Taking a career break at 45 to travel abroad, in the midst of a pandemic, while married to a loving man who didn’t support this decision, was not a spur of the moment event. I’ve been dreaming of traveling extensively to faraway lands since I was a child. However, there was never enough money, never enough time. There was always a ton of fear.
Then 2020 arrived bringing with it the weight of mortality, mid-life spiritual awakening and a major restructuring at my workplace. I had the option to stay or leave with a nice severance package. All the cards were on the table telling me to no longer postpone a dream that I desired so deeply. I had to make a move. However, the laundry list of fears running in perpetuity in my head were keeping me stuck. I’m sure many of these will sound familiar to you:
- If I take a career break at 45 I’ll never be able to make as much money
- I’ll run out of money in the midst of my break
- I’ll be irrelevant when I decide to return to the workplace
- I’ll jeopardize my marriage
To overcome my fears, I had to take practical steps and grow a lot of emotional muscle. Here’s my top 10 list:
1. I hired a career break coach
A career break coach? I didn’t even know that such a trade existed! A casual Google search on a gloomy afternoon brought me a talented, experienced coach who helped tone down my negative self-talk. Hiring her services was absolutely worth it. She gave me encouragement and a framework to plan a successful break.
We met online twice a month and exchanged video messages in between sessions. She gave me tools to dive into the main areas of my life, including career, health, family, money and learning. We then agreed on what success would look like during and after my time off work. She also helped me come up with a budget.
Less than three months into my coaching, I gained clarity that a career break at 45 was the right thing to do. I purchased my ticket to Europe and thanked my manager for the opportunity to remain employed, but opted for the severance package instead. Here’s a link to my coach’s website.
2. I joined a career break community
When planning a break, it’s important to be surrounded by like-minded people who can support you on your path to success. If you’re like me, most of your loved ones and colleagues will never give themselves permission to take a career break. While you’re still in the dream stage, share your plans only with those you know for sure will support and encourage you. Otherwise, non-believers will reflect their fears and limitations back at you making you will feel deflated and discouraged.
My coach gave me access to her clients, who were either on a break or in planning mode. In my first Zoom call, a lady dialed in from Turkey, already months into her adventure. A man from New York shared how he alternated between traveling abroad for weeks and spending time in the US with his wife. Meeting real people who overcame their fears and were now living their dreams gave me an enormous boost of self-confidence.
3. I diligently faced my fears every day for two weeks
“The Fear Inventory Exercise” was the hardest homework my career break coach assigned me. I wrote down a list of my fears – 20 to be precise! – and daily, for two weeks, I read them out loud to a dear friend over the phone. At first I hated this exercise. It made my stomach churn with all of the negativity. It also made me feel ashamed and vulnerable. Part of me kept saying that I was wasting my friend’s precious time. However, around day seven I felt a shift. The saying “fears are just thoughts and thoughts can be changed” started to resonate. Instead of feeling angry and sad, reading my fear inventory felt like a boring task. By the end of two weeks the fears no longer held the same power over me. They were still there, but playing a much smaller role. I had looked them in the eye and realized that they were not real. They were just doing their part to keep me safe, a mechanism of my survival instincts.
4. I devoured all things personal growth
I spent 18 months analyzing my longings and looking for guidance in books, podcasts and a variety of practices that may sound completely “woo-woo.” The list includes, but it is not limited to, past-life regressions, astrology, family constellation, tarot cards and courses that ranged from “Soul Awakening Bootcamp” to “Journeying into Shamanism.” I noticed that they had a common denominator: the notion that we all have access to a universal intelligence that resides within us us. Call it God, Goddess, Spirit, Source. This power is free and accessible at any time. Change didn’t occur overnight, but the more I trained those self-awareness muscles, the easier it became to trust my inner guidance.
5. I journaled daily
Journaling helped create order in the chaos of my thoughts. It helped me identify my needs and find common threads on occurrences and feelings that at first sight seemed disconnected. My journaling style is old school (pen on paper), but yours doesn’t have to be. I met career breakers who journaled on their computers and others who recorded their thoughts on voice memo apps.
6. I meditated daily
Meditation can be as simple as closing your eyes and focusing on your breath. I’m a huge fan of guided meditations. I signed up for a free 30-day meditation challenge and loved it so much that I bought a 12-month package. Each day I received a daily meditation via email, only five minutes long. YouTube also has a ton of free guided meditations. Five daily minutes of simply closing my eyes and sitting still brought me:
- Peace and calm when I felt anxious
- Visions of what my future life could be
- Messages of encouragement from my inner guide
- A tremendous amount of self-love: practicing the loving, compassionate affirmations from my meditations led me to greater self-acceptance. When I started to embrace myself wholeheartedly, it became a lot easier to face my fears. For example, I went from “I fear people will judge me as selfish and self-indulgent” to “I deserve to be happy and live my dreams.” I just reprogrammed my thought. Ultimately, I realized that my inner critic was the one saying that I was being selfish and self-indulgent.
7. I created a budget
Money-related fears were definitely top of mind. I earned a six-figure salary, had savings and a severance package on the horizon. Also zero credit card debt and lots of air miles. However, I was still terrified with the prospect of unemployment. So much of my ego and persona evolved around being a financially independent woman. What would become of me if I weren’t producing any income?
