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Quarter-life Crisis: the Aftermath

This is the part of “giving up work and traveling” that nobody likes to talk or hear about.

Before I get to it, I just want to also point out that during this break we took, I had a couple of seriously doubtful moments about what we had given up, and what it would mean for us down the road. First, within days of being in India, I wondered, should I be in New York instead as the horns blasting around me made me want to punch someone. Then in Paris, doing the math in my head about how much everything was costing also gave me a panic attack.

So, one can only conclude it’s normal to have doubts, especially in the beginning when you really don’t know what to expect…and then at the end…

Re-integrating is hard work. The excitement and anxiety of traveling around the world often blinds us from the more distant future of “what happens when I’m done”? Granted, most people who are leaving their jobs are probably looking for a fresh start and a few surprises anyway.

I found myself in Vancouver without a job after my year was complete. I had left my job in mid-March, and I landed in Vancouver from London in April the following year, by myself. I was there to wait for my visa to be processed so I could live and work in London. I was on track, timing-wise. However, nobody ever warned me that a spousal visa could take almost three months. I started my stay in Vancouver by having promising conversations with companies that were hiring. Then slowly jobs came and went because my visa was taking too long. I found myself unable to plan for what lay ahead given the uncertainties.

After taking a year off and gaining some fresh perspectives, I also wanted to make sure I wasn’t just jumping back into any job – and many people who have taken career breaks also think this way. So I waited for the right role to come up. I had good conversations with recruiters, interesting-ish roles came and went, but nothing really struck me. Then the London Olympics happened and everyone went on holiday. All of a sudden, it was late September and there I was, without any prospects I was looking forward to. I got offered a job early October and I burst into tears when I hung up the phone. It was precisely a job – not something I was super excited about, with a salary that was significantly lower than my previous salary.

I did it anyway, because fear of becoming too removed from the workforce prompted me to at least give it a go. Within a month, I was looking for jobs again. It was not the right place for me at all. So in the middle of Christmas holidays, I was busy trying to get people’s attention for interviews. Finally, finally, in February 2013 – almost two years after I left my job in Canada – I found a job I was truly excited about and motivated me.

This role matched my previous salary and experience, and had room for me to grow in my career. This was what I wanted. But the point here is, it took me a lot longer to find that role. Getting my life back on track was a bit like merging back into traffic. It took a long time to find the right place and the right time to jump back in.

Do I feel wiser or have a different perspective on life?

I think I may have alluded to it before, but sadly, no I don’t feel like I need less things. Things I realised on my year off are:

– I definitely like having a proper bed to return to everyday. Sometimes we lucked out in pretty good accommodations, sometimes not so much. The hustle of always being on the move was fun, but it could also get a bit tiring. Sometimes, I just really missed having my own bed to snuggle into at night.

– The most rewarding work for me is knowing that I’m part of a team, and that what I do is not only part of a collective effort but it challenges my brain, and will ultimately make a change. Subtly, I think this happened – I have been working in start-ups since I got back to work, and that suits me just fine. I like the challenge and the grind and the ability to really make a difference.

– I love the adventures and memories and the fact that I now know more about how people live in different parts of the world.

I hope that if you’re considering making changes to your life, my story is candid and honest enough that it helps give some perspective. Now, six years since I left my job to go travel, my life has changed so much that I never could’ve imagined these changes at that point. I guess it’s the true meaning of “life will always work out…!”

If you’re in the midst of doing something similar, I’d love to hear from you!