By: Minuri Adasuriya
This is exactly the question I got asked by many of the generation before me in Sri Lanka when I boldly announced over a Facebook status (in true Millennial fashion) in November 2020 that I will be taking a career break. Giving up a stable cushy job with a fantastic global company to then purposely choosing to be unemployed during a pandemic seemed unfathomable to many — this was reserved for retirement not something a 35-year-old let alone a woman should peruse — a sign of failure perhaps they thought?
Making brave choices
Having moved back to Sri Lanka during the great covid19 led reverse migration of 2020, I started to widen my friend circle. I was raised in a very sheltered childhood that extended out to my youth, as a result my friends circle was small. To break out of this, I reached out to many-a-folk via social media apps out to a meal or coffee. With this approach I re-connected and formed new friendships that I would have never dreamt of.
What I learnt from these interactions is that the men I met were not afraid to drop their job and peruse new interests — whether it be writing a book, working on a startup, exploring their spiritual or artistic interests. They didn’t owe anyone an explanation — it was beautiful. Failure did not hold them back. The women I met however, on enquiring about my intent to take up a career break, were fascinated by this and asked me “but what would people say”? and to that my response was if you are able to articulately share your intent and outcomes, you will create more allies for your career break journey that people who question you.
Here are my top lessons learnt:
LESSON 1: Prep is key
The main differentiator between the men who perused career breaks and the women who aspired to were their bank balance. They were also financially well versed and knowledgeable. The men were in higher paying jobs and could afford to squirrel away funds overtime to prepare for the impending hiatus. Learning from this, I put a 12-month savings plan in place to financially secure me for a 3 month break with a buffer of one additional month. This worked out well with a minimum misinformed spending on my part but overall, the savings also enabled me to diversify my investment portfolio in Sri Lanka and establish passive income streams including through angel investments via GLX Accelerator and teachings from https://jump.lk/ — a great resource for women looking to develop a savings or investment portfolio on their own.
LESSON 2: A purpose driven career break is the best!
I also documented my plans on Notion and checked in regularly on how I was tracking on my goals, collecting pictures, journaling my experience, and reflecting throughout the journey helped me gain clarity on my life purpose, do tons of uninterrupted research on crypto, growth hacking, process mining and much more. This also helped me pin down the type of work I wanted to pursue that would really bring me fulfillment.
Career breakers that I have seen the most fulfilling and successful are the ones who openly speak about their experience. It shows they have fully embraced the status and cultural stigmas can’t get to them.
LESSON 3: Always have an exit strategy
Now with much clarity around what fulfils my Ikigai, 3 weeks prior to end of my self-imposed career break deadline, I used the ever-powerful LinkedIn Update to do a call out for roles and also approach my newly widened network to seek opportunities.
I sought three key values when looking for my next opportunity, based on a Forbes interview by Dr. Vivek Murthy (current Surgeon General of the United States) that really resonated with me. He spoke of:
1. On chasing inspiration, searching for the path that inspires you and that this path of pursual often entails risk including making a big change in what you’re doing — but the career risks we regret most are the ones we don’t take.
2. Always being kind. Kindness as a powerful source of strength, helps others whether it be people, organizations, and societies thrive and feel good too.
3. Remember your anchors. Anchors are those people in your life who remind you of who you are — your values, aspirations, and worth — even when you forget.
I’m glad to say I landed the golden ticket at an amazing place and team to work at called Hatch (you may have heard of it? 😏). Their values being, Entrepreneurial, Collaborative, Excellence and being Human/Kind to allow any dreamer, from any walk of life to be given a chance to create lasting change — aligned with my aspirations perfectly.
So yeah, my career break in the middle of a pandemic may have been a bit nuts to some — but hey! “well-behaved women seldom make history” they say.
You cannot create change by staying stagnant. Be curious. Be bold. So girl, take that career break — because you can!