Opening my eyes, the only thing I could think about was a believable reason to call in sick. I was on the verge of being made redundant, tired of the rush hour tube journey and had a constant hangover from attending networking events. Add to that the fact that my social life was also in a dire state, and I really had nothing to lose when I woke up that morning and decided to leave.
The next couple of months were a whirlwind of interviews, visas and goodbyes. A friend of a friend hooked me up with a teaching job in Japan, I quit my job, gave notice on my flat and spent my notice researching my new life and repressing any bad feelings about what I was doing.
Yes, for me it really was that easy.
Some people might say I was ‘running away’, and maybe I was, but sometimes running is the only thing you can do...
I came back to earth a few days later, when I was sat in a jet-lagged haze at a desk in the musty training room, and the curtains started shaking. I got a wave of motion sickness and I realised I was experiencing my first earthquake in a country where I couldn’t speak the language and had no familiar faces surrounding me.
That was my first WHAT the FUCK moment of many. I had a meltdown and literally made myself sick.
In between vomiting and studying for my training exam I realised I was going to have to see my adventure through for at least a year because I had too much pride and couldn’t return to face everyone I had left behind. I didn’t want to be a failure.
Two years later I’m still here and I’m enjoying my extended ‘Career Gap Year’. I work 4 or 5 hours a day with a full time wage, I’ve met the love of my life and I have more independence than I could ever have imagined. I spend my free time writing (with no shortage of material), eating limited edition seasonal chocolate and taking in the breathtaking sights.
Sure, there are things I miss from home, namely Nandos, 80’s club nights and my BFFs, and there are times when even small things, like a trip to the post office, can be a trauma, but the sense of achievement afterwards leaves me with a swagger that screams I CAN DO ANYTHING!
So jumping ship/running away/getting the hell out of there when times are hard can be great, but before you book those round-the-world tickets, ask yourself the following questions:
ARE YOU JUST HAVING A BAD DAY?
Missed the train? Dropped your overpriced falafel salad on the floor? If you’re having a bad day it’s too easy to make a life-changing rash decision. Hold off and think about it a bit more in the morning.
CAN YOU SAVE ENOUGH MONEY?
If your grand plans go wrong you’ll need at least enough money to pay for a flight home and keep yourself alive for a month.
ARE YOU A RESPONSIBLE ADULT?
I had no responsibilities when I left London. I rented a flat, was in a mediocre relationship with no dependants, had fallen in with the wrong crowd and was about to lose my job. If you do have responsibilities (i.e. children/a mortgage/a gerbil) obviously these have to be considered when you’re thinking of bailing.
[word - don't end up in the Daily Mail because you were that person who left your pet gerbil to starve to death while you discovered yourself in Morocco ]
WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE CAREER PLANS?
Planning to return to your career? If so, you should look for a similar job abroad or an experience that will enhance you as an employee for that role. Or you could go for a job that gives you enough free time to keep up with your career, whether it’s reading industry news, keeping up to date with contacts or freelancing from your new location.
Do you want a different career altogether? You could take this opportunity as a break and focus on your new career afterwards, or you could start putting the wheels in motion by using your free time to study or apply for jobs. Always research any companies you are considering to work with abroad, and if possible try and get a recommendation.
My experience has definitely expanded my future career opportunities. I’ve proved I can adapt to any situation, I’m learning a new language and I’ll never be scared of a boss or client again after having to deal with the wrath of a Japanese teenager.
HOW WILL YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY FEEL?
I discovered that moving away affected my friends and family a lot more than it did me, and that I was reassuring them instead of the other way around. But at the end of the day it’s your life and your real friends will want you to be happy.
This experience certainly weeded out the good friends from the ones you can do without, especially when the tampon and Jaffa Cake care packages start to dwindle.
I’ve made it a top priority to keep in touch with my friends and family back home, usually by Skype, and by sending kawaii Japanese packages every now and then. It’s also super important not to forget special occasions when you’ll miss each other the most, like birthdays and Christmas.
CAN YOU MAN UP?
It’s daunting leaving everything you know behind, but you need to take a risk to discover that there’s a whole other world out there. Be open to new experiences. There will be some people who just won’t get it or understand why you want to explore the world and will try to put your decisions down. This is known as jealousy and is one of life’s uglier human traits. Don’t let other people’s insecurities shape your future.
So, what do you think about grown-up gap years? Are they an irresponsible thing for real grown-ups to do, or is it a once in a lifetime experience you wish you were brave enough to try? Tell me in the comments or on Twitter @helenlolzzz