Have you ever thought about taking a year off? I'm not talking about a gap year or a year between graduating college and starting work - because in this economy you probably should be going straight to work if you can. I'm talking to the guys who've been grinding it out for a few years now. Maybe you're wrapping up an analyst stint and thinking about B-school; maybe you're an associate or a VP who's feeling a little less than fresh due to burnout; maybe you're even a senior guy in the grips of a mid-life crisis.
A year off might be just what the doctor ordered, and odds are it'll make you better at your job when you get back. Take Brooks Mar for example. He was a 26-year old associate at Lehman when he took a year off to travel the world and eventually opened a night club in Brazil. But Eddie, I can already hear you protesting, that article was written in 2005. Things are different now. Indeed they are. But if you're worried about getting your old job back you'll be pleased to learn that Brooks is still swinging the .
"Taking that time off made my life infinitely better," says Mar, who is now back in the States working in finance while one of his partners takes his turn operating the club. "After you challenge yourself in that way, you have a different outlook on the problems you face and the people you deal with," he says. "You carry a confidence with you that you can apply to any career and any challenge in your future. You can't put a price on that sort of experience."
Those of you who have read The Best of Braverman know that I too took a year off mid-career (albeit a not entirely voluntary year off). In that time I lived in a Mexican fishing village where I got to know an American couple who ran an orphanage for special needs kids in Tijuana, I bought into a bar on an island in the West Pacific, and I took over as engineer aboard a 65' sailing catamaran plying the shelf between the Pacific Ocean and the Philippine Sea. I even modeled a line of Aloha shirts for a little bit.
When I got back I was totally energized. I felt like I had a new lease on life (because I kinda did), and I threw myself back into work with a laser focus. After about a year, I reluctantly took a jobfutures and the rest is history. In my darkest hours of that job (and believe me: there were plenty of dark hours), I was always able to draw on the reserve of strength and perspective that my year off gave me.
As cliche as it is, you only live once. Taking a year off to couch it and play video games is a waste of life. But taking a year off to challenge yourself can make all the difference in the rest of your life. Like the article says, you need to make it a quest:
Although it's becoming more common, a year off is still definitely not for the timid. Men who have had the courage to take an extended break advise that it isn't an introspective retreat from the world. It's a complicated endeavor that, handled badly, can jeopardize your job and your relationships back home.
Given the risks, the payoff should be equally high: Don't make a list of what would be "fun"; make a list of the toughest challenges you'd dare to take on. Don't think "trip"; think "quest." No one else gives you permission to take a year off - and no one else signs off on your plans or goals. A year off proves that a man is in control of his own destiny.
So with all that in mind, if you decided to take a year off what would you do with it? Fair warning: if you say B-school I'm going to assault you with monkey shit. I'm talking about real life here. If you were to step outside the norm for a year, where would that year take you and how would you spend it?
Mod Note (Andy): Best of Eddie, this was originally posted September 2013.