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The surprising benefits of a mid-career break (bbc.com)
201 points by FuNe on Oct 16, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 135 comments



I never had a career, but I took a break anyway after 14 years as a plastics factory worker. Mine stretched to 2.5 years since I could afford it. I'm now in my second month as a junior Java developer. This makes more sense than the sabbatical, since I had no skills or connections to get stale.

I have to say the benefits really did make me a better deal as an employee. I basically went from someone who did things because he had to, just fitting everything in around work, to someone who pursued his own goals. Now that I'm back at work, I don't constantly lose sleep till I have to rush to work at the last minute; I schedule things so I don't have to, and I got my sleep habits under control. I don't bike to work just because I need some way to keep from getting fat; I sought out active, fun hobbies I can still engage in, like ice skating. I don't beat myself up all the time for being lazy; I have my own strategies now for getting myself to put in time on the right projects and not let things slip away. I also used to have trouble just getting basic things done like phone calls and finding a tailor; with my time off, I got things done and gained confidence that I could get any errand done.

I also feel so much more independent now. Google Maps plus free time to explore means I found so many wilderness sites and activities. Internet reading about joints plus time to work on the exercises mean any ache or pain that comes up is something I can solve. Compared to the time I tore a back muscle falling into a railcar, when all I could do is try to reduce the activities that caused me nerve damage and hope I got better, I'm so much better equipped to take care of my own health.

tl;dr Having full responsibility for yourself is great. I did a lot of things it would have been too late for in retirement, and the best part is the habits I learned when I had time are now ingrained enough I can do them even while working full time.


Are you also getting paid more in your new job? If so, how much of the change in your life is due to this. E.g. you might be able to buy time with money when previously you just had to rush.


You're not wrong to ask if my new time use comes from my new living situation. It's inherently easier to work out and do errands when you're not working 12-hour night shifts. B Also I've just got more motivation while building a new life.

It's true that I buy time with money now when I never used to (I made 25-35% less but saved enough to cover the years off without touching my retirement). I think it's temporary while I have such extreme studying/shopping demands from the new job, and I will eventually have time to shop around again.

One change is that I spend less time on video games because I realized while I had two years off that I was not getting around to them not because I didn't have time, but because they weren't my favorite thing to do in reality.


> One change is that I spend less time on video games because I realized while I had two years off that I was not getting around to them not because I didn't have time, but because they weren't my favorite thing to do in reality.

Wow, this really clicked with me.

Games had always been a big part of my down time, often as a platform to stay in touch with friends from my home town after moving away.

My interest and enjoyment came in waves, based on what we were playing, outside life and a bunch of other factors. I did notice though, that the amount of time I spent didn't really relate to how much I actually enjoyed the games (or gaming in general).

I realised I didn't actually like playing games as much as I thought. I started pulling apart exactly what I _did_ enjoy, and what was actually tied to gaming (vs something I can achieve / obtain elsewhere).

First, I stopped buying single player games. The social side was a big part of why I liked games, and most single player games I do play, I don't finish. They're generally from a friend's recommendation, so I've started borrowing games from them once they've finished. It seems to avoid the hype train too. ("No Man's Sky was fun for a few hours, but you'll get bored. Try this instead.")

I love the aesthetics and creativity of games, and a lot of my enjoyment comes from just experiencing and absorbing that. I'm sure the SEGA and Nintendo sound chips constantly chirping from my TV set up the brain pathways that make me enjoy repetitive Techno so much now.

I've gone from playing guitar, to a stable of synthesizers and samplers. When an old NES tune pops into my head, I'll start jamming rather than fire up a game I've finished a dozen times.

I don't know if there was a point to that ramble, I just thought I'd share.


It's a shame that we have built a society where time is something you have to buy instead of a plentiful resource that everyone shares in. (I suppose you could say the same for food, shelter, and clean water.)


That's a feature of physics, not vague notions around what "we" have built. Time is and can never be "plentiful" nor "shared in". Everybody has a limited amount of time which is theirs and theirs alone, and what you do with it matters - it's called opportunity cost. When you spend a large amount of time on something, it's not unreasonable to consider whether it was worth it (although that worth can reasonably be measured along other axes than money).


Except in this case, it means a salaried worker who guarantees a certain amount of labor for a certain amount of pay, "buying" back their labor commitment by returning some of that salary.

Why is it a shame that food, shelter and clean water have to be bought? They are cheap (well, shelter can differ) isn't that enough?


It can mean that, but I primarily meant other things: you can buy back your time by hiring a house cleaner, or eating out more often, or buying labour saving gadgets, and probably in various other ways.


Because it means that the amount of free time people have (for mental or physical relaxation, spending with loved ones, personal [non-employment-related] study) depends on how easily you can part with some of your money. If you believe, as I do, that the amount of wealth people enjoy is in many cases a result of luck -- luck in who raised you and where, luck in the stock market, luck in genetics -- then it starts to seem wrong to distribute "time" in exchange for money.


The price for having time as a plentiful resource is to starve periodically for lack of food, watch helplessly as loved ones die for causes you don't understand, and in general consider impossible anything that can't be achieved with sticks, stones, ropes, animal tendons and leather.


Do you really believe that if a society would prioritize time over "work-is-life" and/or materialism it would lead to some kind of a stone age society, or are you just provokingly dogmatic?


Yes, I do think that somehow we've been screwed starting from agriculture, and that societies where people have lots of free time are basically hunters and gatherers societies.

This doesn't mean that we won't get that again in the future thanks to some technological advancement. But that opens a completely different kind of issues.


Do you have anything to back this theory up? If our working time hasn't changed throughout the productivity gains during the 20th century there are other forces at play, namely political.


No. And I guess the same could be said for the opposite theory.

