The Reality of Taking a Career Break in Your 20s
Mia Holt shares what happens when you take a break from the career you've worked so hard for.
You know that career break you’ve always wanted to take? My amazing friend Mia Holt actually did it. In this guest post (the first on my blog!) she shares what it’s *really* like to pause your career, move to the US for a few months and go against everyone's expectations.
Society is forever trying to control what we should be doing, wearing and saying. Ideas are constantly filtered down to us, telling us just to be ourselves in our 20s - be reckless, make mistakes and learn from them - but when we do, society judges us on our decisions.
When I first told people I was taking a few months off at 24 years old, their first questions were always "But you’ll be working right? What will you do?" When I explained I was just slowing down and wasn’t going to work, they’d say "Oh I wish I could do that." My response would always be, "what’s stopping you?" And then they’d explain how they could never leave their rented flat, or the job they’d been in for 8 years.
They weren’t the only ones. Understandably, older family members who had admirably devoted their lives to one single job couldn’t quite comprehend my decision to leave my well-paid freelance position and beautiful zone 2 flat in London for a few months of the unknown. This just wasn’t something you did.
At every point of our planning, I faced questions, judgement and honest confusion from society because I was going against what I was “supposed to be doing” at 24.
I also faced a lot of questions about my career and money, with people baffled as to why I’d give up “everything I’ve worked for”. Or how I could afford to have a career break at 24 (FYI - I loved my job, and I’m a great saver and budgeter).
But the truth is, sometimes you have to slow down, take a step back and see if everything you’ve worked for, is everything you really want. Things change, you change - you’re not the same person you were nearly 10 years ago when you made the decision to take subjects that would project you down a certain career path. But people are always fearful to question those early choices because they feel like they’ve already invested so much in them.
In the time I’ve spent in New York, I’ve learnt more about myself than I did in the two years I was in London, or the four years I was in university. When you don’t have a real reason to wake up, you learn what you wake up for. What drives you. Where your focus is and where your heart lies. You learn who you are.
Turns out I still need to get up at 7am every morning, walking or running at 8am really kicks my brain into gear, and even when I’m not working I still crave a routine and have a need to create. I’ve learnt I’m passionate about helping young women and since being out here I’ve started a newsletter called The Lift Up Project, which celebrates and showcases the work of creative women (If you’re interested, sign up or read more).
Taking a sabbatical in your 20s is not going to destroy your career - you’re still young. If you’ve built a strong enough foundation, then a few months off won’t undo all that hard work and graft.
And I have worked hard.
I studied at one of the best journalism universities in the UK to achieve a 2.1 in journalism, media and culture studies. After I finished, I took a year out to work at my local newspaper full time (my first day was the day after my graduation), and then did a postgraduate degree in magazine journalism at the same university. I landed a job in London at a leading content agency a week before that course finished, and moved two weeks later.
And all while freelancing and interning for the likes of Look Magazine, Company Magazine, The Debrief, Buzzfeed UK and Munchies in any spare time I could find.
I’ve built my foundation.
As Tracee Ellis Ross says, “If anyone tells you there is a right way to do your life, they’re wrong.”
Or as my mother says, “Only you know what’s best for you.”
By slowing down, I’ve allowed myself to grow. I’ve healed. I’ve given myself permission to ignore what society tells me to do, and I’ve listened to my heart and mind. You’re never going to feel fulfilled if you’re living out a life that you think should you be living, because that’s what society demands of you.
If I’d stayed in London, I would never have slowed down enough to realise any of this. I would never have started The Lift Up Project - something I want to really extend and focus on over the next few years.
The point of this piece is not to tell you to do what I’ve done and to encourage you to take a career break - I know everyone’s situation is different and I haven’t covered every single struggle I faced. It wasn’t easy. The point of this piece is to show you that you don’t always have to follow what others do, or what you think is expected of you. You can forge out a life for yourself on your terms. Three months in a lifetime is nothing.
Think about it.
Follow Mia on Twitter @MiaHolt