A career break to gain new perspective for what’s next

Finding a healthy work-life balance is difficult in today’s fast-paced society, especially for successful business owners and leaders in the middle stages of their lives. The unrelenting time demands of work, raising a family, and nearing closer to your retirement horizon can easily lead to workplace burnout and/or personal dissatisfaction. Combine these stressors with the plight of our pandemic-ridden nation struggling to recover and keep the economy afloat and you may find yourself looking for a break, even though retirement is likely still 15-20 years away.

How and when can you expect some relief? Well, they say that conflict can lead to breakthroughs and need can spur innovation. Today, this is exactly where the Midlife Gap Year comes into play. But, planning your Midlife Gap Year can take time. In some cases, you need a couple years of preparation and coordination to get it right. Why not take advantage of the work and lifestyle shifts that emerged from Covid to prepare your next-stage plan now?

The Midlife Gap Year explained

Essentially, the Midlife Gap Year is a planned sabbatical away from the pressures of work. The philosophy behind it is similar to the gap year many high school graduates take to travel before beginning their post-secondary education. It is a break between life stages, and may be a better alternative than early retirement for many.

As a business owner or leader, more specifically, the break serves as a time you can refresh, recharge, and spend some quality time with your loved ones. Whether you choose to travel or stay put is completely up to you. The break—however you choose to spend it—should help you to slow down, be more present, and enjoy the things that are most important to you.

Your structured break from work could last anywhere from six weeks to two years and can consist of a variety of activities in between. Many clients like to think of it as a mini-retirement that helps them make it through to the home stretch of full retirement.

Of course, one of the most pressing concerns is often how you can afford to take the time off and still stay on track to reach your financial goals. Business owners, in particular, struggle with the idea of “pressing pause” for a hiatus because of the persistent pressures they feel to continue to grow their business day in and day out. But, the reality is that many mid-lifers could benefit from the break to grow personally, which in turn helps them to be more successful and productive once they return to work.

The new retirement landscape for “mid-lifers”

Consider how the current retirement planning landscape has changed. With individuals living longer than ever before, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that your retirement could last twenty-five, thirty, or even forty years as opposed to the fifteen to twenty years that retirees could expect in decades past. You may be thinking—and naturally so—a longer retirement translates into a longer period of time where I have to generate a predictable income from my resources. There is no way I can afford this time off and still reach all my financial milestones!

While this is a logical and prudent approach to the financial side of the coin, the other side is that since people are remaining healthier longer, they are working later in life than their parents or grandparents did. In general, mid-lifers now have the mental and physical capabilities to work well into their sixties and seventies. What used to be thirty or forty year career sprints are now fifty to sixty year marathons.

Of course, working later in life has many benefits. It helps to fulfill personal, social, psychological, and emotional needs that will have to be replaced in new ways in retirement, but it also means that you could have a much longer career span. The Midlife Gap Year can help you sustain your energy and prepare for the “second leg” of the career race so you don’t burn out early.

The solution to midlife malaise

As lavish as this career break may sound, it could be just what the COVID-affected mid-lifers need to balance the personal and the professional, time and money. Not sure that taking a whole year or two off would work for yourself and your family? Consider an alternative solution, such as taking Fridays off, structuring three to four weeks off sporadically throughout the year, or even working abroad for an extended period of time. Sometimes a simple change in scenery can be enough to refresh your spirit and zeal for many areas of your life, including personal relationships and, yes, even work.

The benefits of taking a midlife gap year

As you contemplate the concept of an extended break, you may wonder if the time and financial commitments are worth the investment. So let’s take a look at some of the reasons you might consider taking time off and the benefits of a Midlife Gap Year for your overall health and well-being.

Research over the last decade built on The U- Bend of Life[i] points to age 47.2 as the low point for happiness. Many people in this life stage are engaged in a challenging career, have children entering their teenage years and aging parents, and feel overwhelmed knowing that the relief of retirement is realistically still fifteen to twenty years away.

1. Immediate stress relief

Do you feel as if you have grown less happy over the past several years? If so, research indicates that you are not alone.

Benefits of a midlife gap year

While this happiness curve is a natural phenomenon, you can reduce its damaging impact by taking control of your life and engaging in activities that are rewarding and fulfilling to you. The Midlife Gap Year provides a prime window of opportunity where you can plan to do just that. Whether giving back to the community is what fills your cup or mapping out your next career trajectory, the Gap Year can help you rebuild a sense of happiness and satisfaction in your otherwise hurried and stressful life.

2. Stave off burnout

Just last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) made a huge stride in recognizing workplace burnout as a very real, potentially injurious condition. In May 2019, they added burnout to its repertoire of “occupational phenomena” and define it as “[A] syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” It is characterized by “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job, feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job, and/or reduced professional efficacy.”

Of course, none of these feelings are conducive to running your business to your best ability. Oftentimes, it is the inability to detach from work that can lead to burnout. But, moving away from the workspace and disengaging from the demands of the job can make us more resilient in the face of stress, a benefit for both your well-being and productivity.[ii]

3. Focus on strengthening personal relationships

Extensive research shows it is strong relationships in our life that keep us happier and healthier. Unfortunately, the rigorous time and energy demands of owning a business can cause business owners to unintentionally push their most valuable relationships to the backburner. Even though you may feel added pressure in your highest earning years to focus on work, it’s important to step back and reconnect with the individuals in your life that make it all worthwhile.

A Midlife Gap Year can provide a more planned period of quality time for you to foster and deepen your relationships with your children, your spouse, and those who mean the most to you. Life can change in an instant and time with loved ones is something no one can replace.

