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Volunteering Career

How feeling blue on Monday helped establish new order in my career break


By Dom Burch, managing director

March 16, 2016 | 8 min read

I had a bit of a blue day on Monday. I was off form, feeling down in the dumps.

I wasn't really sure as to the reasons why. I'd had a bug over the weekend. Man flu, as half the population will testify, is a debilitating illness, albeit us men struggle on regardless.

It was just a sense that things were not going my way.

It coincided with me seemingly wasting the day doing chores like the weekly shop at Asda, followed by trying to finish off a blog that I'd already spent far longer on than normal.

I was going round in circles, and the day was slipping away before my very eyes. It was all very frustrating.

It took a night's sleep to regain some perspective, and re-evaluate what was really going on.

I'm currently on gardening leave, as regular readers of this blog will know.

But it has taken me a month or so to slow down and readjust.

My instinct on walking out the door was to throw myself into new things immediately. Proving to myself if nobody else that my previous employer didn't define me. I'm my own man. I can stand on my own two feet.

All of that said, I'm not actually allowed to work for anyone else at the moment, so those new things were either voluntary like spending more time at BCB Radio, or exploratory things. In other words, meeting people informally about what I may end up doing next.

As I reflected yesterday on this chapter in my life I was reminded of how I felt when I took a six-month career break five years ago.

I remember blogging at the time what I thought the six months away from Asda would turn out like. It went a little something like this:

Month 1, get used to the idea. Have the odd lie in. Start planning my book in earnest. Dust off the potters wheel and take up cycling.

Month 2, take the kids travelling for a month to South Africa.

Month 3, combine being a house husband – dropping the kids off at school and picking them up – with writing my book for at least three hours a day. Also start volunteering.

Month 4, more of the same.

Month 5, start thinking about going back to work.

Month 6, finish off all of the ceramic pots I'd have thrown by then. Didn't happen btw. The potter's wheel continues to gather dust in my garage.

But looking back, overall I wasn’t too far off the mark.

I knew the time would fly by, so I was determined my six months would be productive.

I wasn’t interested in sitting around watching daytime TV all day. In fact the mere thought sent a shudder down my spine. Still does.

I was genuinely worried though about being home alone for such a long time and not interacting with other people.

I thought it would be really hard for me. I hate my own company normally, and I knew Becky my wife had previously found it tough when she was freelancing from home.

Having made the decision to have a career break it was a strangely liberating feeling.

I started to approach life with a different head on even before actually leaving work.

Simply knowing that a break from the rat race was imminent had helped change my perceptions of being in it.

It put a bounce back in my step. I enjoyed my work more. It prompted me to get my house in order, to get my team organised, to prioritise and plan like I have never prioritised and planned before.

As a friend on Twitter said to me at the time, he'd also had four months off a few years back, "it was a brilliant chance to reconnect with a lot of things, rediscover, recover and discover". Nicely put.

I accept not everyone is as lucky as me and is able to either afford a career break or gets placed on gardening leave for six months.

But consider this, if something terrible happened to you or your family, somehow you’d cope with whatever was thrown at you. In fact you’d probably triumph in the face of adversity.

I’ve seen it happen time after time with people who have lost their jobs, or who have experienced a serious illness.

Once over the initial setback, they come back stronger, more fulfilled, with a healthier perspective on life.

Taking stock is hard to do though when you are working every hour god sends, and looking after a family and dealing with all the usual crap.

But when you are forced to get off the treadmill things can become remarkably clear.

When I was researching my book in 2011 I read about a pensions dispute by 40,000 members of the University and College Union (UCU), which had led to academics "working to contract".

By sticking tightly to their contracted hours each week, suddenly there was no more working on the train into work or late into the evening or at weekends.

The results in less than a month were apparently staggering.

People began to realise just how much the extra hours they put in affected their lives, and not in a good way.

As one academic told The Guardian newspaper: "Sticking to my contracted 35 hours has shown me that work was almost taking over my whole life. If you're conscientious, what inevitably happens when you've too much work to fit in is that you take it home. I haven't taken lunch breaks since I can't remember when.

"It's a bit of a cliche, but working to contract has been like having a weight lifted off my shoulders. I've still got the same amount of work to do, but it's just getting that breathing space that makes the difference: you begin to look at what you have to do and prioritise it, instead of feeling that everything has to be done as quickly as possible and feeling guilty when it isn't.”

The affliction of the never ending to-do list.

In a serendipitously timely way a good friend of mine sent me a blog this morning about regaining a sense of perspective.

Ironically the week before I'd helped him a little gain some of his own.

A little nudge that allowed him to perceive a situation from a new dimension. Nothing more.

The blog he sent me made me feel good about myself. The little lift I needed.

I personally find writing a blog enables me to articulate my feelings in a way as to view them from a different perspective.

That perspective puts my feelings into context, but also allows time for reflection, which in turn breaks the spell, and makes the obstacle that I previously could not overcome seemingly easily surmountable.

I've since resolved this morning to enjoy my career break/gardening leave for what it is.

A privilege that must not be wasted worrying about what's next.

I must enjoy being in the moment, mindful that before long I'll have rejoined the rat race in which ever form that takes.

But my recent blue Monday has reinstated a sense of new order.

Thanks for taking the time to read this blog. If it struck a chord be sure to let me know either by sharing it, or getting in touch.

Follow Dom on Twitter @domburch

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