Dropping Back In
I walk down a marble-floored corridor, the clonk of my heels sounding unfamiliar after nearly a year in flats.
I felt very aware that I was standing up straight. For the first time in six months, it seemed, I wasn’t carrying the baby, bent over the baby or slumped in exhaustion from caring for the baby.
This wasn’t your everyday return-to-work-after-a-baby scenario. No. It was in Singapore, starting a new job (albeit with my old employer), with my six-month-old baby and devastatingly handsome husband holed up in a nearby hotel, all expenses paid. It was nearly four years since I’d worked full-time, since I’d dropped out of the rat race to live overseas and experience a different culture. And it was only two days since we’d flown into Singapore from Vietnam.
I’d had a lot of experiences in my nearly four years of dropoutdom. Including meeting the most handsome man in Vietnam and deciding to start a family with him. A decision that led to a very messy experience in a birthing suite back in Australia. But I had not worked full time.
My heel-clonking slowed as I approached the door. Could I really pull this off? What would happen to my family if I couldn’t? Would I have to repay the five star hotel expenses? And if I couldn’t do this job, could I actually support my family? What crazy bugger even let me have a family anyway? Ceerrr-ripes. Butterflies. Stomach flips. Heart beating fast.
I open the door and smile, hoping I don’t look as pathetic as I suddenly feel. A bescarfed lady smiles and says “Are you Barbara? I’ve been expecting you. Let me buzz HR.”
First hurdle cleared.
And a few minutes later I was back on the carousel. All my corporate skills came back. Office manners, insincere smiles for colleagues (because I didn’t yet know if they were going to be friends or foe), security passes, login details, help desk phone numbers, elbow-high partitions … I just seemed to slip back into the flow.
And 15 months later, after I told my boss that Singapore just wasn’t working out for my family, a colleague told me the company would probably never hire a new mum again. That comment really stung. Because I could do my job just fine. Very well, actually. In fact, if my employer had accepted my proposal of working remotely, I probably would still be working for the company.
In my case, it was the commute, Darling Man’s homesickness, Singapore’s horrible heat and the fact that we weren’t saving money despite my high salary. All that on top of the fact that I missed my baby.
But I did drop back in after an extended career break. It IS possible.
I think my drop in was assisted by the fact that I had some interesting things to show for my four years as a dropout. I’d actually picked up a range of new skills since quitting my job in the press gallery in Canberra in 2007, finishing up a few days after Treasurer Peter Costello handed down his 12th budget.
During my dropout I had:
- obtained a TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) certificate
- worked in new fields – teaching and sub-editing
- worked for two media organisations in Vietnam
- worked with non-native English speakers
- co-authored a guidebook
- traveled throughout Asia
- written a few freelance magazine articles
- survived – and thrived – in a foreign country
All this added to the skills and experience I developed when I was on the career track.
And now, well into my second dropout, I am drawing on a selection of new and old skills and experiences. I still work in the media, although I’m only working part-time. I work closely with non-native English speakers. I sub-edit. I write occasionally. I keep up with current affairs.
This is all part of my dropout equation, my story. I feel like I owed it to you to explain that, even though I often write about how great dropping out is, I still work. You may recall I had plans to start my own business to fund my dropout lifestyle. That didn’t pan out so I am very lucky I managed to snag – and keep – this part-time remote editing job that pays the bills and keeps my media-side stimulated.
So here’s where it gets serious. If you yearn to drop out, if your biggest fantasy is telling your boss to shove his f@cking job where the sun don’t shine, if you want to run far far away from your career and never ever work again. Well, that dream may not be possible. You need to have a fallback. Mine was supposed to be teaching English, but I really didn’t like it.
But here’s the thing about dropping out. After a break, with some time and distance (emotionally as well as physically), you start to reassess your career and the other things you left behind.
Over time, and after many many months of not thinking about being a journalist, I realised that I didn’t actually hate being one. I just hated having my life consumed by work. And the news. I hated being stuck in a field where it was normal – and expected – to listen to the 6am radio news at home, get in to work in time for the 8am radio news, run around all day chasing news and trying to one-up your competitors, file, file, file, then get that extra story, spend just another few hours tinkering and filing and awaiting editors’ pronouncements. And then catch the 11pm TV news, just to make sure you had everything covered.
I hated that.
But I realised I love writing. I love storytelling and the storytelling aspect of news. And, during my dropout, I realised I also like working with non-native English speakers. I hated teaching English, but I loved teaching my colleagues about news, writing and the role of the media in the West. I loved learning about the media in other countries: how it works, what’s expected of it, what’s considered sensitive and what’s considered interesting. The world really is an amazing place, you know!
I also discovered blogging, and I love that. I discovered street food, and I love that too. I am trying to fold these new loves into my life in such a way that they actually help support my living-in-Vietnam-for-now dropout lifestyle.
So the morale of the story is you can rejoin the rat race after a career dropout. You can also choose not to drop back in. My best advice is to go for it. If you want to quit your job, drop out of the rat race, take a career break… whatever you want to call it. Go for it. Just make sure you have enough savings or a means of supporting yourself.
And make a diary note for yourself. Three months after your dropout, you should sit down and have a good hard think about what you left behind. Was it so bad? Were there some redeeming features that you overlooked in your overstressed get-me-out-of-here state? Sort out the good from the bad and then have a “hmm, fancy that” moment when you realise there were some good points.
Three months after that little sit-down, have another one. Think about how you could incorporate the good points of your old life into your new one. You might be surprised with what innovative ideas you come up with, now you are used to your freedom!
And my last piece of advice: don’t burn any bridges when you decide you are definitely going to go the dropout route. Because Wilson in accounting might be the most annoying f@ckwit on the planet, spending too much time and energy questioning your expense claims. But when you are washing an elephant in a river in Laos, does it really matter?
You don’t need to settle any scores when you drop out. Just go. Drop out of that life with a very small almost-inaudible plink. Things will continue on without you. And, after two years, or three years, or seven months, if you decide you’d like to drop back in again, you don’t want to be the target of Wilson’s vendetta. Especially not if you end up in a place where he’s your boss. Or you are his boss.
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8 years ago