But just look around you: everything that is man made has taken an enormous amount of effort and accumulated knowledge. It's not been made by people who worked three hours per day devoting the rest to socialisation and a painting lessons. The people who invented antibiotics worked their asses off in university and laboratories to find a way for other people to survive infections. All the tools that they were using have been invented by people literally living in their shops and laboratories, and mass produced in factories, keeping their availability high and their price low. If you take any situation or object in your life and follow backwards the chain of work and invention that has been needed to design it, produce it and keep it working, you realise that this chain has required an enormous amount of effort by everybody involved.

This might be the relevant xkcd: http://xkcd.com/1741/


You seem to be confusing free time with unproductive time and at the same time singing the gospel of hard work as a virtue.

Reading this I'm surprised that you're not more worried about the thousands of great minds lost having to work hard their whole lives.


Sorry, I hadn't seen the second part of your comment.

Our working time hasn't changed throughout the enormous productivity gains of the 20th century. But the amount and quality of available products has. It's hugely superior.

Maybe you could work one hour per day in our present time and have the same products available that you had in the year 1900. But would you? Or would you end up asking someone to work just that one more hour when it's for a good cause - some life to save, some impressive machine to build, someone waiting in a queue, having fresh bread on Sundays or bringing you to some holiday destination in August?


My underlying point is that work is not an end in itself. Reducing coerced work, be it political, social or economical coercion, means more time to follow whatever passions one has, even if some of those passions may be things that you consider unproductive. For others, that extra time could mean another Einstein instead of a patent clerk with a less lenient boss than were the case.


Teenagers generally have plentiful time, what percentage of them spend it working productively (without coercion)?


Do they really? Most countries have a quite elaborate schooling system in place to keep teenagers busy. Or do you think that one should be "productive" throughout the day otherwise it's a vice?


Lots of holidays though, and no overtime.


I doubt time has ever been a plentiful resource for humans.


Numerous studies have shown that hunter-gatherer societies only had to spend a few hours a day getting food and shelter.

The rest was leisure time.


But under those societies the world only supported a few million people.


Feature!

Under those societies it could. And there was little endogenous reason why that might suddenly change.

We've retained all the same exogenous risks, and added considerably more endogenous ones to boot.


Also, life was brutal and short.


In 2013, I quit a 10-year job in the HFT/trading systems industry and went to work for small non-profit that developed web/mobile systems for humanitarian and human rights agencies. One of the best the things I ever did. What came out of it:

1. Completely upgraded my outdated skill set - from C++/Oracle to ES6/React/Redux/Node.js etc.

2. Completed a life-long dream of writing a full length science fiction novel (not yet published, sadly)

3. Developed computational psychology model (pet interest) that might one day be the basis of a paper

4. Learned proper leadership skills, public speaking skills and people management skills

5. Much better health - exercised, got plenty of leisure time (worked only 30hrs/week)

6. Networked through pro-bono consulting

It was financially punishing for me, but ultimately it was more than worth it. Last year I returned to the industry full time (a different industry this time). The additional skills/experience in the resume opened up a lot more higher level opportunities that I would never have been able to pursue 3 years ago. Right now I'm in a management level position doing exactly the kind of work I want to do, and I doubt if I'll ever have to worry about finding a job...

By the way, for anyone who asks, those 2 years were easily the happiest in my life.

Edit: cons: be ready to be poorer!


That sounds amazing! I would love to know which industry you returned to, how the exactly the experiences you had in the break contributed to finding higher level opportunities, and the impact on personal finances...


1. The food services industry

2. My previous job was 10 years of mostly proprietary tech. Had no time to pursue other things seriously. Dealing with the newer technologies in a production setting (in the non-profit) helped more than any other learning process would have. Also, going from a small fish in a very big corporate pond to a big fish in a very small pond meant having to take a lot more responsibilities for product, delivery, strategy and HR. It was like a mini skill incubator. I also had enough time to do some serious consulting work, which opened up a lot of opportunities.

3. Quite bad. Savings are quite low currently. My living standard is still somewhat lower than my peers. But opportunities within the next 2-5 years are huge. Had I remained in my old industry, I'd have been a technological fossil by the time I'm 40 (I'm 37 now).


Could I ask what alternative careers you've looked at and specifically how to break into them - recruiters, networking, speculative application? Honestly, I'm constantly terrified of what happens as I near that age with responsibilities and an inevitable redundancy because of the silent ageism in our industry.


I took 5 years off of programming, to go with my family to China, where my wife could pursue her ESL career. I taught high school part-time and was a house-husband. We came back this summer, about 3 months ago. I'm 45 and managed to find decent employment.

I was pretty nervous about coming back to software development, but it turned out fine. I'm not very ambitious career-wise, but I can support my family. I'm doing web development (there was some catching up to do!) and servers & ops on AWS, which I was able to jump right back into. Linux hasn't changed much!

I tried to find work in the US from China, but nobody took me very seriously, so I came back in late April, interviewed in a few places, partly while on a road trip, got 3 offers in 3 different cities, on a spectrum of interesting to well-paid, and all ethical, and accepted one in June (the middle one -- reasonably well-paid, reasonably interesting, in a low-cost-of-living location).

It helped having support of people in the US (my parents, who gave me a home base, and friends in various cities who I could stay with) and being not-very-ambitious -- I'm happy to just be a software engineer / ops guy. I don't need to be very high up the food chain. Companies seem hungry for people who are professional and skilled and get along with people.

I definitely sacrificed something professionally by spending those 5 years in China. It was an expensive sojourn. But I am happy we did it. We were very lucky to (1) all be healthy, (2) have enough money saved to make the leap, even though we knew it would be temporary, and (3) have at least one of us employable in the US (me, the programmer) and abroad (my wife, the ESL teacher). It was a monetary loss for sure! But I learned a lot about life and not worrying about every little detail, and it was an experience that strongly shaped our three children, both for better and for worse. And I think it helped bring the US and China together a little, on a personal level, in the friends that we made and the things we learned.


