Career Development

Career Breaks: The secret weapon for peak performance

My line of work requires me to talk a lot about and focus on helping other humans in their careers.

It’s a subject I can and probably have talked to death about on too many occasions. Yet, one thing I’ve never really shared, is one of the best moves I made for my own career which (in my humble opinion) has led to some of my best work and peak performance over the last 6 years.

No, it wasn’t deploying some dark magic, productivity hacks or finding a magical balance in my life. It was actually far simpler, I took a break.

Yes, you read that right! A break, or to be exact, a lifestyle break.

What some might consider career suicide (and trust me, many people told me it was) is exactly the thing I did to recalibrate and now enjoy some of my best work to date since.

But, why did this all happen in the first place and why the break?

Let’s take a quick history tour. In the year 2015, I found myself at a crossroads, fresh off completing a leadership development programme and being promoted to a manager role at one of the world’s leading retailers. And, all at the ripe old age of 28.

In some strange way I felt like I had peaked. It’s mad to even write that, right?

Peaked at 28! What was I thinking? Anyway, I soon discovered what I was really feeling was a combination of no purpose, fried neurons and burnout.

You see, I’m kinda what we would classify as an extroverted introvert with a cross over of a type A and B personality. Yes, I know that sounds confusing but hear me out. I’m a sensitive soul with a ruthless will to win, a disciplined monk with my work that redlines my mind to keep creating and continually putting myself on the front lines even though I’m often riddled with moments of anxious sabotage.

So, to put it simply, I’m a complicated one.

The problem with all of this is that my mind is like an ongoing battlefield where different parts of my brain are fighting each other on how to feel, think and what to do. It can be exhausting, as I’m sure you can imagine.

And back in 2015, I found myself at a somewhat breaking point.

Not only had I reached a point where I was, for the first time, unsure what was next on the road in my career. I had also been experiencing some strange sensations which were at the time, completely foreign to me but I now know them well as anxiety and panic attacks.

What I had not considered in my quest for world domination, and my continued stoic commitment to success because there was nothing for me to fall back on, was that I had been slowly breaking myself down.

It was not the best of times in my own crazy journey in this thing we call life. 

So, I decided to do something that was not only against the societal standard, expectations and what everyone was telling me not to do. But also something which I had no idea if it would help or not.

That’s not a great place to be, trust me.

At the time, my employer offered a scheme where you could take up to 3 months unpaid leave, which was classified as a lifestyle break, and come back to the same job you left. Which I thought was pretty cool and I honestly felt was needed before I completely lost my shit.

The pace was quick, I decided to take a lifestyle break for 8 weeks in the hopes that I would find some divine answer to “what the fuck is next” and “why do I feel like a battered truck on a continual adrenaline dump?” – all very valid questions, I’m sure you can agree.

The start of this break could not come quick enough.

I’m not going to rekindle you with the full story of that 8 week break. Perhaps this is something I will unpack at a later date, who knows.

But what I will share is that this break, even though in the grand scheme of things was quite short, changed my life. I tried to write that and sound like I haven’t joined some kind of cult but realise I might have failed.

Yet, it really was the beginning of change and it all came down to one decision – it was time to take a break, not a holiday but a real break.

I’m of the belief that some of the best things happen during long bouts of mind wandering and allowing ourselves real time to explore the inner workings of that magical device in our heads.

So, what’s my point in all this?

You’re probably thinking, cool, he took a break and things got better – nice story but why’s this important?

Here’s my answer, our careers will hopefully be long and rewarding. They’ll be good times, great times even and there will be horrendous times. This is life.

We cannot be 100% all the time, and anyone that says they’re is talking bullshit.

In reality, sometimes, the best thing we can do for our career is not seek out performance hacks, coaches or waking up at ungodly hours to stuff in more work.

The best career advice I can give if you find yourself where I found myself, is not to work harder or fake it till you make it, it’s take a break.

How many stories do we hear about the people that constantly perform at a high level on the border of constant red lining only to crash in their 40’s and 50’s? Too many.

Don’t be another one of those stories!

Sometimes, the key to career success is taking a break.

You might also like

8 steps to make a career change

Before you go… 👋

If you like my writing and think “Hey, I’d like to hear more of what this guy has to say” then you’re in luck.

You can join me every Tuesday morning for more tools, templates and insights for the modern L&D pro in my weekly newsletter.

Leave a Reply