4. Re-energize for the final career stretch before retirement

Business owners may need a midlife career break to re-energize more than most, but are also more reluctant to take it. Of course, it is natural to feel apprehensive about taking a step back when much of your net worth is tied up in your business.

But, isn’t one of the perks of owning your own business supposed to be the freedom to make your own schedule?

We often take pride in being hard-working and aren’t accustomed to taking extended leaves from the workforce, but that may be changing We believe that sacrificing time off will help us to get ahead. However, it is proven that taking time off actually makes you a better, more productive worker and leader in the long run. It can also have positive impacts on your health, creativity, engagement, marital relationships, and overall workplace satisfaction.

Taking a break from your career gives you a chance to refocus, recharge your batteries, and prepare for the final years (or decades) of your career. The improved energy and zeal you’ll bring back to the workplace will give you the boost you need to make it through to full retirement, or maybe even to your next Gap Year.

Weighing the benefits of a Midlife Gap Year

Of course, whenever we consider making a big financial move like taking an extended break, we have to weigh the merits with the trade-offs. You may have to work a few extra years or delay a major purchase to make your Gap Year a reality, but the lasting benefits can be worth the investment.

Some have a clear notion of why a Midlife Gap Year could benefit them while others just know they need a break. In either case, the first step is to explore what you want to accomplish during this time and plan out what will make your break a success.

4 rewarding ways to spend your Midlife Gap Year

As you consider your Midlife Gap Year you may find your mind jumping from idea to idea with no clear trajectory for how to spend your time off. How will you make the most of your career break?

Of course, this answer will be different for everyone. We all find satisfaction in different experiences. But planning the Midlife Gap Year is part of the fulfillment.

You get to explore all of the possibilities, decide what your hiatus will look like, and determine how long it will last.

Begin with the end in mind

Many individuals find it useful to begin with the end in mind. In other words, visualize and map out what benefits you hope to achieve in your time off. Setting this intention can help steer you in the direction that will best fulfill that purpose.

For example, if your goal is to spend more quality time with family, you will have to consider your children’s school schedules, your spouse’s obligations, and if traveling or staying local is your best option. If your goal is to recharge and reset, a change of scenery and some time spent relaxing might be an important part of your plan. Or, perhaps you want to use your time philanthropically, in which case you may sign up to be a part of a charitable project in town or abroad.

Whatever your intentions, be clear and specific about your end goals. This will help you to maximize your time off and help you feel satisfied upon your return to work.

Explore the possibilities

Once you have clear intentions about the goals for your Midlife Gap Year, you can begin crafting an “itinerary” of how you will spend that time to fulfill your purpose. Here are four ways to spend your hiatus that may help ignite some ideas:

1. Travel

Taking a midlife gap yearYou may wish to travel abroad. This trip could be for volunteer purposes or solely for leisure and enjoyment. Of course, the financial impact of this option islikely higher than staying at home, but that is the purpose of the planning process—to secure the hiatus you need at this stressful time in your life. You won’t want to look back on your Gap Year and wish you had set more funds aside to really take advantage of the time away. So whether it’s exploring the mountains of South America while you are still young and healthy, touring wineries in the French countryside, or volunteering your time in a third-world country, planning for the extra expenses will be well worth the payoff.

2. Furthering your education

This tends to be a popular option for lifelong learners who wouldn’t otherwise have the time to dedicate to continued education. There are a number of options here, as well. You could choose to spend a semester (or year) studying abroad or enroll in classes locally. Or, rather than take classes, you may decide to carve out time to attend some industry-specific conferences that could benefit your business when you return.

This could also be an opportune time for individuals considering a career change to “test drive” their life choice. Let’s say you are an attorney, for example, considering whether to switch gears and teach law rather than practice law. You could use this career break to teach a few classes and see if the choice feels right. Or, if you are in need of some extra credentials to set yourself up for your next career, your midlife gap year could be the time to earn those and prepare for a successful pivot.

3. Working part-time at home or abroad

Some individuals don’t feel comfortable or fulfilled unless they are bringing in some type of income, in which case working a “passion project” or job you enjoy may be just the ticket for how to spend your Midlife Gap Year. For example, if you are a photography enthusiast, you could host workshops around the globe, earning money for your expertise while also doing something you love.

4. Staying home with loved ones

Some families with school-aged children or elderly parents nearby may find it difficult to “up and leave” for six months or a year. Conversely, travel may be more stressful (and therefore less attractive and rewarding) for some individuals. In these situations, staying in town may be the ideal scenario.

Additionally, you could use this time to help one of your children excel in school, sign up to coach or mentor one of their clubs or sports teams, or simply plan some special time with your family enjoying the local activities you love most. You may even pepper in a few “staycations” to spice things up. After all, these “stay at home” options are growing in popularity in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chart your Midlife Gap Year course

A Midlife Gap Year gives you the opportunity to take care of yourself, boost your health, nurture relationships, give back, expand your knowledge, or even create new habits. The most important consideration in planning how to spend your time away from your career is that you choose the options that are most rewarding to you, no matter what that looks like.

At The Advisory Group, we specialize in working with business owners and leaders who are immersed in the “midlife” experience and struggle to balance fulfillment, freedom, and success. We help clients just like you align their finances in such a way that allows them to take a step back and refocus on the people and priorities that are most important to them.

Interested in learning if a Midlife Gap Year could be right for you? Download our exclusive guide here. If you need more assistance, we’d be happy to help. Schedule an introductory call with one of our advisors today and we can walk you through the process.