of my privilege: not very many of us can take time off from work and indulge in travels and explorations like I did, but my life often felt messy and I wanted order. When I stopped resisting what life was bringing my way or how I was feeling, peace started sending me smoke signals. I often still resist, but it’s now easier to navigate in rough waters and tell myself to let go of resistance. I’ve built strong resiliency muscles.
Acknowledged that it’s OK to choose what feels safe
As I embarked on my sabbatical, I envisioned a future where my career would take a different trajectory. I entertained the idea of becoming a full-time writer, while another part of me yearned for a completely different path. I had woven a narrative that equated true success with venturing into uncharted waters. There were many career paths spinning in my head, but nothing was lingering. I started writing more frequently, outlining a fictional novel and launching GlobalJuliana.com. Those hobbies brought me great pleasure, but I wasn’t feeling the drive to pursue them full time.
Ten months into my break, when the thought of returning to work still felt emotionally distant, a former colleague presented me with an opportunity to join a startup in a part-time marketing role. I decided to give it a try, and during those couple of months, I reconnected with aspects of my 20-year career that brought me great satisfaction.
It wasn’t until the 12th month, amidst introspection and a transformative forest bathing session, that I found clarity about my next chapter. My epiphany: I yearned to return to the familiarity and stability of corporate life, and on top of that, I desired to redefine my perceptions of what corporate life could be. Most importantly, those realizations came from my heart. I chose what felt aligned.
My measures of success have changed
I’ve always known that I’m not my work, but being immersed in a corporate culture that values who you are based on what you do or earn gave me mixed signals. Before my career break, my success metrics were strongly tied to work. For example, how much I achieved, how many things I could cross off my list, the company I worked for, how much money I made, and how much praise I received. Being out of work for so long solidified that work is just one facet of who I am. It’s one that I do value, but one that doesn’t define me.
Success today also means being at ease with myself, forgiving myself for past mistakes, and not getting caught up in mindless rumination about something I could have done differently. It relates to having a healthy body, feeling loved, giving love, making a difference in someone’s life, believing in myself, being respectful to others even if I feel like unleashing my inner beast. And yes, it also includes being grateful for the things I do have. Going back to corporate may trigger old ideas of success, but I’ll be watching that space closely.
Wild woman celebration, phoenix rising
Within 48h of accepting my job offer, I booked a solo trip to Belize to spend a week in the jungle amidst trees and waterfalls. My inner wild child knew that I had to wrap up my career break in nature, channeling the powerful energy of Mother Earth. Open to miracles and abundance, I saw them all coming: I received a free upgrade to business class, a room with a river view at my resort, a radiant full moon, and a symphony of birds and howler monkeys waking me up daily, to name a few. I was given a room called the Santa Maria, a reminder that I’m protected, a sign of the sacred feminine saying “we’re in this together.” I had this feeling of being connected to the belly of all things beautiful and plentiful.
On the eve of my trip, a remarkable invitation: a dear friend had chosen me as the first reader of her personal development book, roughly titled ‘Activating the Power of the Phoenix.’ The timing felt uncannily perfect. Just like the mythical bird, during my career break I burned aspects of myself that no longer served me, making room for new ways of being and embracing fresh beginnings. I feel excited with what lies ahead. And along my transformative path, I’ve learned invaluable lessons, including the understanding that if I ever sense misalignment down the road, it’s a lot easier now to pivot and start over.