How Would You Spend a Year Off?

Eddie Braverman's picture
Rank: The Pro | 21,198

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 bat at Barclays.

"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 job trading futures 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.

Comments (39)

Sep 2, 2013

Good write up.

First off if I was going to take a year off, I would absolutely travel/not stay in the states. I would definitely have some kind of purpose to my travels though. Volunteering with kids, working at a resort, etc. This gives life a little structure, and that can go a long way.

My drinkin' problem left today, she packed up all her bags and walked away.

Sep 2, 2013
Sep 2, 2013

Fly to the southern tip of Argentina, by a motorcycle and ride it all the way to California, challenging myself to arrive with fluent Spanish (speak barely any so far).

Sep 2, 2013
Monkey in Acquisitions:

Fly to the southern tip of Argentina, by a motorcycle and ride it all the way to California, challenging myself to arrive with fluent Spanish (speak barely any so far).

The Pan American highway doesn't exist for a 60 mile stretch in the Panama jungle. Incidentally it is also filled with Marxist guerrillas.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dari%C3%A9n_Gap

Sep 3, 2013

Thanks. Guess I'll have to swap the motorcylce for a boat for a while ;-)

Sep 2, 2013

A friend of mine did exactly this. He and his wife quit their corporate jobs early 2012 to travel the world. They documented the whole thing in their blog, http://www.landingstanding.com/. Pretty amazing trip -- they started in South America with no itinerary except for "keep going until the money runs out." I was inspired and insanely jealous. Tons of great travel tips in there too, particularly traveling on a very tight budget.

Sep 3, 2013

Hey! That's my site, how do we know each other? Thanks for sharing!

Sep 2, 2013

Honestly, as good as a year off sounds, I'd probably just drink myself into oblivion. So, I won't be doing this anytime soon.

Sep 2, 2013

Open (or buy) a scuba diving shop on an island somewhere.

Sep 2, 2013

As someone who semi did this (okay, I did this), I'd highly suggest it to anyone -- if you can combine traveling abroad, exploring a passion and doing something different/entrepreneurial that you'd normally wouldnt do then you should certainly do it

doesnt the four hour workweek guy suggest that life should be broken down into series of 'retirements' or leaving the game to explore other things in life only to jump back into the grind later on?

Sep 2, 2013

I would backpack all over the world...hike, SCUBA dive, go on mission/medical mission trips.

Sep 2, 2013

Great post- at the moment this is my plan for two years from now. I'm currently a few months into my second banking job. I know that after five years of the grind I will be ready to slow down. More importantly, since I would probably plan to go to b-school after that year, some time away from finance will allow me to better focus on what I want to do going forward. I haven't completely figured out what I will do, but leaning towards spending at least some of it in South America and pursing a business venture or volunteering.

Shorttheworld, Tim Ferriss does suggest breaking up life into mini retirements.

Sep 2, 2013

Spend 6 months hiking the Appalachian Trail. Spend the rest of the 6 months backpacking along the Mediterranean, starting in North Spain and ending in Greece. Might do this in a gap year before MBA.

Sep 2, 2013

Dream: Year in Cuba improving my boxing.

Reality: Doing whatever my wife tells me to do.

Sep 2, 2013

Work on Head of Metal from some international location--half the time in Eastern Europe, the other half in the Far East.

Metal. Music. Life. www.headofmetal.com

Sep 2, 2013

MsF - at Texas a&m. (Of course stipulated as to whether johnny football would be there ;)

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Sep 2, 2013
droking7:

MsF - at Texas a&m. (Of course stipulated as to whether johnny football would be there ;)

Borderline monkey shit-worthy. Lock it up.

Sep 2, 2013

Go through the Hippie trail. (Google it)

Sep 2, 2013

Explore all the possible career paths, though it's difficult to do so in a prison.

The Auto Show

Sep 2, 2013

You're planning on getting arrested during this "year off?"

Metal. Music. Life. www.headofmetal.com

Sep 2, 2013

Take a road trip in the rusty Honda.

Ideally stop in Draper Utah and get a few flights in on Point of the Mountain.