Can I ask how you feel it negatively impacted your children?


Having experienced this myself, it was an overall negative experience. But I've also met people with a similar experience who seemed to have a good memory of it.

I think it depends a lot on your kid's personality. I was a quiet, introverted kid who was far ahead of my grade level. I wasn't really interested in sports, just computers. I did not fit in well at new schools and it took me a while to develop friendships. That got worse as I got older - starting at a new high school was particularly challenging.

So now I'm a strong believer in providing a stable environment for my kids. To the point where I think parents who move their family around for themselves are being a little selfish.


As others have said, I think it depends on the children's personalities and parenting style. There are definitely things we could have done better. Our children's specific stories:

Youngest is extraverted, confident, and resilient by nature. I'm pretty sure the trip was a net plus.

Middle has anxiety and couldn't get counseling or treatment in China, and the anxiety developed into a pretty severe disorder. (In treatment now in the US.) But she also gained perspective on different cultures and approaches to life and has friends around the world. So some good outcomes, some bad.

Our oldest is introverted and thoughtful, but she's slow to recover from setbacks, and there were plenty -- especially academic -- from living abroad. She's also very slow to make friends. Probably a net negative for her. I think she would have been better off staying in one place. But maybe she'll be okay. Grandma tells me not to worry.


I'm not the OP but I'm guessing that being uprooted from one country to the other, and back, is somewhat challenging for a child's social development.


I was uprooted from one country to the other as a kid.

Pro is that I can pass as a native both in the US and France.

Con is that I don't feel at home in either place; to my American friends I'm the French guy, and to my French friends I'm the American guy.

Overall I think it's mostly positive though. Certainly wouldn't have bad the breadth of experiences I've had otherwise.

There are also deeper questions, like whether I should raise my kids in the US, France, or someone else altogether- but this won't be an issue for another while.


I went through this - it definitely affected me, but I wouldn't call it a negative.

It wasn't so much the living away from home (we were overseas for 2 years when I was 10 years old) it was the return - the shocking disparity between how I now saw the world, and how my peers (who were frozen in time in my memory) saw things. It forever separated me from them in ways they could not understand.

In hindsight, it was one of the best things my parents did for me - compared to most of my home-grown peers, I adapted faster to new situations and had little difficulty adapting to life as an independent adult - in my opinion, thanks to the expanded perspective I gained when I was younger.

YMMV, but IMO, calling it "challenging for a child's social development" implies a negative, but it really depends on what your goals for that child's development are. It's certainly an experience I'd like to repeat for my own children if I can make it happen.


This study also suggests that it could also depend on whether or not the child is extraverted. https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/psp-98-6-980.pdf

I've seen other research with similar findings. Having moved cities/provinces three times in my childhood (granted within one country) I have to say that it doesn't seem it was tough on me, but I know people who say they wish they hadn't been moved so much. Another part of it for me is that I really like where I ended up; and importantly, I gained all of my social skills after moving to my final childhood municipality, so I associate it with social success.


Yes! Thank you for linking that.

Our children's experience was very much tied to their extraversion. The most extraverted is doing the best, and the least extraverted has had the biggest net negative outcome, in my opinion.


Yet another Third Culture Kid. It has positives and negatives but most people who've been through it see the overall as positive.


which (US) city did you resettle and find employment in? San Francisco?


Ha ha! West Lafayette, Indiana (home of Purdue University).


I'm currently on a trip around the world, going over 1 year at the moment and loving life, I wouldn't trade it for anything.

I've met countless 20-somethings doing the same, and a surprising number of mid-career professionals, and they're all European.

I have yet to meet a single person in almost 2 years of international travel that is from the US and was willing to take a break in their career.

I hope this American culture shifts towards Europe in the future. Americans are left out of this experience and cultural exchange, and seen as choosing to rather stay at home to toil over their bank accounts. The professional and personal benefits are more than adding 1 more year of your working life will ever get you, and besides, I want to see the change because I have a vested interest in finding a job when I come back.


The vast, vast majority of Americans simply cannot afford to take extended time off to travel internationally, and of those who can, the current job market is such that for those that return, the prospects outside of the tech industry are not good. Employers here generally do not look favorably on large employment gaps, and the social safety net is pretty sparse if you come back and need time to get situated again. Comparing European workers and American workers in this context is not very fair - the situations for each are quite different.


I think your other points are good, but I disagree here:

> The vast, vast majority of Americans simply cannot afford to take extended time off to travel internationally

It can be done very economically; students with almost no money do it, staying in hostels, taking trains, etc. I know one guy who worked his way through, at least to some extent. If you have kids and a mortgage, that's a different story.


Economic travel is meaningless if you have debt payments to make, or if you can't afford a plane ticket. Banks don't care if you want to take a year off - they still want their money. Roughly 70% of US undergrads come out of college in debt, with that debt being an average of over $35k. Most of these graduates spend at least all of their 20s paying this off, and then have to juggle mortgages and family obligations for the next 20 years.

And of course there's that widely publicized study showing that 63% of Americans can't even afford a $500 emergency bill to repair their car or pay for a medical procedure. Buying a plane ticket to Europe and meals/lodging, even at grocery store & hostels level, is out of the question for average non-tech worker.

My point is that if you look at the percentage of Americans who can afford to take a year off work, afford to get to and live in a location like Western Europe, and still have a decent chance of regaining a good job upon return, you've easily excluded 90%+ of the population.


It's actually very possible for Americans if they plan correctly. From what I've seen, only the salaries near London approach anything close to the typical six figure rates seen in the US.

