Secretly, I just want to take a break...
September 22, 2020 8:09 PM   Subscribe

My time at my current job is winding down and I've been having an extremely difficult time forcing myself to apply for jobs. I am just... exhausted. Will I "ruin" my career/life if I just... take a break? Ugh, what should I do?

You know that scene in Inside Llweyn Davis, where he says that he's tired, and it's more than just needing a good night's sleep? That's how I feel. I am honestly, exhausted.

With help from a manager at work, I was able to get my resume up to snuff and nicely renovated, but I just have no motivation to apply. To be fair, there aren't many jobs to apply to right now related to libraries in my province. So, who knows.

I really feel like the past four years have caught up to me. It's really been non-stop in some ways since 2016 with my father getting sick, then dying, dealing with my mother, grad school, trying to "develop a career," moving for an new job, leaving an old job I hated, etc. Top it all off with a worldwide pandemic. It's all caught up to me and I'm SO tired. Since about June or July, I've secretly been fantasizing about being unemployed and doing a "relaxed" job search.

Okay and going by my post history, this is going to sound fucking insane, but I kind of want to spend time with my mother and help her get the rest of her affairs in order. And this includes doing some work on her house (cleaning it, renovating one of her bathrooms, getting new windows, etc.) that I haven't had time to do before. I mean, not that I'll get to do that in a month or two, but I really want to get stuff like that done. I even told my therapist this and I think after she got over her initial total SHOCK that I wanted to live with my mother again briefly (I KNOW), she said it actually sounded like a good idea.

I just, deep-down, want to take a break. I need to catch my breath. It's not that I won't APPLY for jobs that exist, I suppose, but I just... am not in a hurry to? Am I crazy? Can I take a break? Will I "ruin" my career? (I mean, I did choose a career in libraries, so it's already looking pretty grim!!)
posted by VirginiaPlain to Work & Money (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Think about it this way: If you start a new job and flame out and perform poorly due to being burnt out, your career will take a much worse hit than having a month or two gap on your resume.

If you can financially afford to take the time off, do it.
posted by mekily at 8:12 PM on September 22, 2020 [6 favorites]

To do this, you need a defined timeline and defined goals. There's a very fine line between stress/burnout and depression. A month or two is not a problem, provided you're able to manage it financially. Even two or three months is not a problem. The problem is if you wait two or three months and end up in the same place you are right now. Set yourself a timeline - tell yourself you will start to apply for jobs one month from now, regardless of how well off your mother is. If you get to a month and aren't willing to apply for jobs, ask yourself what needs to change to feel better about applying for jobs. If you can't answer that question, you should talk to a therapist, because more time won't change your situation. If you can answer that question, give yourself another month to achieve those goals - but do so very deliberately, because it's very easy to slip into a state of not returning to working.
posted by saeculorum at 8:20 PM on September 22, 2020 [24 favorites]

Work is not life. Work does, however, fund life, so in the back of your mind should always be the question "is it the right time to get a job?"

As long as you can take a few months off and not have to, like, give bone marrow to make rent, you should absolutely take your time finding a new job, particularly if it means you can help your mother get her affairs in order. You don't get a second chance to do stuff like that, and if 2020 has taught me anything, it's that life's too damn short. Take your time. Relax your mind a bit, and in a few months, you'll be in a better place to find a job you enjoy.
posted by pdb at 8:31 PM on September 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Yes, I didn't mention the financials! Financially, I'll be fine for a few months. I'll also likely be doing some casual work for the school district I'm currently on a leave of absence from.
posted by VirginiaPlain at 8:38 PM on September 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

There's going to be lots of people with gaps in their resumes around this time - having some time off in the middle of all of this isn't going to look weird at all.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 8:43 PM on September 22, 2020 [16 favorites]

I've followed your questions and you've done so much growing. I think it's fine to take a break as long as:

1. You do set aside regular time to apply for jobs and/or career development (courses, networking.)

2. You do not let your mother's negativity get into your head. But you have a therapist to help with this!
posted by warriorqueen at 8:58 PM on September 22, 2020 [4 favorites]

Casual work for the school district is perfect. It goes on your resume as "consultant" for the relevant time period and there is no longer a hole.
posted by metahawk at 9:15 PM on September 22, 2020 [18 favorites]

To be fair, there aren't many jobs to apply to right now related to libraries in my province.

