The Comedy Collapse:
"Around year five of living in New York, I became really overwhelmed. I was trying to do everything; I was on four different comedy groups all practicing weekly and performing as much as possible. On top of that, I was going to all the late-night shows I could to meet people and network. Trying to live that New York comedian lifestyle but also having a nine-to-five day job was about to make my head explode. So I stepped back from everything and started volunteering at this dog shelter twice a week up in Spanish Harlem. It was exactly what I needed: a bunch of dogs that depended on me to walk them around the park, then sit on a bench and pet them. It was the perfect recharge. I wasn't going to give up on comedy, but I decided spreading myself super thin wasn't benefiting anyone, so I picked one group and have been working with them ever since."
The Gap Year:
"I finished three majors and two minors in four years at university. I'd taken summer school every year and hadn't given myself any breaks. I'd spent so much time on school that I was completely unprepared for the real world beyond the university bubble. The day after I graduated, I had zero prospects, but I knew what I wanted to do: write. For years, I'd nurtured a secret desire to write fiction. Thankfully I'd earned enough scholarship money in school that I was able to take six months off and write full-time...while living like a pauper in a rat-infested hovel. Despite my humble lifestyle, this was a position of privilege: I'd emerged from school with a full bank account instead of debt. Still, it took some courage to reject the rat race that my ambitious peers chased. I don't regret my gap year — as I now call it — before I too found a real job. Living a life of the mind is the real privilege, and it's a lifestyle I work every day to earn, but for keeps this time."
The Personal Renaissance:
"I went to a small school that only offered business majors and was hyper-focused on those studies. So, for my junior year, I decided to take a break from that high-stress environment and applied to study in the Italian countryside away from Rome and Florence and everyone that I knew from home. Three months turned into a year, and I was able to volunteer with an Italian LGBTQIA organization, work in a family-owned vineyard (while drinking my weight in wine), and pick up a new language, all while on what I would call a break from 'real life.' And when I got back to the U.S., I shifted my focus from finance to social entrepreneurship! So it definitely changed my life (for the better!).
The East Coast Week:
"There was about a week gap between college graduation and moving into my first New York apartment — not really knowing what else to do, I reached out to a family friend and asked for help. He invited me out to stay in the Hamptons, where I think I probably expected to be grossed out by rampant wealth and privilege. He's a real estate agent, but he built his own house himself and does other cool things like blast music all day and make massive metal sculptures. Listening to him talk about how he only ever took up real estate because he knew it'd always be there to help him support himself while pursuing his true passions helped me realize that all the job applications I'd been sending couldn't be the entirety of my focus while I continued searching. To this day, I'll play a whole bunch of music when I'm cooking or doing chores as well as always focus on filling my extracurricular calendar with more things I love doing, simply because I went to the Hamptons for a week once."
The Changed Perspective:
"After landing my first post-college job, I became increasingly aware that the more serious you are about your career, the harder it is to take a step back and have wild irresponsible adventures. So I decided to go with my brother to Southern China and study Mandarin for a year.
"You learn so much about yourself when you step outside of your comfort zone, and living in China was quite the experience. Moving to a place where you can't read, write, or speak the language really forces you to depend on the locals and dive right into their culture.
"Culture shock pits you into the feeling of us and them, normal and weird, right and wrong. Over time you realize that it's usually a case of perspective, that both cultures are good, but in different ways. It teaches you to be empathetic in a way that you can never be if you're forever surrounded by like-minded people.
"When I disagree with someone nowadays, I really try to understand where they're coming from before I make any judgments. I just wanted to have a crazy adventure in China, but taking that break from normal life ended up teaching me to be a better person!"
The Adventure of a Lifetime:
"My husband and I quit our advertising jobs to travel around the world: 13 months, 19 countries, including Cuba, Tibet, Burma, Laos, Thailand, China, India, Tanzania, and Senegal.
"We spent time with a remote mountain tribe in Laos that was so removed from society that they traded goods in hair balls rather than money, and we sang a whole rendition of 'Old MacDonald Had a Farm' to all of their village elders after a hefty dose of local hooch; we drank cobra venom from a cobra that was killed outside our bedroom on a small island called Cat'Ba in Vietnam; we crashed a wedding in Laos and were solicited for the honor of the first dance with the bride and groom (awkward!); I ate naan bread that an overly friendly lady pulled out of her bra to share with me on a local train in India, for fear of not wanting to be rude...