It should be pretty easy for any developer in the US to sock away several hundred thousand dollars by mid 30s. I did it.

Simply continuing to live as I always have, regardless of raises, has made the most difference. Granted, children and marriage are two things that I'm very unlikely to do anytime soon, as I feel it is simply too risky in the US as a man.

But yes there is something in our culture that impedes travel and long vacations like this. I have visited many places off the beaten path, and one thing I've noticed is that Europeans (especially Germans) really seem to get around the world - they prioritize it, while in the US I've only recently taken my first vacation in many years where I did not bring my work alone with me. I think the lack of job stability really makes Americans feel anxious about employment. One can lose their job here and be out the door in 30 minutes, no warning. There is absolutely no safety net for males in US society, and one trip to the ER without health insurance can screw you over financially.

But like I said, salaries in the US seem really high, so it can certainly be done. In fact, I prefer this to the EU system as I am in full control of my life, and by saving more money that isn't taxed as much, it's possible to retire far earlier than engineers in the EU or elsewhere.


"... to the typical six figure rates seen in the US."

You need to get your news from more than one source. HN is not a representative sample. I can't overstate this.

I can tell you that having lived in the US and Europe it is MUCH easier to travel as a European resident:

* 21 days of vacation every year, by law, that people actually use. 6 weeks for some places, like Germany (how do you think it is they travel so much??) In the US if you get vacation it's common to be shamed by your coworkers and bosses if you use more than a few days. A friend of mine works for a company with "unlimited vacation". He just visited Morocco and Portugal for a few weeks and was chided by colleagues for it. He is an incredibly talented and in-demand engineer, though, so he can tell them to shove it. Most people cannot.

* You can leave your job and not be stuck with terrible health insurance (Obamacare is a start, but when you're a footloose 20 something what the hell good is a plan that costs $150 a month and has a $6000 deductible?)

* If you have student loans at all, they're generally quite small.

* The social safety net is stronger; jobseeker's allowance, the dole, etc. are not as hard to qualify for as unemployment is in the US. Think to yourself - in the US, the worst possible consequence of taking a vacation is that you'll be sleeping in gutters after you get back and your boss fires you to set an example. In much of Europe you collect benefit (modest, but still something) and live with roommates.

* Cars - it's a lot harder to save when you're basically forced to spend $250-$600 a month for basic transportation. You might point out that there are alternatives, and there are, but in the US it means paying a TON for rent in order to live in one of the few nice neighbourhoods in the country.

* Most of all, not everyone is a developer. Perhaps people who make $30k a year should be able to take some time off, even for a modest vacation near home, without being in abject terror of seeing their lives ruined for it?


I think most decent engineers in even small markets in the South and Midwest US could expect $100k or so by 30 years of age.

In contrast, I see salaries in even expensive cities like Amsterdam, Madrid, Munich at far less. When you add in the higher taxes in the EU, were talking significantly less.

And yes, for many people in the US, things like health insurance, cars, and college debt are big problems.

Here's a little secret, though: in the US, if you play the game correctly, you really can win. That means you actually buy catastrophic health insurance even when you're young and probably won't use it. It means taking out half your college credits at one of the community colleges that are very inexpensive, then finishing up with a lucrative degree at the public college. It means buying a used, modest and dependable car, and not a fancy German cash cow or huge SUV.

Most Americans follow everyone else blindly into massive debt via conspicuous consumption and poor planning. The EU tries to make sure nobody gets thoroughly screwed, and that's admirable. But it also seems like one is pretty limited in how far up or down they can go.

I've lived in the EU (and other places far worse), but I still think America is best for someone like me that doesn't want the typical 9-5, wife and kids, etc. But if I did, then I'd prefer the safety net of the EU. I'm also privileged, I can admit. For some Americans born with a disadvantaged lot, the US is a cruel shit show


> * Cars - it's a lot harder to save when you're basically forced to spend $250-$600 a month for basic transportation. You might point out that there are alternatives, and there are, but in the US it means paying a TON for rent in order to live in one of the few nice neighbourhoods in the country.

As a soon-to-be resident of the NYC metro area, I was shocked to discover that the monthly costs of those alternatives effectively added up to a car payment.


Perhaps the car payment, but consider: fuel, depreciation cost (almost always overlooked), insurance, parking, and maintenance.

If you can live without a dedicated car (taxi, Uber, car-share, rentals), it's often a surprisingly affordable option. The critical loss is in the flexibility of auto-based transport, though again, that hinges greatly on the alternatives offered by the location.

Humans existed without cars for nearly 200,000 years.


> Perhaps the car payment, but consider: fuel, depreciation cost (almost always overlooked), insurance, parking, and maintenance.

Well, depreciation is irrelevant if I consider the entire car payment a sunk cost. Anything I get for selling the car is a bonus. Otherwise yes, there are additional costs.

> If you can live without a dedicated car (taxi, Uber, car-share, rentals), it's often a surprisingly affordable option.

That is the part that hinges on location and the trade-off between transportation costs and domicile costs.

> Humans existed without cars for nearly 200,000 years.

Humans existed without cities for about 197,000 of those years, but I'd rather not go back to that.


> It's actually very possible for Americans if they plan correctly. From what I've seen, only the salaries near London approach anything close to the typical six figure rates seen in the US.

After 14 years in Dallas I have never broken the six-figure barrier. I am only about to do so because I am moving to NYC.

> It should be pretty easy for any developer in the US to sock away several hundred thousand dollars by mid 30s. I did it.

I have only earned several hundred thousand over the course of my career. It would not be easy for me to save it even if I wanted to spend less on more immediate gratification.


"Typical" 6 figure rates are in or near the 90th percentile of income. Cost of living in most places with those 6 figure salaries are in the 90th percentile too.


> There is absolutely no safety net for males in US society, and one trip to the ER without health insurance can screw you over financially.

