May 20, 2021

I Quit My Corporate Job and Took An Adult Gap Year

No, I didn’t join an ashram in India.

When I was 17, the thought of postponing college for a gap year never crossed my mind. While it may have sounded nice to spend a year traveling, volunteering, and doing other activities to further “personal growth” — for financial and cultural reasons, it was neither a consideration nor a real option.

And so, I went to college. After college, I started working a full-time job and did so for the next several years.

In that time, I worked many a late-night; was regularly stressed; and had pretty laughable boundaries. I needed a break from work and the 10–15 days of vacation time spread out over 365 days never felt like enough. Not to mention, I often felt bad about taking my allocated days off.

“Americans live to work while other countries work to live.” — unknown

My reality was no different than millions of American adults. In 2018, 768 million U.S. vacation days went unused. More than half (55%) of American workers reported they did not use their time off.

Hungry for a break, I did what any self-aware professional millennial would do. I went to graduate school.

Although it may sound bizarre, a big part of the reason why I chose to enroll in a full-time MBA program was so I could have time away from the grind of work. I also knew I had reached the end of my rope within the industry I was working in. After a few promotions, I looked around and didn’t feel a yearning for what laid ahead or around me. So, I figured I’d use my time in graduate school course correcting. Perhaps even diving into an interest of mine I had long buried: creative writing.

The joke was on me. Between classwork, extracurricular activities, socializing with my cohort, and looking for a post-grad job — I didn’t have much time for the “callings of my heart.” Instead, during the breaks we were given, I chose to get a taste of something else I longed to do more of—traveling.

“When you have the money, you don’t have the time. When you have the time, you don’t have the money.” — unknown

Business schools often stress that our future net worth is tied to our network. So, in addition to weekly happy hours, frequent group projects, and networking events — we were also encouraged to use our breaks to travel together. And thankfully, Sally Mae and Freddie Mac were there to fund them, providing me with money while I had the time.

In those two years, I snowboarded in Breckinridge; took a food tour in Kuala Lumpur; strolled through the botanic gardens in Singapore; went to the Opera House in Sydney. And in my last semester, I even headed to Barcelona to study abroad, arranging my schedule, so I had long weekends to galivant across Europe.

With all this traveling, I started to know a version of myself I quite fancied: Vacation Me. While Work Me was anxious; a perfectionist; and insecure — Vacation Me was uninhibited; vibrant; and courageous.

How, I wondered, could I create a life where more Vacation Me was present.

My dreams were deferred as I took another corporate job after grad school. While the company I worked for was great, I found myself too often plagued by anxieties and insecurities. I didn’t always mind the work and actually loved my coworkers, but I disliked bureaucracy, believed I wasn’t making use of my natural skills or interests and felt imprisoned by a 9–5 work structure. I wanted to love my job and began to question whether Vacation Me could thrive within the walls of corporate America.

(I acknowledge here that an entire dissertation can be written on whether we have a right to wish to “love our jobs” or whether it reeks of privilege to aspire to have the freedoms I sought. However, I think it’s important to acknowledge your own values and desires. I also think it’s necessary to question whether, just because society tells you that life must look and feel one way, whether you 1) should ascribe to that belief and 2) think it possible to create something that looks different.)

I decided to at least try.

While working, I began teaching yoga twice a week. Spiritual connection is what Vacation Me aspires to have, I thought.

I signed up for writing classes and began working with a writing coach. Writing is what Vacation Me loves to do, I reflected.

I even started saying ‘no’ more. Freedom of time is what Vacation Me needs to operate optimally, I determined.

In fact, freedom became my driving force; it was what I sought to achieve. Mental, physical, financial, and spiritual freedom.

But those slivers of time never felt like enough to cultivate what I wanted to grow. I realized my current path would never make enough room for Vacation Me. This is when I decided to do what 17-year-old me never had the opportunity to do and what the MBA-me had tasted. I would take an adult gap year.

An adult gap year or sabbatical is when adults take a year break from their jobs to assess, destress, transition to something new, or experience something different.

I did it for all of those reasons (very Eat Pray Love of me, I know).

Truthfully, I wasn’t sure when I embarked on my sabbatical whether I had the guts to be untethered to a fancy title at a respectable employer for a year. However, I knew the pressure of figuring out what was next subsided when I framed my corporate exit as a gap year.

During my adult gap year, the three main pillars I focused on were resting, reflecting, and redirecting.

  1. Rest: I took time away from work to decompress. To sit in nature, meditate and spend time with loved ones. I regularly asked myself, what do I need to recharge? Is my body or mind asking that I rest? How can I better tap into Vacation Me?
  2. Reflect: I sought to understand more of who I am and what drives me. I took stock of my experiences over the past decade and asked, what has time granted me? What new experiences do I wish to have? What do I want life to look like in the next decade?
  3. Redirect: I worked to figure out how to be gainfully employed in a position that allowed me to make use of my skills and interests — primarily around storytelling. What did I want my life to look like in the next decade? Could I start doing that today? How could I start cultivating more of ‘future me’ today?

As I left the structure inherent in corporate America, the three Rs gave me clarity and confidence. They also helped me be more intentional with my days.

In time, I realized that my adult gap year was simply how I chose to comfortably label the pivot I was making. Unlike my time traveling in graduate school, I was no longer trying to escape. Rather, I was going within to determine how I could integrate Vacation Me into everyday life.

It’s been a lovely ride.

And one that has redirected my story.

This article was originally published by the author on Medium
Simone Keelah Brathwaite

A self-proclaimed freedom chaser who writes about self-development, spirituality, relationships, & black folx thangs.