The clock read 3:30 a.m. when my phone rang, jarring me awake from a dead sleep.
“Welcome to Seamless. Have you ordered from Szechuan Gourmet?
My lunch has finally arrived.
After almost 3 years of working at a reputable news network in New York City, I landed what I thought was my dream job as a Broadcast Associate for the morning show. The only issue? I was assigned the graveyard shift at my job in the news industry. I would come into work around 5 pm and try to get as much breaking news as possible until dawn when I would then go to bed. The hours were incredibly difficult, but it was a necessary rung on the career ladder. Meals of Chinese takeout and pizza, laundry piling up, and no time (or money) for dating or exercise. Sound familiar? If you’re working long hours for not enough pay, you’re not alone. I was in the same boat when I first moved to New York City. Rent was high and my salary barely covered it, so things like going out or taking care of myself fell by the wayside.
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It was six months into my new job working the overnight shift, I had already lost five pounds, and used up two tubes of under-eye concealer when I decided to call my mentor for advice. He told me to take a good look at the lives of my superiors – especially the women senior producers. After looking at my potential future companions, I had to ask myself: was this really what I wanted? The answers generally came back as no. Most of them were unhappy with a male-dominated system that they felt they couldn’t change. They were married to their work and divorced from any personal life whatsoever. One point stands out, particularly in my memory; a female senior producer sat us down and told the group of Broadcast Associates that if we ever wanted to get married or have a balanced in our lives, we should pursue another career path entirely. This is where my quarter-life crisis began.
I received another call from an unknown number while I was in my apartment.
“I’ll be right outside to pick up our food from the Chinese restaurant.”
The reply I received was in gibberish Spanish, so naturally, I couldn’t understand it. Come to find out, it wasn’t the delivery driver at all but someone who had dialed the wrong number.
I was picking up my General Tso chicken from the restaurant when I started to wonder why I couldn’t understand what the Spanish caller was saying. I had been a Spanish major in college, hadn’t I? Granted, I missed out on the whole study abroad experience but my mind began to race. What if I took some time off to pursue a lifelong goal: achieving Spanish fluency? At 26, had I Missed my “living abroad” window? What would the consequences be if I took a career gap year? After 3 years of fetching coffee and answering phones, I was finally climbing the news biz ladder, finally producing mini-segments for air. The doubts set in. What if I took this career hiatus, came back, and had to start all over at the bottom of the ladder?
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After I answered all of those questions, I realized it was time to take action. So, I fixed my clothing and confidently strode into my boss’s office to give them the news. He was more than shocked– he was astonished. His former assistant who he had kindly offered a position on the broadcasting team wanted to move to Spain. He politely encouraged me to keep in touch and invited me to come to see him when I returned, but internally, I was terrified. I sometimes wonder if I made the right decision. Suddenly, I found myself living in a three-bedroom flat near Parque del Retiro, teaching 10-year-old Spanish students how to speak English fluently. In the blink of an eye, everything had changed. Despite this large life transition, taking a break from work turned out OK for these three main reasons…
1. You Won’t Fall Behind.
It’s normal to go from high school to college, and then get a job to start climbing the corporate ladder. Most people follow this path because it is safe and socially acceptable. Even though straying from the beaten path can be risky, it will make you seem confident and fearless in the end. As you’re aware, taking risks can often result in the biggest rewards. This is what I discovered when teaching Spanish children between the ages of 7 and 14 in Madrid; skills that I acquired during my time there easily translated into success back home. Creating lesson plans sharpened my creativity and organizational skills. I took the initiative to meet with native Spanish speakers for coffee every day and eventually achieved fluency. Reading the Spanish news helped me stay current on global economic and political affairs. I not only adapted to a new environment but also learned an entirely different culture with its customs. (For example, I quickly found out that running errands during siesta is essentially impossible since almost everything in the city shuts down for a couple of hours!) In other words, all of these attributes served to make me even more marketable in the end. Why hire the cookie-cutter corporate suit who hasn’t left her desk in years, when you could hire someone with the skills and experiences that she will use to enhance her position on the job?
2. You Will Gain Perspective.
Sometimes, all you need is to take a break from your everyday life and see things from a different perspective. After I moved to Madrid and started teaching at a bilingual primary school, I began going out for tapas with my colleagues. On my first visit to a restaurant, instead of sitting down at the table right away, I watched as the Spaniards around me chatted and laughed with one another. To my surprise, my Spanish friend Lucía confronted me after dinner and asked why I had been disrespectful to her friends. flabbergasted, I explained that it was unintentional and begged for her forgiveness. Unfortunately, I had made a huge social mistake; in Spain, it is expected that you say hello and give kisses to everyone at the table before sitting down. Also, texting on your cell phone during mealtimes was something I did often but is considered very rude here. Through this experience, I learned about the social norms and etiquette of Spanish culture. It’s insightful to see how other people live outside of your usual norm because it gives you a new perspective on people, situations, experiences, and everything else.
3. You’ll Do a Double Take.
Stepping out of your comfort zone will provide you with a new outlook on life and could also make you question if you are pursuing the correct career path. I moved back to New York City and quickly learned that the constant breaking news wasn’t worth a few years spent on the overnight shift. I eventually became a senior producer. I needed time away to think about what I wanted in life, and when I returned, I felt re-energized and ready to take on my job with a new set of skills. Whether you have a similar experience or not, it’s crucial to sometimes stop and remind yourself of why you’re doing something.
The most common response I get when I tell people I took a break from my career path? “I wish I could do that.” But the truth is, anyone, can if they set their mind to it.
Photo: Tom Merton / Getty Images
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