Why don't people in the US simply found a safety net among peers with comparable motivational and educational background instead of crying that the state has to provide it?


We have that. It's private health insurance. However, as we've gotten pretty good at identifying high and low risk individuals it means many people are unable to access it when they need it. This is why health insurance may be better provided by the state (though really the jury's still out on that one).

In general stuff like this suffers from the free rider problem - after all, who in their right mind would pay to build a lighthouse when anyone who wants can enjoy use of said lighthouse without paying?


> In general stuff like this suffers from the free rider problem - after all, who in their right mind would pay to build a lighthouse when anyone who wants can enjoy use of said lighthouse without paying?

That's why I wrote "among peers with comparable motivational and educational background [and/or shared values]". This should reduce the free rider problem a lot.


Because of the enormous adverse selection problem inherent in starting such a collective.

Who is most likely to join? Someone who intends to take benefit from it, or someone who is hoping to never use the benefits?


I think it's not about affording traveling itself but to be able to afford everything that comes with it, like consequences, plugging in back upon return, picking up career etc.


Americans have student debt.


There are plenty of Americans roaming the planet just like the Germans, Australians, the Brits and the Japanese. I have met them in South East Asia, South America, India and Africa. There's no shortage of them. They were all taking sabbaticals or time off or whatever you want to call it. All of the places I just mentioned are relatively cheap to travel compared to Europe or the US.


I spend about $20/day over the long run in my trip, and I find cash-in-hand jobs quite easily to keep me cashed up without really dipping into my savings. More importantly, I try to make a lot of friends, which helps more than being affluent.


Can I ask what your career was before leaving? I've worked very hard to get to where I'm at, solving machine learning problems for a great company. But I really just want to quit and travel the world. Leaving behind all the effort I just put in seems like such a shame, I'm not sure if I could get back to where I am now. Where have you travelled? Are you going solo?


I've just returned to the US after 12 years abroad. I've met many Americans who are doing the same, traveling. What they do is save up, sell everything, then quit. Their social safety net is their savings account and, occasional, paid work as an English teacher.

Since I've come back I make sure to include PTO in any salary negotiation. No point in making a lot of money if you can't take the time to enjoy it.

My family has just done 2 years at sea. The gaps in employment were easy to explain.


Get on the property ladder before you take your sabbatical.

I recently took an 18 month sabbatical from my banking software development job and it was well worth the risk. I had been working for 11 years. I ended up getting my old job back when I returned because I did not leave on bad terms. I probably would not have if I had stayed there any longer as work and London life was turning me into an angry selfish person in general.

My only regret is that I didn't buy a flat or house just before I took the break. Whilst employers are more than open to the idea of a long sabbatical in my industry, lenders are not. Right now I am earning just as much as I used to but I am struggling to get a home loan despite having an excellent credit rating. They see that hole in your work history and it gives them the jitters. I should have bought a place and rented it out before I went traveling.


That is all fine and well during a property bull cycle (which admittedly we've had for the last decade plus in the UK).

But equally property really ties you down if you are dependent on paying a mortgage. If you live somewhere with not huge demand for rental, then you cannot leave your job.

Mortgages and property prevent many people from taking time off, I could tell you of loads of people I know who cannot take time off because they need their monthly wage for mortgage.


In the US I often see well paid friends struggle financially after buying a house (I do live in a high cost area in the US). And most landlords (again, US) will accept a bank statement with 12-14 months rent in lieu of a salary check. You can prepay 12 months to avoid any questions whatsoever.

I would personally avoid buying a house before jumping off as that would occupy my mind instead of freeing it. My 2c.


"..And most landlords (again, US) will accept a bank statement with 12-14 months rent.."

When I was starting a company and without a salary it was really hard to find a landlord who was OK with this. Some seemed to be thinking "eh, this is different from the norm and I have plenty of applicants so it's not worth the mental trouble", and others "irregular income situation probably means they sell drugs".


Right now, in London and if you have a 15% deposit, its cheaper to buy a place than to rent from month to month so I guess it depends where you live. I always thought it was better to keep my savings liquid for startup capital but I found myself going back to work because I did not like spending it on rent. I figured that I would continue my project at a slower pace in the evenings and weekends and cover my expenses in the meantime. This is not a good recipe for swiftly setting up a startup.


Good to know. One difference may be buying a flat in a multi-family building, so the costs of major repairs (roofs and such) is shared and can be handled by a management company for a fixed monthly cost / subcontracted / insured against. That (I think) makes total cost easily predictable.

My observations are from US where more than one family I know bought a house (old house, expensive because of the good school district, which is why they bought it), assumed low maintenance costs, then got hit with some sizeable repairs (as the house is old). Not trying to generalize, that's just what I saw.


Strange, this is one of my regrets as well -- not investing in real estate!


I also think you better adjust your view instead of that suggestion. If that kind of factor influences your options for loans then don't loan that much money. Wait for a better time to buy a house, find a better house, save more, or simply never buy. Financially it's not smart to buy a house in the current market in most places I've heard about.


> One of Smith’s clients pointed out to their manager how much money they could save in the budget for that year by not having to pay their salary, yet not sacrificing the investment they had made in training them over the years.

When an organization can operate without your presence for over 300 days, your role may not be very necessary.

The surprising costs of a mid-career break involve falling far enough behind industry trends and methods, that it would be faster to train a new person than retrain you. The article is very optimistic about the rate of change in any workplace, and also an employer's willingness to support this kind of extended vacation.


>The surprising costs of a mid-career break involve falling far enough behind industry trends and methods, that it would be faster to train a new person than retrain you.