I'm conservative, but given this, I'd get your next job first, then take a month off in between jobs.
posted by slidell at 10:09 PM on September 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

Of all the times in the world, I think this is one that people aren't going to scrutinize too closely for work gaps.
posted by bink at 11:38 PM on September 22, 2020

I took time off in between my most recent jobs. SO MANY people asked me "but what will you say when recruiters question this gap?" You know what? I was only asked once and I said that I had the opportunity to take time off and live my life so I could be prepared for what's next, and the recruiter wa like "right on." Nobody. Fucking. Cares. Anymore. Or if they do, they're not someone living current life and you definitely don't want to work for their company. Take time off and become your best self. It's FINE.
posted by joan_holloway at 11:51 PM on September 22, 2020 [10 favorites]

I did this. I had my eye on a position that was going to become available later in the year and where I considered myself a shoo-in. So I quit the job that was giving me heartache in order to be fit-for-fight for the next part. I did nothing of the things I had said, like clearing the house etc, but bummed around all summer eating ice cream and taking little trips and casually applying for other jobs I saw and liked the look of for the interview practice. All told it was probably about ten months and did me the world of good. I’ve never been asked about the gap but have offered it voluntarily when they ask me about my recently history. I say that I’ve been working or studying full time since I was a teenager the timing was right for me to take a break and reflect a little on what I want from my life and career going forward. It also gave me the opportunity to engage more fully with XYZ (volunteer gig and hobby for me) which has been very valuable, and that the break has left me refreshed and newly committed to my goals in ABC (I stayed in same branch, someone else may have discovered their true path lies in BCD). I like to think it comes across as that I am making them a deliberate choice, not just running to them for “a job”, and also perhaps sending a message that I am financially secure enough that, again, I am not coming begging.
posted by J.R. Hartley at 12:57 AM on September 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

I think the only real limiting factor here would be your finances. If you're thinking of taking 2-3 months off, I would make sure that you have at least enough saved to ride out the next 6 months, preferably an entire year - but that is just my own personal comfort level. You know your living situation and potential job prospects much better than I do.

Your question jumped out at me because I found myself in a similar situation last fall. I was so burnt out, absolutely exhausted to the bone, thanks to a very thankless, stressful job with the most out-of-touch leadership I've ever had the displeasure of working under. I was in such a terrible state that my hair was falling out, my eyelashes were literally falling out.

Long story short, I quit. All my friends and close family told me to take my time, make sure I find a job that I'll be really happy at, now's the time to relax and treasure the freedom... so I didn't panic when I was a finalist for three different roles and every time lost out to someone with more experience, I thought something had to line up eventually. Then suddenly it was Christmas and no one was hiring. Then just when the job market was revving up again after the holidays, the pandemic hit.

I started really feeling the stress of unemployment after I passed the 6 month mark. At that point it was no longer enjoyable or freeing. I started to worry that I might never find work in my field again. I kept trying to work on personal projects, things I wanted to get done, but had no motivation. It felt like I couldn't move, couldn't make any decisions about my life or my future. I'm now a couple of weeks past the one year mark, and finally have a job offer. I'm working out the details with the talent team now, and I'm still nervous as hell that somehow it'll fall through before I sign the agreement.

So if you tend to be a worrier, if you have any disposition toward anxiety and overthinking, or imposter syndrome, planned unemployment could be a scary time. Especially if it turns into unplanned unemployment as it did for me. Looking back, I'm not sure I would've done anything differently, but it wasn't a easy or relaxing time for me whatsoever. I had some very dark days where my mental health was close to rock bottom. The one bright silver lining was getting to spend lots of time with our elderly dog before she passed. My fiance is certain that made a big difference in her quality of life during her final year. If you have similar thoughts about spending time with your mother, that's a big plus in my opinion.

