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taking time
why, in this economy, i would voluntarily take six months unpaid leave
by maigen thomas (@Maigen)
pop culture

I have been working since the day after my fifteenth birthday. I started as a bagger at my local grocery store, and eventually moved up to the awesome responsibility of being a cashier. Since the day I started working, I have steadily worked at a part- or full-time job, sometimes two.

Granted, I've had 63 jobs in 23 industries, if you count things like teaching knitting classes for pay as a job (I wonder, is that in the 'fashion' industry or the 'textile' industry?) - which I do, as that was one of the few ways I could make rent money living illegally in Canada. I wouldn't say I have managed to stick with the 2,040 (40hrs/week x weeks in a year) hours of work per year, but I've come close.

That means I've worked for thirteen years. That makes, give or take a few, about 27,000 hours of work performed in one capacity or another. I'm not saying I didn't have any fun during these past thirteen years, but it does mean that I have spent almost the whole of my adult life working. Playing it safe. Making a paycheck. Working toward the future. Et cetera.

I just turned 28, and I'm ready to take a break. I want to travel. I want to live for me and with me, completely self-sufficient and on my own. I want to follow up on a few ideas I've been incubating, try my hand at a few things I've been wanting to do. The way I see it, no matter how much time you set aside after work, you're still putting your own desires after the needs of your employer.

You may call me crazy wanting to take a 'break' in this economy, with unemployment at nearly 15%, people losing jobs left and right, and highly qualified individuals unable to attain gainful employment. But I've spent some time fleshing out pro's and con's and thinking about whether this is a 'good idea' or not. I think it is, and I'll tell you why.

The Personally Relevant Positive Reasons:

- I want some time alone. I haven't been single since I was 20. I dated Carter. We broke up after six months and I met Don six months later. I dated Don for three years, broke up with him and met Adrian three months later. We got married six months after that and after three years of marriage, we're divorced. Maybe - just maybe - I should be alone and get to know ME for a while.

- Time off gives me an opportunity to explore other options. I love my job and I'm really good at my job - but the pay is terrible. In order to make a decent paycheck, I have to spend a lot of time at work - and I'm getting burnt out. I also know there are many other things I am good at. So I think it's time for some soul searching.

- I'm guaranteed my job back on my return. If it still exists, that is.

- Even though I'm taking a leave, I still keep my medical, dental and vision insurance (paid out of pocket at the active employee rate) and my flight benefits (so if I head to India and run out of money, I can still get back).

The Personally Relevant Negative Reasons:

- It's six months unpaid leave. That means no money going INTO my bank account and lots of money going OUT of my bank account.

- Unstructured, unscheduled days might work against my hoped-for personal productivity. Why write when you can sleep? Why go to yoga when you can...sleep?

- These leaves are being offered 'to prevent furloughs'. If enough people take an unpaid leave, we may avoid layoffs. But there's no guarantee. I may take a leave and come back to a layoff anyway. Why not play it safe and stay with a known paycheck?

General (Non-Personally Specific) Reasoning:

- "Me"-conomics: A lack of income sheds a very clear light on those things that are most important. In a recessive economy, what choices are made on how to spend money?

- Refocusing: Having the major time-sink of working for someone else's gain taken away, the opportunity arises to focus on Important Personal Priorities that have long taken a back seat.

- Reorganizing: Without income, spending choices are limited. But that opens up new avenues of 'outside the box' thinking with regards to living arrangements, working, entertainment and relationships.

In the last couple of months, I've run across several articles in magazines that are suggesting similar outlooks toward the uncertainly employed: In reference to Wall Street's demise: "No one likes to see an industry die, but there is an upside: Often, smart cubicle refugees will seize the opportunity to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams, unleashing waves of innovation upon society." In another column, the tech industry is compared to biology: "In an ecosystem where microbes are promiscuously swapping genes and traits, evolution speeds up."*

Granted, I'm not a financial guru or a tech whiz, but even I understand the need for evolution within an industry to survive. On a much smaller scale, couldn't it be said that evolution within one human will help that person become better, stronger, faster? Adapt, Improve and Survive, right?

Then there's the old quote "Don't Work all the Time. You'll Live to Regret it." Doing the right thing - putting our responsibilities ahead of momentary pleasures - often leaves us unhappy down the road.

Overall, money means less to me than experiences and happiness. How do I quantify these things and compare them to possible future paychecks?

It all boils down to this: What would I regret more? Taking the leave, leaping into the unknown, taking the chance that it'll all work out? Or would I regret staying the course and playing it safe?

* Quoted from Wired Magazine July 2009 "Street Smarts" and August 2009 "Go Ahead, Fire Me".


Maigen is simple. is smart. is wholesome. is skeevy. is spicy. is delicate. is better. is purer. is 100% more awesome than yesterday. She';s traveling the world and writing about her experiences with life, love, yoga, food, travel and people. Mostly people. Because they';re funny. hear more of her random thoughts @maigen on twitter.

more about maigen thomas


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what they'll say that you'll never understand that they said and what they really meant, etc.
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topic: pop culture
published: 5.15.06


william carr
7.27.09 @ 9:39p

For perspective -- I'm a COF (crusty old fart). My wife and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary yesterday.

If it's all about desires--i.e. whose come first: yours or your employers--evolution is most assuredly a sham. That's why a Federal bailout was deemed necessary: no progress in business/banking ethics, just the same-old, same-old.

There's more to ponder, more to say. But I'm new to this.

lucy lediaev
7.28.09 @ 10:19a

Go for it! Travel while you are young and single (again)! I've been working since I was 11 and am going to retire at 66 at the end of January, 2010. I don't have the energy to see and do that I had in my twenties when I was married with a young child. You'll figure out how to make the lack of money work. Anyone who has had 63 jobs in 23 industries will figure out--just think, you made the rent teaching knitting.

I wish I had been able to travel and explore career options and personal growth issues in my 20. Instead, I fell into jobs for the next 40+ years. I've done okay, but I'm sure I could have done more creative things earlier with more time for self reflection.

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