In programming -- and, I think, perhaps in most industries -- more people fall behind in learning because of their job than because they're out of the daily grind. Any large-scale enterprise is chock-full of devs who have plenty of experience developing inside Websphere, Liferay, Sitecore and so on, but who haven't had the time between work, family and sleep to gain knowledge and experience in SPA development, CI, CD, microservices, and so on, let alone more outre topics like ML or NLP. Giving knowledge workers the opportunity to sabbatical out and build new expertise would benefit both them and their employers.


Except if their employers need people maintaining the legacy systems using the legacy technology. Then having people there who know nothing else is highly beneficial, since they're unlikely to quit.


> When an organization can operate without your presence for over 300 days, your role may not be very necessary.

Which is a good thing. Everyone should be replaceable in corporate jobs, maybe not a startup, which makes sense. If you're not replaceable then your business is not doing the best it can to future proof itself.

I try to find my replacement actually, I take the interns and coops in every meeting as well as CC them on all emails. I do not see myself in the same job for my entire career, what better bargaining tool to move up than say you have your replacement ready?


People skills have a much longer half-life than, say, proficiency in the latest javascript framework or machine learning trend.


That's the absurdity of modern business in many places. Short term, stupid thinking.

I'm glad to work for an employer with more enlightened work rules. When I had my back surgery, I was out for nearly 6 months. We had about a weeks notice, and my #2 person was able to take things on and I was able to transition most projects to her. Everything went fine. Actually it was a great thing because my fill-in's talents became apparent in my absence, and she got promoted later as a result.

Any workplace that changes so quickly that an above average player is totally out of touch in <1 year, the place is a shitshow.


If you work somewhere with such turnover that your knowledge is useless in 300 days... should you?

I tend to believe the rate of change in programming is grossly overstated anyhow, but that takes it to truly absurd levels.


True. I did a year of sys administration, and when I got back I realized I had missed that year's JS frameworks du jure. Panicked, I began learning everything I could about Bower, Grunt, Angular JS 1, and Mongo.

I lucked out, though, because the team decided these technologies were woefully outdated, and we were to migrate to Gulp, React, and Postgres.

Unfortunately, end of this year, and these have been eclipsed by Angular 2, JSPM, etc.


I think you mixed up "du jour" and "de jure" there.


It does suggest, however, both "de jure du jour" and "du jour de jure".


It may not come from an individual, but there is certainly an element of the JS community that seems to operate de jure. Frameworks are "the next hot thing" before they've hardly shipped a production site of any consequence, let alone shown the ability to improve things across a large array of sites, or had time for the negatives to be shaken out. Or a "next hot thing" ships one massive site like Facebook or something and it's the "next hot thing" before anybody can realize that they aren't Facebook and don't have three hundred dedicated front end developers themselves, and it's way less clear the NHT will work for two guys in a closet working on a startup.


Wouldn't that be de facto? De jure would mean there is some kind of law. I feel we have the opposite, quickly shifting de facto standards without any place to reference what is "correct" today.


I'm using de jure to contrast the de facto; I think frameworks are the "next big thing" before they're even fact. That Javascript Guy comes up to you, asks you what you're using, and then berates you for not using Hot New Thing, de jure-ing you into using it, or at least feeling bad for not using it.

Part of the way I've resisted being sucked into the JS vortex over the past few years is that I thoroughly reject the authoritative claims that I should be using X or Y, on the grounds that I don't particularly respect the technical judgment of the people making those claims. (And check that last clause carefully; all the Next Big Things are generally engineered pretty well, it's the advocates berating you for not keeping up to date that I'm dissing.)


What's the longest break you've taken from working? You might be surprised how little actually changes in the course of 6-12 months, once you get past the obvious surface changes. The perspective that can be gained from stepping away for more than two weeks can be invaluable.


Mostly it's projects that were "90%" done, expected to compete in a few weeks are now "had some unexpected complications, but we're past those now."


In most companies nothing of substance changes over the course of a year. You won't fall behind trends and methods. It's like not reading the news for a year. You miss a lot of noise but the substance doesn't change.


> When an organization can operate without your presence for over 300 days, your role may not be very necessary.

For an alternative view: When an organization can't operate without your presence in that role, how can they consider promoting you out of that role?

I've seen people stall their careers by becoming the only person able to cover a particular role. I personally fell into this trap for a couple of years.

In hindsight, feeling like they couldn't do without me for a week or two for a holiday was a huge red flag. Since then, I've been conscious and cautious of this, and actively planned to avoid it.

Anything I feel I'm the only one who can cover, I make a point to properly document the process, have someone shadow me the next time I need to do it, and eventually perform the process themselves while I supervise.


If you are not replaceable, you are not promotable.


> If you are not replaceable, you are not promotable.

Not accurate. You can be promoted and take on additional responsibilities and/or title.


I've learned mostly the opposite. Those that become indispensable rarely get promoted because moving them would create a huge gap in a necessary role. At best, these engineers are rewarded with 'pseudo promotions' like team lead or lead of two projects - with no pay increase or perks, just more people to manage, PowerPoints to create, weekly status meetings to attend, etc.

Playing politics, dressing better, getting in shape (opposite of the typical hoody-ed neck beard) and befriending those above you, while learning a little bit of lots of business facets, is the path to real promotions.


RE: 300 days.

Not always true, I took 6 month break from a large consulting firm - they have thousands of consultants so you can take a break without killing the company but obviously they want as many consultants billing hours as possible.


I'd be really interested to learn about companies that replace their entire codebase twice a year. That seems amazing.


while they may not be changing their codebase twice a year, code can evolve enough to be hard to recognize, especially in big, intermingled (i.e: poor) codebases which interact with other systems (can someone say microservices?)

Small things change here and there and suddenly you don't understand the beast.

Granted, this is not a general case, but do not underestimate several months work by a team of people.


