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Tips for a smooth return to work after a career break

Sabbaticals (aka career breaks) are on the rise. More and more people are looking into taking a break, not just to enjoy some free time, but to focus on their well-being, boost productivity, and reignite long-lost creativity.


We often really only think of the travel portion itself when considering taking a sabbatical, but there are a few other stages of the journey to take into account too. The wind down leading up to it, the logistics of the trip itself, and the reintegration period afterwards – all 3 stages should be considered when planning the money aspect of a sabbatical.

traveling the world

Below, we share our top tips for ensuring your post-sabbatical return to work goes smoothly. 


From planning your transition back to work, handling the reverse culture shock when returning home, and how to get yourself back into ‘professional’ mode, we’ve got you covered!


#1 Be flexible with your timeline

We think it’s important not to be too rigid with your return dates – both your return home and your return to work. 


Allow yourself some freedom and flexibility when you’re traveling. Maybe something wonderfully unexpected comes up and you want to extend your trip just a little bit more. Give yourself space (both in terms of time and money) for that. 


The same goes for your return back to the workforce. Having time to settle back into your home before heading back to work can make the transition back to “real life” less overwhelming. 


We actually recommend planning to not go straight back to work. 


Honestly, you probably won’t be in the right mental space for it anyways. You’ll still be unpacking, visiting friends and family you haven’t seen in a while, and you won’t have the energy required to be in a professional environment. Let’s be honest, it’s hard to put your best foot forward when you’re jet lagged and still getting settled into your new routine. Which storage bin did I put all my old work clothes in again!?


So give yourself at least a couple of weeks (or more!) to adjust.


When you think of how long you want to go on a sabbatical, include this return home period into your planning. Trust us, you’ll be glad you did!

#2 Financially plan for this transitory period

Your sabbatical journey doesn’t just end as soon as you sit down on your return flight back to the US. So it’s important to have money earmarked for this return home phase too. In fact, we believe it’s one of the most important – and most often overlooked – things to include in your financial plan!


Being able to get your bearings and rebuild your life without financial stress makes a big difference! 


Planning for a slow return back into “the real world” gives you the space to reflect on your experience before moving on to the next phase of your life. This allows you to choose your next steps from the right place – with awareness and intentionality of what you actually want – instead of taking the first thing that shows up from a place of scarcity.


What would be the point of taking a sabbatical if you go back to your same-old stressful environment? We’re sure you learned a few important things you’d like to incorporate into your daily life. This is the perfect moment to pay attention to those! 

#3 Reflect on your experience

If your sabbatical has been go-go-go, you might not have had the opportunity to reflect on everything that has happened. A sabbatical can be a life-changing experience. Make sure to carve out time to let it marinate.


When you spend time away, what’s “normal” to you gradually shifts, almost unnoticeably. Your perceptions and reactions to things change. What was once super important may not carry the same weight anymore.


 Document your thoughts and feelings as they are in this moment of calm. 


We recommend journaling, sharing stories with open-minded friends, meditating, and making photo albums or compiling your travel videos. You could also start a blog or share on social media about your journey and how you’re adjusting back home. 


Taking stock of your thoughts and feelings now may serve you in deciding what’s next. 


#4 Consider what you want work to like for you going forward

Before just picking back up where you left off, make sure your future work fits with your new self. Your personal goals and priorities may have shifted during your sabbatical. You’ve spent time really getting to know yourself, your needs, and what life you really want to live. 


Honor the self discovery you did during your trip, and take the time to weave it into your new life at home. 


For example, maybe traveling for work no longer fits your desired lifestyle, or perhaps you need more flexible working hours or even an alternative schedule entirely. 


Your interests or perceptions of meaningful work may be different than when you left, so it’s vital to honestly evaluate whether a tweak or even a complete career change is in order.


The options are endless so allow yourself space to ponder.

career-break and sabbatical

Let’s talk about culture shock 

Culture shock when you return from your sabbatical really is a thing. It’s actually called reverse culture shock. 


We often expect to feel some sort of culture shock during our travels. It’s part of the experience. But culture shock when you come back home can feel like…well…a lot. 


One of the reasons it can feel harder than culture shock while traveling is that we are just not prepared for it. We don’t expect it. So it catches us off guard. When leaving for your sabbatical, you probably don’t imagine that returning home will feel SO STRANGE. 


Believe us, everyone who’s taken an extended break abroad goes through culture shock to some degree.


“Reverse culture shock is the emotional and psychological distress suffered by some people when they return home after a number of years overseas. This can result in unexpected difficulty in readjusting to the culture and values of the home country, now that the previously familiar has become unfamiliar.” – investopedia


When you change, and the rhythm of life changes, going back to your older environment can be challenging and confrontational. 

Placing the new you into the old you’s environment can be tricky to navigate both mentally and emotionally…even sometimes physically (Kailie actually had a bout of lactose intolerance when she came back from living in Mexico for 3 years. YIKES!)

To ensure a smooth return to work, take this into consideration during your pre-trip planning. Planning for some buffer time after your trip can help you “show up” during your first job interview back in the States.


Sometimes your thoughts or observations can be really raw when you first return home. Creating a bit of distance from your life abroad can give you the chance to distill your lessons learned into themes or short anecdotes that you can share with those around you in a way that they can understand. The best audience to practice on? People who already know you…Probably not an interviewer for your next dream job. So giving yourself time and space to figure out how to communicate those ideas can help you translate them into good responses to interview questions.  


You can also use this period where a lot of things feel “wrong” and “challenging” to decide on new daily habits for yourself! Use this transition time to incorporate new ways of living, meet new people, and discover your hometown from a different perspective. 

after your sabbatical

“The whole point of my sabbatical was to figure out what was important to me. But taking the time to figure it out is one thing. I also needed to take the time to implement it back into my life at home. It’s important to give yourself space to remember that, or else it can get lost. It can be easy to jump back in where you were.” Taylor Anderson, CFP(R),  Co-Owner and Financial Planner at Middleton & Company 


Let your sabbatical experience help define where you’re going next. The experiences you had in the past can shape the experiences you will have moving forward. Removing the need for an immediate paycheck upon your return can give you the chance to be really intentional about that next thing.


Ready to plan for all 3 – the pre, during, and post – stages of your sabbatical? Let’s chat! With experience in both sabbaticals and financial planning, we’re here to support you in making your sabbatical dream a reality. Ready to get started? Click here to learn more.

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This blog post is provided for educational, general information, and illustration purposes only. Opinions expressed herein are solely those of Middleton & Company, unless otherwise specifically cited. Material presented is believed to be from reliable sources and no representations are made by our firm as to another parties’ informational accuracy or completeness.
Nothing contained in the material constitutes financial or tax advice, a recommendation for purchase or sale of any security, or investment advisory services. We encourage you to consult a financial planner, accountant, and/or legal counsel for advice specific to your situation. Reproduction of this material is prohibited without written permission from Middleton & Company, and all rights are reserved.