Can I just quit my job to deal my extreme life changes?
August 3, 2016 7:11 PM   Subscribe

In the past year, I have been treated for cancer and my husband died unexpectedly. With the exception of 4 weeks of FMLA earlier this summer, I have continued to work at my professional job with only a few days off here and there. I increasingly want to take some time for myself to figure out who I am now and what I want the second half of my life to look like. Is that terribly indulgent? Is this a thing people do? Will it completely torpedo my career?

I was diagnosed with early stage cancer in October of last year and am finishing up treatment. Treatment has been successful, but I had the whole surgery-chemo-radiation combo and some things about my body (and mind, hello chemo brain) will never be the same. Then in April, my husband of 16 years died unexpectedly, a week before my radiation therapy started.

There has been a lot of instability at my job, with layoffs last month and the departure of both my awesome boss and another excellent senior leader this week. My job is pretty core to the organization and is unlikely to be eliminated. My boss and coworkers had been very supportive through this challenging year, and my plan was to not make any major changes in my life until I felt more stable. However, I have felt for a while that it was time to move in a different direction, career-wise. Things aren't terrible at work right now, but it is a pretty demanding job and I'm having a hard time mustering the gusto for it.

The life changes that have happened in the past year, combined with all the uncertainty and instability at work, have left me feeling burnt out. I'm 40 years old, and have worked full time since I was 20. I would really like to just take some time off (3 months? 6 months?) to take care of myself, think about what I want out of life, spend time with my teenage daughter, and organize a move into a smaller house. My career has always been very important to me, but I have had a major perspective shift and increasingly feel like trying to jam myself into a box labeled, "Success" is not a recipe for life happiness.

I know the responsible thing to do is to find another job before I quit this one, but that feels a bit like trying to figure out how to fireproof your house while it is on fire. I received a significant (upper 6 figures) insurance payout after my husband's death. It's not enough to just retire and never work again, but I think it is enough to take a break from working and not have my financial standing irreparably destroyed.

Is this a thing that people do? How negatively will this be viewed by employers? Are there things I should be thinking about to minimize the potential economic fallout?
posted by jeoc to Work & Money (25 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't hire people. But if I were looking at a resume with a six month gap after twenty years of solid work experience and the explanation was "my husband died unexpectedly" I'd be questioning why you didn't taken 9-12 months off.
posted by slateyness at 7:16 PM on August 3, 2016 [38 favorites]


I think in this situation it is completely understandable and any future employer would be sympathetic to "I have cancer and my husband died so I needed to take a step back, take some time off, and regroup."
posted by thereemix at 7:16 PM on August 3, 2016 [5 favorites]


I'm so sorry. What a tough year. I absolutely support your plan to take a sabbatical between jobs. When applying to new positions, if they reject you because "I needed a break after battling cancer and suddenly becoming a widow" elicits any reaction beyond compassion, it is clearly not a good place to work. I assume you are in the US, are you eligible for more FMLA so your job is reserved for you? You may find after a break you do not want to jump ship right now. Good luck with what you choose.
posted by saucysault at 7:17 PM on August 3, 2016 [8 favorites]


Can you look into taking a leave of absence or medical/disability leave? I realize your cancer is resolved, but mental health needs are health needs too and may be covered by your medical/disability insurance, and more importantly, may require your employer to hold your job.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:18 PM on August 3, 2016 [27 favorites]


You've been through so much, my goodness. You need a break for some serious self-care and reflection.

Does your job offer a leave of absence or a sabbatical option? If not, and you're financially set, then if I was in your situation, I'd take a year. I'm a hiring manager at a Fortune 500 company, and a year to get yourself together after your husband passed and you'd gone through a personal medical crisis seems perfectly explainable and reasonable to me.
posted by erst at 7:19 PM on August 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


As someone who moved to a different city, got married, lost my father and wife being diagnosed, having surgery and chemo all within 13 months, you have my permission.
posted by Grumpy old geek at 7:21 PM on August 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


I was going to suggest a sabbatical, as well. Is there a reason you aren't asking for one, do you want to transition to maybe a slower paced, less stress job? Because that wouldn't be a red flag in hiring to me, either. I think you should be fine with either route. I'm sorry to hear of your rough times, I hope you and your daughter have smooth sailing ahead.
posted by kellyblah at 7:23 PM on August 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


So, this whole "you're not allowed to have gaps in your resume" is largely bs, but it is the kind of bs a certain kind of hiring manager will use to disqualify a woman, minority, or someone else they don't like. It's meaningless, and yet a beloved myth in certain quarters.

But I think anybody you look in the eye and say, "My husband died. I gave myself a sabbatical" and they don't want to hire you, you sure as hell don't want to work there. Hell, I'd just straight up put it on my resume as "June-December 2016: Sabbatical."

