The Beginning of the End: 8 Months “Not Working”

I begin this as I approach the end of an 8-month sabbatical, high above cloud country as we cross the Indian Ocean en route to Perth. I’d been hesitant (mostly wary of my depleting finances) when my husband first suggested this week-long trip, but it now makes for a pleasant last hurrah before I plunge back into work.

I hadn’t expected the break to last quite so long, but in honesty I hadn’t ventured into it with a clear plan anyway – which was part of the point.

A bit of context: I’ve been working in the HR space for close to ten years. During this time I’ve never taken a day’s break between jobs, having been coached to always be “covered” by company insurance. Tied closely to this mentality is the fact that I live in Singapore, where the unemployed receive no allowances, and where not being gainfully employed carries some strong stigmas. Even going on unpaid leave after exhausting annual leave days is uncommon. So why take a break now, and for three quarters of a year?

Much has been written about why people leave jobs, and it’s different for everyone. There are multiple considerations ranging from hygiene (expectations, rewards, culture, perceived trade-offs) and personal growth (career path clarity, development opportunities, mentorship), to life stage-specific pressures (personal liabilities, dependants) and existential crises (untapped talents, health scares, changing priorities and interests).

For me, it was a mix of many things, but I reached a point where I decided it was time to step back and recalibrate. People who hear this press for specifics: surely there must have been a tipping point for such a major and risky decision — what was it?

And so I’ve found that acceptable answers are: boredom; burnout; the belief that proper rest is necessary and should be regularly factored into our lives.

All partly true, though the whys soon mattered less than the what nexts.

It is both a privilege and a burden to be idle for 8 months. It might be a bit much to say I am transformed by the experience, but some things change when you move out of the usual orbit. Priorities and habits shift. Holidays and weekends feel different. There are emotional and psychological fluctuations. First meeting conversations are different. Messages of surprise, doubt, encouragement, envy, bafflement, awe, annoyance, and expectation come at you unsolicited from all directions.

Some things are difficult to change. Being present still requires conscious effort. There remains that felt obligation to be productive, to fill periods of inactivity with busyness. Ideas of self-worth remain tangled with career success, and even more tangled with what that career means to me as a woman.

I’m pleased to report that I have no regrets about how I’ve spent my time while unemployed. Well, there is the missed opportunity of getting a driver’s license – a skill that’d be useful where I’m headed – but I have done (I had to stop myself from using “accomplished”) other things.

Joining the Medium community is one more thing. Here we go.

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