Eh, there's so much thought built into getting code into production. Things like logging, monitoring, service discovery, orchestration, rollback, authentication, authorization. Couple that with all the other stuff for just coding, formatting style, testing standards, code reviews, version control patterns, allocation of tickets. Then sprinkle in some institutional awareness of who's responsible or who can answer questions about system interaction, connecting to databases, sending email, creating new users.

I'm skeptical that all of that changes often enough to make a rehire less valuable than a new person. Sure, you may have switched to k8s from docker. In that kind of environment, can you really get a new person really productive in less than 6 months? And with the new person, you're never really sure they're actually capable of doing the work, until they do the work.

Ok, sure, if the potential rehire wasn't all that great, it's probably worth rolling the dice. But if they can point to a few successful projects, why not rehire? You know they're a cultural fit. They accept however dysfunctional the organization is, and tolerated it well enough to want to come back. Plus they know a bunch about how to actually get things done in your particular structure.


[flagged]


this isn't reddit...


I’m a few months into a mid-career break. I’m exercising, playing with kids, writing, studying, and sleeping (8 hours/night!). I’m also depleting savings, but not as quickly as I projected. Now that I have time, I fix broken things rather than replace them. I take time to research things really well before purchasing, so make few mistakes and get good deals. Each dollar I spend is a few minutes sooner that I need to return to employment (if the projects I’m tinkering with aren’t yet revenue-generating), which motivates frugality.

We lowered our costs significantly right before I left work. We moved to a small but adequate house in the far suburbs. My mortgage is about one-eight the mortgage of peers in my profession at my level, even when I include the rent I pay now for a tiny personal office nearby.

Chen, featured in the article, was one inspiration to take the plunge. I found his LinkedIn CV, which describes that period: “Father and Husband, Sabbatical, September 2011 - August 2012. We took a year off from our life in Boston and lived on a remote island in Norway just north of the Arctic Circle.” I liked that. Ideally I emerge from this period with a sustainable business of my own, but even if I return to working for others, as long as I have an interesting, compelling story about what I was up to during my time off, and how it made me better - which I will - I doubt the period will cost me much (if anything) in interview terms, and it may benefit me.

Glad to read the experiences of others here who did this and didn’t regret it. If there are people who took time off and did regret it or have advice about how (not) to spend the time, would love to read that too.


> I found his LinkedIn CV, which describes that period: “Father and Husband, Sabbatical, September 2011 - August 2012. We took a year off from our life in Boston and lived on a remote island in Norway just north of the Arctic Circle.”

Honestly it sounds more along the lines of a usual stay at home dad, the location notwithstanding. The only reason they moved there was wife's origin and offer of employment.

If you reverse the genders it happens all the time, just that no one would call that 'sabbatical'.


> If you reverse the genders it happens all the time, just that no one would call that 'sabbatical'.

Because a sabbatical means that for a limited time you will do something different that you always wanted to do and go back to the job afterwards. Not cultivating a new hobby which will distract you from your job for the next, say, 15 years.


That would be a lot more convincing if his sabbatical wasn't around the in-laws. There's nothing wrong with paternity leave, maybe that's a stigma on resume in the States though?


I took a 1 year career break in 2011, travelled around Asia, learnt some new life and professional skills and got an excellent new job in Australia (I'm British) via sponsorship.

Im convinced that I got the job because my energy and enthusiasm levels were completely reset after my time away from working.

In August this year I left that job and I've been living in Thailand for the last 2.5 months, and already I feel completely reset and ready for new challenges.

The most important part of a career break is to use the time wiseley to either work on yourself, or work on your skills, or both. If you just sit around on your backside playing XBox and doing the same shit you did while you were working, then you're probably not going to benefit from it.

Yes this path may not be available to friends who went down the family/mortgage path but they have benefits in their life which I don't have. Different people, different priorities I guess.


I did this a few years ago, taking 1 year off. I was a bit nervous being in my 40s, but it did such immense help for me, I recommend it for anyone who is willing to work hard during their time off. I pivoted from enterprise software to backend development for various online companies and I'm very, very happy.


While a sabbatical year might be very beneficial for the person taking it (for the multitude of reasons mentioned in the article), it can be detrimental for the organization. For example, if the person taking the sabbatical is in charge of (or playing a lead role in) a project that is time sensitive, then this is a big setback for the project. Similarly, if the person is mentoring someone else (who is dependent in some way on his presence), then taking a sabbatical is unfair to that mentee.

This is why it is important to plan the sabbatical year so that it is personally beneficial and also not detrimental to the organization and its people.


I'd say that it is just as important to an organization to learn how to deal with people leaving. It's better to have someone leaving under good terms than bad, and if you're totally reliant upon a single person doing a single role, you're not displaying too much 'organizing' in your organization.


Can anyone in this thread speak to how it would impact a software engineers career in the USA? I've considered doing this for a while, just afraid to give up all I've worked for


I worked 7 years for one company and had the feeling it wouldn't go anywhere.

So I quit and went Funemployed for 1.5 years. Doing some game development etc.

Went self-employed afterwards and got to work from home and make much more money.

I learned much and even tried to finish my masters degree, but the new job prevented me from getting the thesis done, haha. But maybe next year.


Oh, another "Isn't it cool that people can quit their jobs to go do $EXPENSIVE_THING" humblebrag article! File this along with the "Exploring Africa in my custom jeep" and "Traveling the country in a solar powered van I built" pieces. Unfortunately, this option is not available to the 99.99% of readers who need to pay their mortgages, health insurance, child care expenses, student loan payments, and other realities of normal life.

If you're one of those lucky enough to be able to just jaunt off to a faraway land for a "career break" then congratulations! But these articles claiming it's something that you, the reader, can do, are pretty silly.