(But for what it's worth I have a gap from July 2001-April 2002. Maybe nobody has ever asked because 2001 should have just been set on fire and shoved out to sea in general, but nobody has ever challenged me and nobody has ever questioned my qualifications because of it. The one time someone even asked what I did during that time, my startled answer was, "Survived." I got the job.)
posted by Lyn Never at 7:34 PM on August 3, 2016 [16 favorites]


If you won't harm yourself financially absolutely do it. And make sure you look into social security survivor benefits for you and your daughter.
posted by MsMolly at 7:45 PM on August 3, 2016


I *do* hire people and would not look askance at any resume with 16 years of work and a one-year gap. I might ask what you've been up to during an interview, but basically any explanation would suffice (sabbatical; resolving my late husband's estate after his unexpected loss; caring for my kid while we went through big family changes; travel; resolving health issues that are now a thing of the past; studied classic American literature like I always wanted; after surviving a round of layoffs at a job that I no longer felt was satisfying, I took some time to focus on myself and what I wanted to do next; etc etc etc).

Please take the time off.
posted by samthemander at 7:48 PM on August 3, 2016 [16 favorites]


I forgot to say: my condolences for your loss. You're doing a good job with so much on your plate. Take some time off to reflect.
posted by samthemander at 7:50 PM on August 3, 2016 [4 favorites]


Really sorry to hear this. How about taking a week off to get your thoughts together, breathe the fresh air and figure out what your next steps should be? Make such decisions with a clearer mind then.
posted by metajim at 7:59 PM on August 3, 2016


My sincere condolences on your loss.

Echoing the commenter who said that you don't want to work for a company who would look askance at you taking time off to deal with your husband's death and your own illness.

I would check in with HR to see what kind of options they have for you; a sabbatical may be something you can do, but honestly, even if that isn't possible for you, you should absolutely not feel any guilt at taking time to regroup. You deserve it.
posted by Tamanna at 8:09 PM on August 3, 2016


I lost my dad recently and took two weeks off of work to be with my family, out of state. I've worked in this office for eight years. Taking those two weeks made me (and make me) feel incredibly guilty.

Meanwhile, a coworker who was hired within the past year also lost her father, and she took three *months* of leave. Another coworker just took two weeks of vacation to do nothing but sit at home, doing nothing, away from the office.

The voice in my head says "Look at me! I am so much more dedicated because I only two weeks off for bereavement, when other people take much MORE time for bereavement and some people even take two full weeks of vacation!"

But. Those people are normal. They are taking care of themselves. My self-defeating voice -- it's the thing that's wrong.

Take a break. Do what's best for you right now, because you're the only one who can. If future employers ask you why there's a gap in your employment history, be honest. Tell them why you took a break. The vast majority won't hold it against you, and any who do are not worth your time.

I'm so sorry for all that you've been through, and I wish you the best.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:03 PM on August 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


I took time off in my mid-thirties for no reason whatsoever other than I didn't like the direction my job had gone, I didn't have the enthusiasm remaining to do a job search, and I had savings. So time off is a thing people do. In my case I could see some people seeing that as "indulgent." With your story it's absolutely not.

I can't say how it would happen in your situation, but there was no career impact for me--if anything my post-break career has gone much better for me.

A few practical things--any gap of less than a year isn't even meaningfully noticeable on a resume once you're back in the workforce (as Job A ends in 2016 and Job B starts in 2017, with twenty years experience IME few will even notice if you leave months off.) Your current employer may be willing to offer unpaid leave (with no guarantees on either side) when you tell them your plans. And if you have the right kind of profession, occasional project-based work may be a good way to keep connected to the workforce while having more autonomy.

Good luck whatever your choice ends up being.
posted by mark k at 10:38 PM on August 3, 2016


Do it. Can't advise it enough. It's far from indulgent, indeed here you would have at least ten days paid leave in conjunction with your partners death and access to more unpaid leave (as well as six weeks holiday), not to mention paid time to take care of your daughter in this time of loss . You would also have had paid sick leave during the time you were in treatment. I am not saying this to make you feel bad but to drive home how un-indulgent it is, the self care time you want to take is almost mandated here as it is important for a healthy and well functioning population.

I recently took seven months off between jobs purely because we could afford it and I had had a tough couple of years between stressful work and a number of losses of family and friends. It was totally worth it and I am trying to encourage my partner to do the same now. Do it, you know too well that life can bring unexpected turns and is too short to work more than you must or want to. It's also a wonderful opportunity to model self-care for your daughter, prioritizing your needs and your family needs and acknowledging that work and service of others takes second place sometimes to ones own health and safety.
posted by Iteki at 2:14 AM on August 4, 2016


I agree with everyone above. As for minimizing the economic fallout, I would say look at your finances and think about how long it might take to find a new job, and make sure you have enough cushion for both time off and job searching time. Make sure your health insurance is in order and consider whether asking for long-term leave, rather than quitting, would help you preserve health and disability insurance. If you'll be in a lower tax bracket this year due to taking time off from work, consider whether that affects any of your choices (for instance, if you have stocks you've been considering selling).
posted by chickenmagazine at 3:18 AM on August 4, 2016


After my dad's death following an extended illness, my mother maxed out FMLA (she needed a therapist to sign off on that) and is now not working in her field. She recently started a dog-walking job for some relatively undemanding structure and food money while she figures stuff out. So it's a thing some people do, at least.
posted by teremala at 5:10 AM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


I took a month off after a sequence of traumatic experiences a few years ago. I should have taken a LOT more.
posted by Young Kullervo at 7:43 AM on August 4, 2016


Jesus, take the break.

