4 ways to navigate a long-term career break and come out on top

Leaving work to pursue maternity or paternity leave, a sabbatical, or something else long-term can be a tough decision. Here’s what you can do before and during the process to ensure that your exit and re-entrance go as smoothly as possible.

1. Make sure you have a strong network

Tami Forman writes about this in a Forbes article about what women should do before leaving work for a leave. She says to think about making a network of people in various fields, not just within your own.

She continues:

When restarting, many women find they either want or need to pivot their career. Having contacts across a variety of different fields will give you more opportunities to do that successfully.

In other words, cast a wide net in terms of who you know. Forman also says “everyone should do this,” even if not leaving work.

2. Think about your finances

Things are different when your main source of income disappears.

Lifehacker recommends examining your debt when getting ready for “a sabbatical-style career break”:

Debt is like a sword hanging over your head—if possible, get rid of it before the break. If not, determine how to continue paying it off during the break. At the very least, ensure that you won’t add any new debt because of your break.

Other tips in the article include creating an “emergency fund” and figuring out how to fund “everyday expenses,” among others.

3. Use the time off for reflection

If you feel like you stumble to and from work every day with no time to think about what you want out of your professional path, a career break could be just what you need.

Madeleine Hall writes about leaving her job as a Broadcast Associate for a morning show in New York City to teach English in Spain, and how the time off gave her the ability to do. She writes in a Levo post:

Not only will living outside your comfort zone bring you a fresh perspective on life in general, it will also give you the opportunity to reflect upon your chosen career path and reevaluate whether you are on the right track. For me, I returned to New York City and decided that the thrill of breaking news was not worth spending a few years on the overnight shift and eventually becoming a senior producer. My time away helped me realize that I hadn’t been feeling as fulfilled as I had originally hoped.

She also mentions that taking the time off might help you handle your job better upon your return and that “either way, it’s healthy to take a step back” and think about how you got to where you are.

4. Pay attention to what’s going on in your field

Staying in touch with developments in your industry will still be critical, so be sure you don’t duck out completely just because you’re no longer coming into the office every day.

iRelaunch CEO and co-founder Carol Fishman Cohen talks about how she barely “kept up with the business news” after leaving her job during this TEDxBeaconStreet talk.

She continued:

My background is in finance, and I hardly kept up with any news when I was home caring for my four young children. So I was afraid I’d go into an interview and start talking about a company that didn’t exist anymore. So I had to resubscribe to the Wall Street Journal and read it for a good six months cover to cover before I felt like I had a handle on what was going on in the business world again.

Take advantage of your time off. Use it as an opportunity to help clear your mind, think about what you want, spend time doing what you love, and even reconnect with others.