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Lessons From My (First) Career Break

Lessons From My (First) Career Break

By Sallie Krawcheck

This piece originally appeared on Linkedin.

A career break. It’s increasingly common, particularly among professional women. More than half of Ellevate Network members report having taken one. Another 11% plan to at some point.

There are “good” career breaks and “bad” career breaks. Some result in a new career direction or trajectory. Others can cause a stall-out. Some 28% of network members report taking a pay cut of more than 10% after returning from a career break. By some estimates, if the break is more than three years in length, compensation can fall by more than half.

So it makes sense to be strategic about a career break.

I wasn’t.

I’ve taken three career breaks myself. And I’ve learned some important lessons from each of them.

The first was in my late 20s.  I made the cardinal career-break mistake: I left a job without a clear plan. I did it because I was pregnant and tired. I just didn’t think I could stand another minute of being an investment banker. Home alone with nothing to occupy me, I almost immediately regretted the move and tried to get another job in banking. (Not really sure why I thought someone would hire a hugely pregnant woman, who had impetuously quit her last job...)

As you might imagine, that job search wasn’t successful. So I gestated and thought, and gestated and thought.

I made lists of what I had liked about investment banking and what I didn’t. Of what I had loved at school and didn’t. Of what I was strong at and wasn’t. It was pages and pages and pages of these scribbles.

But I had no real insight to show for it. Just lists.

Then I had the insight that made that career break the best-spent months of my professional life.

I was standing alone in my kitchen, eating a pear, when it hit me like a ton of bricks: I should be an equity research analyst. I knew it with absolute certainty. It involved analytics (which I love), building Excel models (adore), writing (which I like….sort of) and engaging with smart people (love). And it had a great deal of personal accountability. Oh yes, and some flexibility. Nobody ever rejected a piece of research I wrote because I hadn’t written it at my office desk during business hours.

I won’t take you now through all the rejections I received as I tried to make this career shift. But there were many.

When I finally landed a job, my compensation was cut significantly. So I was one of those bad statistics.

Failure then? My lack of planning means it could have been an absolute career disaster. But it wasn’t because I found my way to a job I LOVED. So I was promoted quickly and my compensation decline was temporary.

Without really articulating it this way, with this career break, I gave myself the gift of time and space to figure things out. I may not have been able to do this if I had kept trudging away at a 24/7 job I hated.

So the lessons: put aside time to reflect at points in your career on what’s working and what isn’t. Recognize fully that leaving a job without a job is a certainly-high-risk-maybe-high-reward way to do this.

Lessons from career breaks 2 and 3 soon.

Sallie Krawcheck is the Chair of Ellevate Network and Ellevate Asset Management. Ellevate Network is a professional woman’s network, operating across industries and around the world. Both businesses are committed to the full economic and financial engagement of women.

(Photo: Sunset Girl, Unsplash)

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Jennifer Watson

Thank you for sharing Sallie, very interested to hear your lessons from #2 and #3!

October 16, 2015

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