"It was the most amazing year of our lives. We went as far off the grid as time and circumstance would allow, and we were rewarded by meeting friendly and welcoming people from all walks of life, all around the world. People are pretty awesome everywhere.
"Yes, I have thousands of photos from the trip. Yes, we made some lifelong friends. Yes, I'm ready to do it again."
The Teacher Who Taught Herself:
"After college, I worked for two and a half years at a medical journal as an editorial assistant. At the start of my second year, I started to feel really depressed and like I had no idea what I was doing with my life or why I was going to work every day. I was desperate for a change, any change, so I got a job as a library teaching assistant at a local high school.
"As soon as I got there, I knew it was all wrong — I definitely didn't want to be a teacher, I hated waking up so early and having to be on all the time, and I didn't feel comfortable in that environment. I spent a few weeks totally freaking out, and then I settled into the job...and it was fine. Gradually, I started to use the extra time that I had (which was a lot, because the job didn't require me to do that much, and I got out of work at 3:15) to write. I ended up being there for two years, and during that time I started a blog, started submitting my work, and really figured out who I was/what I wanted. When I left the high school, I was 27, and I moved to New York City where I got a job as the managing editor of a website.
"Those two years of 'break' are definitely a weird little blip on my résumé, but they were totally necessary to help me understand what I needed and wanted."
The Song of Destiny:
"I was freelancing and working in a bar in San Francisco when I got the opportunity to be a part of a gay male beauty pageant talent show. The prize was a trip to New York to compete in the finals, so I thought, Why not? and entered. I had no talent, so I lip-synched to a song and involved a lot of confetti and...I ended up winning. When I got to New York, I didn't win the whole thing, but it turned out that my friend had a connection at a company that would free me from freelance and could meet with me that same day. I ended up getting the job, and I can thank it all to a lip-synch and party supplies."
The Spanish Trip That Made Cents:
"Right after I graduated college with a finance degree, I went to go teach English in Madrid, Spain, for two years. I had a Spanish minor, and I was graduating right in the heart of the recession, so a finance job was neither appealing nor easy to obtain. I had the Spanish language interest from my minor, so I looked into programs and got accepted to one. I learned more about the world and myself than I did in college.
The Berlin Shakeup:
"I was working crazy hours at this law firm downtown (during the financial crisis, which was super stressful), not really interested in the work and basically finding it impossible to have a life. I had a few of those stretches where I spent 36 hours in a row at the office, etc. I desperately wanted some type of change in my life, so I begged them to let me work out of their Munich office for a few months, and they said OK. While I was in Munich, I had some time to think and re-evaluate my life.
"The day after I got back from Munich, I gave my two weeks notice, packed up my apartment, and moved to Berlin a few weeks later — no job, had a few friends (and my sister, luckily), and that was it. I was sort of so drained at the time that I basically spent the next six months wandering Berlin: sitting in cafés, reading, seeing a ton of museums/galleries. Berlin was the perfect choice for me then because it's the opposite of a big, bustling American city in a lot of ways — people are much less career- and money-driven, and I felt no pressure to be DOING something with my life.
"It was a fantastic adventure and experience — I felt like I needed to shake things up entirely to see that there were so many possibilities out there other than the path I was on."
The Eerie Premonition:
"One summer, two years after graduating and having no clue as to what to do with my life, I took a break and went to Mexico for three months to clear my brain. My last week there, I got tricked by my aunt into going to confession with a priest known to exorcise (idk Mexico is weird). So before I knew it, I was walking into some sort of tiny chapel that gave me the feeling of being in a crystal ball or something. I sat down, and the priest straight-up started reading my mind and saying what I was thinking, so naturally I was bawling 'cause it was very scary and real, and it caused many odd feelings to surface. He then told me that if I only asked for things, I'd get them, and just to trust in the universe. I returned to Dallas and wrote an email to a creative director asking him to have coffee with me. He offered me a job. I've gotten literally everything I've wished for since that day. (I mean, I'm not too needy and still can't get my ex back, but job-related stuff I've been lucky AF.)
"That break changed my life."
All images by Kevin Valente for BuzzFeed
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