Not being able to do this because you have kids, a mortgage or student loan repayments is down to choices you have made in life. Someone who doesn't have those commitments holding them back because they chose a different path shouldn't feel guilty.


Calling children 'life choices' (something that happens far too often here on HN) is... interesting, to say the least. That you believe that other people's 'life choices' (in this case, children) are 'holding them back' is also interesting.

I suggest you have some prejudices that you need to resolve.


Wide access to contraception and education does make it a life choice in North America and Europe.

You may want kids, but this is neither a need nor an obligation. A desire, AKA a life choice.


There are many ways to refer to children. I've noticed on HN children frequently get referred to as a 'life choice', and grouped with things such as student debt and mortgages.

The post I objected to then referred to people being 'held back' by such life choices. That's a judgement call right there by the poster, and it's a poor one. In my opinion, it's misanthropic.

Yes, having children is technically a life-choice in the West. However, I've noticed a disturbing pattern where people classify children with things when discussing them. The humanity of the child is de-emphasized and the classification as a thing is the focus.

It's one of the acceptable prejudices in Silicon Valley, and like ageism in the Valley, it's so normalized that many people don't even notice it.


ryandrake is the one who brought childcare expenses into the thread, suggesting that that was one factor that limited people's freedom. uhtred is the one who responded with the reference to "[holding] back". I'm not sure which of the two (or both) you're objecting to.

It is literally true. I have two kids (100% by choice and I'm thrilled with that choice). However, they absolutely hold me back from doing things that I might do if we were still DINKs or if I were single. Being married (another choice that makes me extremely happy) holds me back from doing some other things that I'd do if I were single. None of the statements in this paragraph should be construed as meaning that I dislike my wife or kids.

I don't see the misanthropism in making a factual statement that some people feel that they can't drop their job and travel the world for a year because they have kids (or a mortgage, or student loans, or any other reason that ryan listed).


Devils Advocate: The desire for kids is wired into us at a very low level. It's not quite a basic survival need but, but it's near that level psychologically.


> Devils Advocate: The desire for kids is wired into us at a very low level. It's not quite a basic survival need but, but it's near that level psychologically.

There are other things like solving problems by violence that are similarly wired. This does not mean that in the modern society this is acceptable. In the same way having children should be considered as an expensive life choice.


How is it not a basic survival need? Most societies don't have social security, pension funds etc. So, kids are the only way to survive beyond the state of being young & healthy.


> How is it not a basic survival need? Most societies don't have social security, pension funds etc. So, kids are the only way to survive beyond the state of being young & healthy.

But this does not hold in the first world. So in the first world it is a (IMHO rather expensive) life choice.


I for one like to think my parents brought me into this world by choice and not by accident.


Just for the hell of it I went over to my wife and proposed taking a sabbatical. She raised an eyebrow: "Are you high? Man up & do what needs to be done!"

Seriously though, until universal basic income is a thing, those of us who must work for a living will continue to work for a living. This is capitalism in action.


Can only talk about my wife and our situation. We both work, but all ways make sure that either partner can hold a full time job and pay all our commitments. This goes for car loan, mortgage, shopping. It takes the stress of either partner that they can just take 6 to 12 months off when things get really tough.


Even with UBI my guess is you'd get the same response due to the likely standard of living hit you'd take.


I can't afford to take a 1 year break either, but it sure feels good to read about people doing it. If I hadn't come across articles like these, I probably wouldn't have even thought about something like this. The idea really resonates with me and at least now, I can plan to do something like this few years down the line.




It sounds like lots of people here have taken breaks, but have any of you taken actual sabbaticals (i.e. with explicit employer permission and with the intention of coming back afterwards)? How did you negotiate it and how did it go for you?


We have a program that grants a short (4 week) sabbatical every 5 years. You can add an additional 2 weeks of PTO to get to a 6 week break.

It's not an academic's typical sabbatical, but it's a nice perk to disconnect as well as force us to not be excessively dependent on a long-time veteran for daily ops.

To your last question, it's a company perk, so wasn't negotiated; my first one went very well; I caught up on some hobbies that I'd let slide and did some fun travel and am looking forward to my second one.


> We have a program that grants a short (4 week) sabbatical every 5 years. You can add an additional 2 weeks of PTO to get to a 6 week break.

That's not a sabbatical, that's a normal summer vacation in Europe :)


I did this last year by accident, after a layoff from a high intensity but failing startup. Easily one of the most productive, eye opening, bucket list kicking experiences of my life. I ended up doing 6 months, traveling, starting a company, got CELTA certified, met a woman who turned my perspective on dating upsidedown, and generally was much happier.

Oddly though, all of my personal coding projects went almost immediately into the bin. I didn't have the motivation to push them when I was employed and lost all motivation when I didn't touch the field on a daily basis.


A consultant that just started working for our company wrote this post a few days ago: "He who dares"... Why moving from a corporate to a start-up could be the best move you ever make… Might be of interest http://blog.thisisbud.com/he-who-dares-why-moving-from-a-cor...


Question for all you guys who took a break (ie travel for 1 yr+) and came back to another job. How did you show in your resume?


My resume just looks something like:

  Job A: 2007-2009
  Job B: 2010-2014
  ...etc
No one ever asks.


Well, I did few freelancing projects during my 2 years break, so I guess I could fill it with freelancing and list of projects to show for.

On the other hand, I haven't try to get another job since. Mix of freelancing and working on my own projects is replacing my income.


As much as the break and benefits itself seem alluring, most of the world can't afford this kind of lull in their careers. This applies to both work-oriented countries like Japan and USA as well as third world countries.


Did BBC just clickbait me?


Non-white people do this too. They just call it being laid off. The holistic, "I just feel so fulfilled!" crap just irks me at some visceral level that I can't fully explain. There's just something so entitled and lazy about this way of existing.


You sound like you need a sabbatical.




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