I would suggest that you put aside maybe a couple hours a week during the planned unemployment to apply for some jobs, if only to keep an eye on the job market and keep your interviewing skills sharp. If a good opportunity turns up, you can always reevaluate and perhaps negotiate a delayed start date. Otherwise there's no obligation that you take whatever comes up either.

I wish you the best in finding clarity in your decision. I know what it's like to try to get back to myself after being so horribly tired out, and you do need and deserve the time to do that.
posted by keep it under cover at 2:05 AM on September 23, 2020 [9 favorites]

Seconding keep it under cover's comments.

It's not always as easy as we think it will be to find work, and the stress of interacting so closely and so much with your mother again may well wind up being equal to the stress of working, especially if it goes on for much longer than you think it might. I've been off work for over a year now (layoffs) and I had thought I'd find a job within weeks, months at the most. Many interviews later, I'm still unemployed, and, with the pandemic, not optimistic. It's a real struggle financially.

So, a thought, fwiw. Rather than going jobless, can you drop anything else in your life--dial back any other commitments you have? Can you reduce expectations of yourself? Can you lighten your current load without making a radical change? Incorporate many stress reduction techniques (yoga, meditation, journalling)? Maybe take a few long weekends here and there where you do *nothing*--no housework, prepare meals in advance so you don't cook, no errands, etc., just have a staycation?

I really, really understand wanting to take a break. I would just caution you that as we cannot predict the future, it might be good to try other options first before actually taking that step.
posted by purplesludge at 3:57 AM on September 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

It certainly won’t “ruin your life” to take a break between jobs but depending on you risk aversion I’m not sure how much of a break it will be.

I finished grad school this spring and was extremely burnt out. I job hunting for about 6 weeks (a few applications before grad school ended, still have been sending applications out since I got a job to “fill the gaps”. At no point was job hunting like a break for me. I would be prepared to have more than a few months money to live off of as the stress of financials and wondering when i would find something was very overwhelming.
posted by raccoon409 at 4:28 AM on September 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Based on your question history, it seems like this could be a great opportunity to help set up your mother and her home environment in a way that makes it easier for you to provide assistance from a distance in the future, rather than having to drop everything and come home any time she needs help. Because you’ve described your relationship with her as fraught, I would encourage you to treat this period of planned unemployment as a project that you’re managing, and give it a time limit. Consider all the practical things that, once in place, will benefit you AND your mother. What needs to be done at her home to help her maintain independence? Who could be hired to provide some regular checking in/assistance with errands/transportation support after you’ve moved out again? Is your mother overdue for any medical appointments? Schedule and attend those with her while you’re not working, and document for yourself her chronic illnesses and her current medication list. Help her do any will/estate/advance care planning tasks that have been put off.

I absolutely nth the recommendation that you continue to keep an eye on potential jobs while you’re doing this. I get that you’re feeling burned out and want a break, and I don’t think taking that break will do any harm to your resume. I DO believe, based on your question history, that living with your mother might not provide the sort of relaxing break you’re imagining. Using the time to proactively solve some of the problems that made your past year so challenging w/r/t her care will help lessen your anxiety, and it might also help free you up to pursue future job opportunities that are farther away from home. Good luck!
posted by little mouth at 6:53 AM on September 23, 2020

Response by poster: Lots of good advice so far! I definitely do think it is important to have a firm timeline after reading the comments!

I also want to clarify one thing, I’m not quitting a job to take this break. My current position ends at the end of November. Financially, I’d be fine for a year, maybe longer, but I’m not wanting to do nothing for a year!
posted by VirginiaPlain at 7:12 AM on September 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

I would not blink an eye if you applied to a job at my organization after having taken a break as you describe. You can put "consulting" on your cv and if anyone wants details, say that you had some personal family business to attend to and so you needed some flexibility before finding another full-time role. You're also ending your current position just in time for the holidays and starting your search in the New Year makes sense.