If I was interviewing someone and asked about the gap on their resume, the answer "I took some time off after big life events" would be enough for me. If you added the specific facts, it would only cement my certainty that you are a smart, practical person who takes care of themselves.

If there is FMLA or another way to do this with health care benefits, then do it; if you have to pay for COBRA or something, maybe just take a shorter break. In any case, plan some time at the end for the job search, and then get out of there.

And I am so, so sorry about what you've been through -- you're gonna be OK, and it will get better!
posted by wenestvedt at 8:11 AM on August 4, 2016


Your boss has been supportive; have you talked about this with them? Specifically looking for a break?

Most places have ways to do this for people they value, and it sounds like this might be an option for you.

Before you make up your mind as to how exactly you take a break, I suggest checking with your organization and see what they can do for you, a long-time employee. Certainly we've had people who have done the same (co-worker lost her husband to an accident), and the hard questions for us were all about getting HR to sign the paperwork fast enough.

Not to say you shouldn't leave if a clean break is what you're after. But if you can see going back to this job in the future, I'd encourage you to check out your options there.
posted by bonehead at 8:26 AM on August 4, 2016


Yes, this is a thing people do. My best friend is currently in month 13 of a self-reported much needed break from his career (he was in the sidelines of politics and was ground down by the last several rounds of election cycles). He's ambiguous, or ambivalent, about whether a "break" means a "temporary pause" or a "complete and permanent separation from what he used to do." I think that's what he's been thinking about over these thirteen months. He went into this with a supportive boyfriend, with whom he's lived for four-ish years, but otherwise he's acknowledged that his intention was to live off of his savings, even if that meant running them down to near zero. He's starting doing occasional temp jobs here and there in the last few weeks to see where circumstance takes him.

That's a very anecdotal perspective, but it's one representative among dozens of people I know. If you're not tied to a very specific ambition, one that requires a nonstop succession of steps without pauses between, you have complete control over your choices. "I have had a major perspective shift and increasingly feel like trying to jam myself into a box labeled, "Success" is not a recipe for life happiness" sounds like you feel the same way.

Good luck.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 11:08 AM on August 4, 2016


Have you priced out insurance for your sabbatical time? What if you have significant medical needs that pop up, cancer-related or another random thing? I would have a very hard time leaving employer-sponsored health insurance behind, knowing what I know now as a parent of a medically-complex kid (due to a hospital/insurance fuck up I got a $37,000 bill for his recent 5-day hospital stay). You need to make a budget for your health insurance and develop a plan for what to do if you have a lengthier-than-desired job search.
posted by Maarika at 12:34 PM on August 4, 2016


I am so sorry for your loss and incredibly tumultuous year. I'm glad you are on the mend. You should absolutely take this time to relax, reflect, and rejuvenate yourself. You've been through quite a lot and you need a chance to breathe and regroup without certain pressures, like work.

I will echo the suggestion of inquiring about taking some form of formal leave or sabbatical from work in order to hold your job, even if in the end you decide to leave (and don't feel one iota of guilt if you don't go back once your leave/sabbatical is over, because things change and people do this all the time). I mention asking for a formal placeholder and, if such a thing is possible, advise against making a definitive, clean break because an oft repeated piece of conventional wisdom is not to make any major changes within a year of a significant loss, such as selling your house, beginning an intense partnership, or drastically changing your life situation. After taking this time, you may decide you want to go back to your workplace or returning may be a key step towards a longer term goal. If you aren't able to press pause for 6-12 months and retain your job, still take the time. Yes, that's a major decision but it's about self-care, not avoiding reality by turning your life into something unrecognizable or avoiding emotional pain by doing out of character, and perhaps not easily revocable, things that you might regret later.

You have a good plan. Make the most of this time and, I know it might be hard to imagine now, but, eventually, it will become bearable and things will get so much easier. Best of luck and many hugs to you and yours!
posted by katemcd at 8:06 PM on August 4, 2016


I resigned on Monday. I realize I was really just asking for permission, and I appreciate the perspectives here. This helped me see that I do have my bases covered from a practical perspective (budget, insurance, staying in touch with my profession, etc.).
posted by jeoc at 6:16 AM on August 10, 2016 [7 favorites]


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