Career break is the time to learn and grow, says seasoned comms professional Varghese M. Thomas

Varghese Thomas

The year 2022 was a challenging year for me. Little did I know that my innocuous adventure of taking a break from my illustrious career to get my life on track would land me in the soup. I had given myself six months of financial liberty as I left the role of global head – corporate communication with a leading automobile giant. I am in my 7th month of zero income. In a nutshell, I had nothing of consequence happening.

Whether a break is a voluntary one like mine or due to family compulsion, parental caregiving, or termination, these breaks are no longer unusual. And the reasons that people take career breaks are as unique as people themselves. 

The arduous journey of making a career comeback is a challenging one. The stigma of a BREAK in the resume adds to the worries of an already troubled soul.

Early in my career, taking a “break” had a stigma attached to it. Employers often took it as a signal that you had lost your job or were perhaps “lazy.” It usually meant you had to spend an uncomfortable part of an interview explaining and defending it. But times sure are changing. 

According to LinkedIn’s data, more than 60% of employees have taken a break at some point in their careers. 

It's heart-warming to see that the narrative on career breaks is shifting. Job seekers should feel more comfortable and confident if they take a career break. For me, it was both arduous and fulfilling in equal measure.

If you’re in the midst of a career break or planning to take one, here’s a short, ready reckoner to make it a time to learn and grow…

The pain of social rejection: The hardest thing to do while making a comeback is to put yourself out there again in the job market and stand up to the potential scores of rejections and scrutiny. A few organisations rejected my candidature, and I felt my world was falling apart. But the more I put myself out there, the less was the sting of each rejection, and I eventually got over this pain. Often, we do not risk rejections, and we prefer going down the path where we think our odds of succeeding are more significant. I have now come to believe that we should also be doing the exact opposite every once in a while.

Your family and friends are your lifelines: We all know that rejections aren’t easy to take. But expressing and sharing your deepest fears with your loved ones makes it much more manageable. There were times when I had closed myself to even some of my dearest friends in fear of being seen as a loser. Carrying that emotional burden is unnecessary. But if you make yourself comfortable with the idea of opening up, you’ll realise that you have a group that you can fall back on. 

Having an emotional anchor goes a long way in helping you be in the right frame of mind. Sometimes, talking about your failures might make you see a perspective you weren’t giving enough attention to. 

I have also realised that effective family communication is central to creating a healthy bond of love among family members.

Playing the victim Is pointless: I’ll admit I have moments of playing the victim. It’s easier sometimes to blame my problems on my mental condition than to take responsibility and do something about it. But I needed to learn how to stop playing the victim to have a better life. There will always be things we can’t control. That’s why we have to focus on what we can. Wasting time feeling sorry for yourself and resentful and angry with life and everyone who has ever wronged you only hurts you in the end. I’m not saying you have to forgive and forget. We can accept reality and adapt to it. Or we can live in denial.

Self-pity is easily the most destructive of narcotics; it is addictive, gives momentary pleasure and separates us from reality. We start blaming others and lose control of our acts. Being a victim is a choice. Choose not to become one. Therefore, Stop being at war with reality. Stop blaming others. Open your eyes.

Cutaway toxicity from your life: Although removing toxic people won’t always be a walk in the park, sometimes it’s the best thing you can do for your overall well-being. Navigating toxic relationships takes time and learning. Once you realise that, you’ll be able to spot unhealthy relationships and end them. Cutting ties isn’t easy, and it might be more complicated depending on how entrenched they are in your life. They may cause you to feel bad about yourself to the point that the shame drives you to engage in destructive behaviours and cause emotional abuse. However, if you can, cease contact with that toxic person and find others who offer healthier connections.

Take time to travel and explore the world: Imagine off-season travel, discounted rates, and no crowds – all because you no longer have to worry about the long weekends and leave sanctions! 

Travel expands the horizons of your mind, shows you new ways of solving problems, and makes excellent memories to liven up busy workdays in the future!

Challenge yourself: One of the dangers of a comfortable routine is becoming lazy and risk-averse. I suggest challenging yourself to accomplish something outside your comfort zone. If you have not been a sportsperson, try your hand at Badminton or Tennis. If you get good at it, you will feel tremendous accomplishment, which will carry you through your job interviews after the break! If you fail, you will become a much more compassionate parent to your child who cannot seem to master colouring within the lines!

Follow your passion: You’ve all heard that ‘following your passion is a great way to succeed in your career’. Remember your childhood passions? Tennis, music, painting, or karate? Rekindle those fires. Times have never been better for us to go back to our hobbies. Fulfilling hobbies makes you a complete person – the patience, agility, and focus that require will take you a long way in any sphere, whether work or personal. How you spend your moments is how you spend your life—so spend time on what you like, what you do well and tasks which contribute to your community.

Indulge yourself: Put yourself first. Taking time out for yourself will make you feel relaxed and remind you how important it is to indulge yourself. So sometimes, just stop and take time to smell the roses... Feeling good increases your morale, self-worth, and happiness levels. Allow yourself to have fun - and feel empowered at the same time. 

Celebrate who you are, and getting back in touch with the real you is a special gift to yourself. There is something liberating about indulging yourself and allowing yourself a special treat. 

Sometimes, forget your size and the number on your scales. Break free, discover your inner beauty – and let yourself shine! Indulging yourself and reconnecting to the essential you will increase your confidence.

Stay happy, and count your blessings: How many people get the option to take a break? If you have the opportunity, you have done something right – with your financial planning, family relationships and inner self. Be happy that you have the freedom to choose. If you are on a break to raise your children, take care of your parents, or take care of yourself, make it count. Enjoy being with them instead of re-evaluating your break and blaming yourself every hour of the day.

Learn and upgrade your skills: The break may be a fantastic time to relook at your career aspirations, current skills, and new developments in the world. There are numerous free online resources available today to get a new certification or even acquire career-changing new skills.

Volunteer: Explore volunteering to get back into the work routine. Skill-based volunteering allows you to sharpen your skills again, feel productive, and contribute to a worthy cause.

Varghese M. Thomas is the former senior vice president and global head of corporate communications at TVS Motor Company. 

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