I do agree with the others about the risk of being unemployed for longer than you might think. In your shoes, I'd give myself 6-8 weeks of pure "vacation," where I did not do much except maybe respond to any interesting job postings that caught my attention. Then, after that, I'd devote some regular time each week to a more serious search.

As someone who has ultimate responsibility for staffing at my organization, I want to congratulate and thank you for taking care of yourself in this way. Far too many people do not acknowledge their need for this kind of rest and then end up having problems in their new roles because of it.
posted by rpfields at 7:35 AM on September 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

I'm a librarian in Canada, although I'm not qualified to work in schools in my province so I don't have a perspective on those kinds of jobs.

I wouldn't worry at all about judgement from employers about you taking a year off, especially if you're doing some work during that time. As you know, it's so normal in this field to have gaps because of the job market. I would worry about taking a year off and missing out on the one opening an organization will have in years. I would keep an eye on the job boards and apply to anything that really appeals.

If you just mean keeping it low key in terms of not going crazy applying to jobs you know you don't want or are unlikely to get, I can agree with that. I still have traumatic memories of my last job search, which involved sending out almost 200 applications to all 10 provinces and at least one territory, and applying to all kinds of records and database jobs that I knew I wouldn't get. I did it largely to prove to everyone that I was trying my hardest. You absolutely have my permission to spare yourself that kind of job hunt.
posted by pierogi24 at 8:58 AM on September 23, 2020

Sorry if others have already said this, but I don't think anyone hiring you in a few months will think twice about this, especially if you phrase it in the positive, possibly even in your cover letter but certainly in interviews:

"I was thrilled to have the financial flexibility to be able to take 3 months to pursue X Y and/or Z personal goals, and now I'm thrilled to be starting fresh at a new organization!"
posted by nosila at 12:16 PM on September 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Omg yes take a break, and if you’re worried about a gap in resume, just put years instead of months and years in your employment history. It’s ok to take time for yourself!
posted by katypickle at 12:58 PM on September 23, 2020

I've done this in the past and can highly recommend this strategy: take a break AFTER you have already landed your next job offer. Look for a job that lets you start in February or March and once you get an offer, quit your current role even before your official end date in November.

Your timing is absolutely perfect for this. There are plenty of employers who treat December as a kind of "fuck it, let's just get our stuff finished" month and January as "setting the agenda for the coming year" month. December and January tend to be the least active for hiring and HR anyway. Lots of people won't mind you starting in February or March.

So go 1000% all out in your job hunt right away, and all through October. Let employers know that you're looking for new roles in anticipation of your current contract ending, and that you can start in February... they are welcome to believe that your current role ends in January, kwim? Or you can tell them you have personal commitments to take care of or whatever. Anyway, contractors do this *all the time*, looking for jobs a few months in advance so that they're not caught without a job when the contract ends. It isn't unusual, and like I said, your timing is perfect due to the slow hiring season.

Once you have an offer, quit your current job immediately, even if it's not November. At-will employment, especially as a contractor, means you just need to let your employer know a couple of days in advance, not 2 weeks. You won't burn bridges if you are warm and express a lot of gratitude when you quit - and heck, if you're worried, tell them you're leaving for health reasons (which you are!). Don't let some exploitative idea/interpretation of "professionalism" stand in the way of taking care of yourself. It's perfectly professional to quit as soon as you have your next job, you owe no personal sacrifice to any employer, ever. Quitting your current job early lets you maximize your break time, and that's what you're after. Go get it.

Enjoy your 2-3 months off in utter peace, knowing you have a job in hand and everything's taken care of. Nothing is more conducive to relaxation than not having to worry about job hunting during your break.
posted by MiraK at 6:04 AM on September 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

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