Using a spreadsheet that my career break coach created, I listed of all of my expenses (from mortgage to manicures). Travel costs? Check! Time at home? Check! I also included a buffer for emergencies. That exercise was a lifeline: it became clear that a comfortable career break was possible. As I write this post, I’m on month eight of my time off. Truth is: I have already re-budgeted to stay on a break longer if I desire or need. My comfort zone in regards to my savings is also evolving.
I understand that my financial situation was comfortable from the start. If your situation is different, I urge you not to use it as an excuse to drop down your plans. Saving money for your career break may take a few years, but it’s absolutely possible. Here are some money-saving tips I heard from my career break community:
- Sell your home, car or other possessions
- Turn your home into an AirBnB (and continue to earn income)
- Move in with your parents (also true for 40+ years olds!)
- Buy affordable health insurance plans
8. I had major DRs (“Discuss the Relationship”) with my husband and discovered that his fears were also mine
My husband thought I had lost my mind for wanting to leave my job. His worries were money-centered (at least the ones he disclosed to me). Even though I had the budget to take time off, he wasn’t sold on the idea. He was also adamant that I continued to pay my share of bills if I took a career break. Needless to say I felt crushed and unsupported.
My husband is a loving man. He is also an engineer who values logic and reason above emotions. Leaving my job to pursue an adolescent dream didn’t sound rational to him. He has been working in the same company for decades. He feels comfortable ordering the same foods, visiting the same restaurants and traveling to places he’s already visited. In general, change doesn’t occur as naturally for him as it does for me. Context: I left my home in Brazil at age 16 to become an exchange student in rural Iowa.
My self-awareness practices led me to one of the biggest breakthroughs of my adult life. I learned that our partners are shadows (or reflections) of ourselves. In other words, my husband’s need for financial and job stability was a reflection of my own needs and fears. Unconsciously, I had entered a relationship with a man who personified my need for security. I noticed that the more I released my fears, the greater was my husband’s support for my break. My non-resistance created space for him to re-evaluate his fixed ways of being. With that, a different dialogue was possible.
9. I paid attention to signs (including dreams, animals, numbers and illnesses)
I vividly remember my overnight dreams, which are subconscious metaphors for our fears and desires. When I started to journal about them, I noticed that some themes were constant. My dreams spoke of an urge for freedom and self-expression.
I also became curious about any pain or disease that showed up in my body. They are deeply connected to repressed fears and emotions. Back pain? Money worries, anger or lack of support, whether material or emotional. Elbow pain? A resistance to change in life’s direction. If you are curious, start with You Can Heal Your Life, by Louise Hay.
An online “Shamanic Journeying” course taught me that animals can bring us very special messages. Big felines, such as pumas and lions, would visit me in my meditations and dreams. One of the messages was to trust my wild nature.
For years I kept seeing the same sequence of numbers almost daily and often several times per day (in license plates, phone numbers, invoices etc). One day I became curious and through research learned that those numbers meant that I should pursue my dreams.
10. I followed my intuition
When I was busy succumbing to the pressures of corporate hustle culture, I frequently made decisions based on rationality or on someone else’s life scripts. I would say things like “my work gives me access to a really good life, so why change it?”. I wasn’t feeling deeply burned out, had time to focus on my hobbies and actually liked my manager and teammates. Despite all of that, something felt “off,” but I was quick to dismiss the feeling (“Don’t be so emotional!”). Unknowingly, I was locking my dreams and my feminine energy (the one that relates to creativity, emotions, flow and freedom) in a dark closet hoping that they wouldn’t interrupt the choices I had already made for my life. This tactic doesn’t work. That closet will eventually burst and the bill to fix it will come at a high price: disease, depression, accidents, relationship issues, you name it.
In my case, I had to undergo a major abdominal surgery just a month before I was set to leave for Europe. Thankfully, everything went well and the surgery didn’t derail my plans. However, this episode was the ultimate reminder that I could no longer postpone something that felt so important. Life is impermanent and what’s here today may not be there tomorrow.
Following my intuition and quitting my job at 45 to enjoy this time off has been a lesson I intend to reciprocate to many areas of my life. Here’s the blog post I published on the morning I took off to Europe.
I’m still on a career break and haven’t transitioned back to work. Are my fears about the future gone?
Simple answer: no. As mentioned, my fears are there to keep me safe, but instead of shoveling them under the rug, I’m accepting them. Resisting is worse. We don’t grow by doing the same things over and over again. Because I have made the leap and am living an extraordinary career break, my resiliency muscles are strong. I’m giving myself permission to be in an uncomfortable space and expand the boundaries of my comfort zone.
Growth and learning are some of my strongest values and I’m choosing to live by them. I feel quite liberated and empowered and am now getting acquainted with a world where abundance overtakes scarcity. I believe that when I’m ready to return to work, it will be easy, not hard. And so it is.
An update on this article
One month after publishing this article, I felt ready to return to work. Within 24h of feeling that shift in my body, a miracle happened: I landed a part-time job that feels aligned with my interests and the future I intend to build. I never actively reached out for this opportunity. Unknowingly, there were people lining up to support me. That’s what abundance is all about. Watch my video interview with my career break coach to learn more about this episode and the lessons I learned during my career break.