Taking a break while we’re still young

Photo by Fabian Møller on Unsplash

Two years ago, I took a 5-month break. I was living in Brussels, Belgium at the time. And after a long wait, we finally got our visa to go live in Canada. Before crossing the ocean though, we decided to travel and spend some time with our family in France. For the first time since I started working, I was about to take a long break. It was scary at first, I felt guilty to stay such a long time without a job. But I quickly realized it was going to be one of the best decisions of my life.

Feeling of guilt

The idea of not working for such a long time was scary for me. Nobody does that, not when you’re 30.

As a software engineer, I was afraid to become out of date, of not following the latest trends in technology. What we call the fear of missing out. I was also scared of losing some of my skills by not programming for a few months.

I was scared to be bored, too. Seriously, 5 months without working, that’s too much! What was I going to do for such a long time? I love my work so much, I’m deeply passionate about what I do. What could I possibly do during that time off?

And of course, I felt the pressure from my parents.

5 months without working?! You really live in another world!

My mother

What can I say, things have changed since the previous generation. What’s curious though, is that it is commonly accepted to take a year off during our studies. But not once we’ve started working, at least not yet.

Enjoying our free time

To my surprise, that feeling of guilt only lasted a few days. After one week, it was clear I had made the right decision. I’m not the type of person who always wants to be on holidays, it’s quite the opposite. I can work for a long period of time without taking a break. And it’s usually when I take it that I wonder why I didn’t do it before. And there, finally, I was on holiday. Real holidays.

This was one of the greatest periods of my life. It was so great to have the time to see our friends and family, to travel a bit. We realized it’s what true life really is. Being able to spend tons of time with the people we love, some that we haven’t seen in a very long time. We rested. We traveled to a few cities in Europe. And we even got engaged.

Something I’ve noticed is that living at a different pace than everyone else is very relaxing. You see things differently. You take the time to appreciate simple little things, like going out for a walk, while everyone else is working. There’s something satisfying about that. It’s like going to work very early in the morning or after 10 am, when there’s nobody in the streets, I’ve always loved that.

After 5 months, we even thought it was too short (!). We had so many people left to see. A complete reversal of the situation compared to what I was thinking at the beginning.

So why don’t we take long breaks more often?

Getting inspired

I remember one day, my wife quoted one of her colleague.

You, young people, have understood nothing! You’re working like crazy when you’re young instead of enjoying life!

This person had only worked part-time when he was young, he enjoyed his free time and traveled a lot. Now that he’s older, he’s working fulltime. He knew it back then, but he decided early on that it would be his way of life. I’m not sure I would make the same thing, because let’s be honest, we want to build our career while we’re young. But it stuck with me since then, I found his reasoning interesting and uncommon.

This person didn’t take a long break but instead decided to work less during a long period. It’s a different form of enjoying more free time. I think this is becoming a trend. I noticed more and more people around me, willingly choose to work part-time.

On a different level, the designer Stefan Sagmeister takes a one year break every seven years. He uses it to nourish his creativity and to not repeat himself at work. He gave a great TED talk, where he explains how he decided to split his retiring time across his working time.

Stefan Sagmeister – The power of time off

These 2 examples made me reflect on the importance of taking a break. And the fact that we are almost all working non-stop until our retirement.

While we’re young

Because the truth is, nobody dares to take a break. Even just for a few months. Unless you’re having a kid, and even. I know I would never have done it if I hadn’t had the opportunity to move to another country. I would not even have thought of it. There is such a big pressure coming from the society we live in, where it is not normal to not work for a long period of time. It’s really hard to break that psychological barrier. But it’s worth it.

Why are we waiting to be retired to enjoy life? Why do we wait to be old and less fit? I’m not saying work is not important, I love working. But maybe we’re sometimes too focused on our professional career. While we should probably take a break to breathe a little.

Now is the time to enjoy life. To travel. To take a break. While we’re still young and healthy. Who knows what could happen tomorrow? We could get sick or have an accident. I know it sounds tragic, but thinking about that helps us make good decisions.

On a more personal note, my wife’s a nurse. The sad stories of early death or broken lives she regularly tells me, also helps me put things in perspective. A good reminder that life is fragile, and sometimes short.

Let it go

I think the hard part is to accept to let it go for a while. To accept that we may need some time for rehabilitation when we will start working again. That we may miss a few opportunities. It’s not the end of the world, what we gain far outpace what we lose, in my opinion. In a way, it’s also about getting out of our comfort zone. And it feels good.

So try to defeat your own guilt and social pressure. Take a break if you feel like you need to. It’s worth it. Who said we should be working non-stop until we retire?

I promised myself I’ll take another break in the coming years. Let’s see if I can do it.

And you, do you think you could do it? Have you done it already?

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