In December 2014, I quit my job. It wasn’t exactly something I’d methodically planned on doing, but when I look back on it, I know it was a long time coming. I’d spent the last eight years dedicated in heart, mind and body to my zoological career, and I needed a break. I’d spent the last three years living in the same town, and I needed a change. Life had become monotonous when living, for me, is fueled by the unknown. So I took a chance.
In our mid-20s, we are still young and impressionable. We are at the peak of our productivity, our brains—sharp as tacks—are eager to learn, our futures are untethered and therefore filled with wide open doors of opportunity. It is, as this would suggest, a pivotal time. We begin building our ladders for success; we step higher and higher toward that shining ray of achievement and happiness. We can mold our careers… or we can mold our individuality. I guess the real question here is, what defines our success and happiness?
The former description lays way the ideal groundwork for our professions, but that exact same illustration paints the perfect chance for self-exploration. Our mid-20s is the ideal age to understand who we are and what we want before diving into a lifelong commitment for something we will statistically give up on ten years down the road.
Jane Hirt, former VP at the Chicago Tribune, quit her job and took a year off, recently penning a reflective report of her 2015 “Radical Sabbatical.” Similar to Ms. Hirt, the reactions in response to my career break were a combination of curiosity, misunderstanding, incredulity, disapproval, scorn and regard. But despite those who disagreed with my seemingly “radical” decision, the vast majority offered me respect. The statement I heard most often was, “I wish I could do that.” The responses were the same when I set off to bunk with a tribe in the Amazon and backpack Europe solo; the disarming truth of these statements is that people do not believe in themselves.
We view our jobs as a sense of stability because they offer us finances and health benefits. We then relate our jobs to happiness and success because we find ourselves outwardly secure when, perhaps inwardly, we are less secure. Jane Hirt is a middle-aged corporate executive and she sacrificed stability for a sense of self.
It is unnerving unleashing yourself from the ties of the American workforce, ignoring societal expectations and stepping away from the “real world.” I will not put words on a page that hold no merit and I will not speak words that bear no authenticity. It is not easy embracing change. But far greater than its difficulty is its importance, its vital necessity to our well-being. Change is healthy; change is good.
My year of change turned out to be a year of growth, reflection and discovery.
I traveled, tried new things, took chances, made new friends, caught up with old friends and visited family. Much of my year was shared with someone else while other moments were spent in quiet solo appreciation. I experienced a year full of waves of unanticipated emotions spurned by unexpected—sometimes indescribable—experiences.
I went paragliding, hiked to Machu Picchu, picked wild berries and made my own jam, rescued and rehomed an injured island dog, started freelance writing, learned how to bake with a dehydrator, cried a lot, laughed a lot, lived through a natural disaster, scaled a glacier, saw my first wild Grizzly bear, flew co-pilot, survived heartache, planted a garden, met members of indigenous communities, jumped off a cliff into the ocean, ate seven types of potatoes, painted my face in bug guts, visited ancient geoglyphs, swam with a bull shark, got featured as an inspirational woman, locked myself out on a third story terrace in Latin America, became a master at Cribbage, learned how to wield a glue gun without burning myself, went sandboarding, volunteered and donated, cooked over an outdoor fire, started a beach combing collection and decluttered my life.
I learned to love me for me. I accomplished unwritten goals and fell short of others. I realized I want to be defined by more than one passion. I discovered strengths and weaknesses within myself. I have no regrets.
If a potential employer asks me at a job interview why there is a one-year gap in my resume, I am prepared to tell them. And they better strap themselves in because I know how to sell myself. I know how to market the value and virtue of self-discovery, self-awareness and self-worth. I know that I want to love what I do and who I am. I know that I am an invaluable employee, but even more so, I know that I am invaluable to my own success and happiness.