Sep 2, 2013

Lash the hang glider to your roof then?

Metal. Music. Life. www.headofmetal.com

Sep 2, 2013

I would spend a year training in Brazil and hopefully qualify for this event:

http://www.cmas.org/spearfishing/spearfishing-pana...

Sep 3, 2013

I'm still in college but I'd move really really far away. Get some simple job and experience another culture. Get a feel for how other people in the world make a living and go about their day to day lives.

Sep 3, 2013

Travel to intense locations and do extreme outdoor sports. Learn about stuff then write a book about it. Gotta max that gap year for great stories for recruiting.

Bourbon all day.

Sep 3, 2013

I would go back home to tackle the issues in my community. As intriguing as it sounds to travel the world and experience different cultures, it is depressing to return home and see the plight that people are still experiencing here in the United States. I know our members are likely to join (or maintain their status in) the 1%, but I will not forget my more humble beginnings. Although I am making it out, most will never escape the depths of low income, poor education and minuscule resources.

To answer your question Ed, I would spend the year setting up educational programs within the local schools and work with the city on business development to improve my hometown. I have already started doing this but I am limited in the time I can commit. Thus far, I have met with the higher ups to get approval and resources, but I have had to recruit others to lead my initiatives on the ground. The year off would allow me to fully commit to the programs I have started.

Sep 3, 2013

Not sure if I'd spend the whole year there but at some point in that one year span I would end up in Brazil. Awesome country, awesome people and beautiful scenery. Spending a few months in Buenos Aires and Santiago would be nice also.

As for what I would do, I would probably spend a chunk of that time learning a few new languages and work for a few NGO's along the way (IF i can get those pesky work permits).

I plan on doing something like this soon, maybe not a year but most definitely 5-6 months.

Sep 3, 2013

One year off with some financial comfort would be nice. I'd consider the following 3 options:

1. Travel to Europe and/or Brazil. Get inundated with the peoples & cultures and stay off the beaten path...

2. If I didn't go into finance, I would have been a pilot. Get my licenses & get some flying hours behind me.

3. Love animals. Would go on a safari & do some volunteer work for the programs you see on Nat Geo Wild.

Sep 3, 2013

I'd probably live on a kibbutz in Israel for a while if I really needed to get away.

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Sep 4, 2013

bag at least one woman from every country.

Apr 16, 2016

I'd spend 6-8 months of it traveling across Africa and Southeast Asia keeping a log of my journey for my eventual autobiography/life movie, then the rest (to echo youngsimba) doing something substantial for my community.

Apr 16, 2016

A good friend of mine recently got his foot off the usual grind and has been travelling the world for close to a year; he really deserves it and seems much calmer when we interact. After grinding through several years of IB and PE, he more than deserves it.

As for me, I'd do things a little differently. I'm not into extensive, international travel (I'm burnt out from it at this point), so I'd split my year into periods of 4 months and would stay in the US. I'd use one period to live in some remote little place in Maine, reading and reflecting on life away from distractions and enjoying nature. The next period, I'd spend in a cool, slightly wacky town -- think Portland or Austin, taking in the scene and the people, playing frisbee or kickball and just having a blast. For the third period, I'd move to NYC and experience all the culture that top-notch city life has to offer, volunteer at an art museum like the MoMA, and maybe take a class or two at Columbia for the sake of it.

Apr 16, 2016

Lifting weights and living in the van.

I think- therefore I fuck

Apr 16, 2016

Travel all throughout LATAM. Finally getting my fluency in Portuguese and then learning Spanish. I'd love to shoot some documentaries and/or work in an NGO again but what I'd most enjoy doing would be something entrepreneurial. Maybe it is as simple as opening a beach bar.

While talking about this is fun and thought provoking - how does one set the stage for a safe transition back? How do you make sure you can get back to the same relative level you left at? Leaving a great gig to travel and then come back to work somewhere sh!tty wouldn't be worthwhile I'd imagine.

Apr 18, 2016

Travel and see the entirety of Asia

India > Thailand > China > Japan > Russia

Apr 20, 2016
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