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Taking extended break
Old 08-18-2012, 11:54 PM   #1
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Taking extended break

As per my handle, I'm not the biggest fan of my profession. Since graduating university at 21 I have not had more than 2 weeks off at a time using standard vacation time. Lately I have been thinking of taking an extended break from the workforce. Approximately six months. I've been at my current job for 5 years and am nearing 37. I've been on the FIRE page for a long time and have my home paid for and about 20X living expenses socked away (bare bones budget mind you). So, financially I am in a spot to do it. The only thing holding me back is the impact it would have in my career which would translate to a later FIRE date which right now is between 45 and 50. How exactly would I explain such a break to the next employer? I have thought maybe I could lie and say I was taking care of an aging parent, however this is a pretty bad lie.

So my question is, have other professionals taken such a break and what was the impact on them? And no, I would not be able to take such a break from my current employer- my boss would laugh me out of his office and they would actively find ways to fire me or simply let me go without cause after such a conversation. I would think most employers would do the same. I have friends in other professions who fairly routinely get 2 months off at a time for 'stress leave' for what appear to me to be dubious reasons - again not an option in my profession.

The signs for me are all there - snapping at staff last week, getting into work late as trouble getting up and errors in my work.
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Old 08-19-2012, 12:08 AM   #2
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What would you do during this six month "sabbatical"? Are you in public or industry?

I worked for a big 4 firm and sabbaticals were fairly common. People would kick back a bit, travel, do some volunteer work, etc.

Would your boss rather have you quit and all your experience walk out the door never to be seen again OR work with you to give you a six month leave of absence?

If you decide to proceed it wouldn't hurt to try, but perhaps what you need more is a new employer. A friend of mine was burnt out and changed jobs in his mid 50s and now just loves the people he is working with and his job - so much so that even though he is FI he has delayed his retirement and still continues to work.
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Old 08-19-2012, 12:11 AM   #3
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What would you do during this six month "sabbatical"? Are you in public or industry?

I worked for a big 4 firm and sabbaticals were fairly common. People would kick back a bit, travel, do some volunteer work, etc.

Would your boss rather have you quit and all your experience walk out the door never to be seen again OR work with you to give you a six month leave of absence?

If you decide to proceed it wouldn't hurt to try, but perhaps what you need more is a new employer. A friend of mine was burnt out and changed jobs in his mid 50s and now just loves the people he is working with and his job - so much so that even though he is FI he has delayed his retirement and still continues to work.
Travel, golf, workout, relax, read, study what interests me, volunteer - what everyone else does during these breaks. Controller in industry

I could change employers - however I felt this way at last job too. Bottom line I'm in the wrong profession and have known it from Day 1. Too late to change and relatively close to FIRE that my best bet is just to gut it 10 more years. Just would like a break somewhere in that time.
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Old 08-19-2012, 12:26 AM   #4
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I was a also a controller in industry prior to rejoining the big 4 in the late 1990s. I enjoyed it but after 20 quarters each one was pretty much the same.

Have you thought about working as a temporary controller/CFO? I always though it might be fun to start a new gig every so often that had a relatively finite term.

There are so many things to do in the profession you might want to think about what aspects of the work you actually like and consider a change in direction. If I had not REd I probably would have gravitated to valuation work as I was up to my elbows in that sort of stuff as a result of the work that I did.
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Old 08-19-2012, 12:30 AM   #5
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I was a also a controller in industry prior to rejoining the big 4 in the late 1990s. I enjoyed it but after 20 quarters each one was pretty much the same.

Have you thought about working as a temporary controller/CFO? I always though it might be fun to start a new gig every so often that had a relatively finite term.

There are so many things to do in the profession you might want to think about what aspects of the work you actually like and consider a change in direction. If I had not REd I probably would have gravitated to valuation work as I was up to my elbows in that sort of stuff as a result of the work that I did.
Yes, true - month end and quarters are all the same basically.

The contract based stuff is appealing and have a friend who works at a recruiter (she was formerly an accountant and hated it too). They have tonnes of openings. It is definitely something I've thought about, but my concern is that once I take that path it may be hard to get back to full time work. I've always thought I'd do this when much closer to FIRE.

Agreed about varied work aspects. I HATE managing people and love the analytical side of my job. Have thought that bankruptcy or valuations would be interesting to get into - but would be starting at the bottom of both.
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Old 08-19-2012, 01:27 AM   #6
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If you don't like managing people and enjoy analysis there are still lots of jobs available in the profession. After running engagements for a number of year I got tired of the bureaucracy and evolved into a subject matter expert role and a consultant to engagement teams where I didn't have direct management responsibilities.

Would there be any lateral possibilities with your current employer after a six month sabbatical? like in investor relations or some other area of the company that you could use your analytical skills? A woman who worked for me transferred from financial reporting to marketing finance after I left and is loving it.
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Old 08-19-2012, 03:37 AM   #7
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I went through a similar internal debate a few years ago and concluded that I did not want to delay my permanent retirement - I decided to change firms in the hope that the move would refresh me enough to see me through what was, at the time, expected to be the last 5-7 years. It worked for a while and by the time I got somewhat bored with it, I was close enough to the end to just suck it up and see it through.

I did consider a sabbatical, a mive to a less well paid different job and a career break, but decided that getting to FIRE status as quickly as possible was more important than any short term relief these would offer. Also, I worried that I would end up with a lower income when i came back from any break whcih would mean a much longer wait to FIRE.
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Old 08-19-2012, 05:07 AM   #8
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I did it when I was about your age (36). When re-entering the workforce my story was that I wanted to change jobs anyway, and viewed this as a once-in-a-career chance to take a sabbatical. My wife and I moved to Paris for a year and I took piano lessons. I found that having a particular story like that resonated well with most interviewers.

(Specifically, I found younger interviewers would be understanding, indeed envious. But the over 55 crowd would view it skeptically. But in my industry there aren't many of the latter)

In my view if you have a compelling story around the time off - be it travel, family issues, schooling, learning a language, whatever - you'll have an easier time re-entering than if you just take an extended vacation.
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Old 08-19-2012, 06:49 AM   #9
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After a break work will be the same and so will you. Wouldn't it be better to start exploring options for other employment while still at your firm? As others have said, not all jobs in the field will be the same and, even if accounting isn't your cup of tea, the skills could support other choices. I made a 180 turn from HR to IT at 47 and it made the last 10 years of my career. You don't have to find your passion (many of us never do) -- just something that somewhat aligns with your skills and interests. That and a decent work environment.
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Old 08-19-2012, 07:04 AM   #10
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I would say do it and see what happens. If you can afford it, no big deal. When you get back in the job market just say you wanted to try your luck on the PGA tour. Hell that would resonate with any male interviewer.
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Old 08-19-2012, 07:42 AM   #11
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Personally, IMO right now is not a good time to take a self made sabbatical for career reasons (now for personal reasons it might be the best thing to do, but that would be up to you).

Currently, certified accountants with 15 years experience are a commodity that can almost name their own price in a firm and taking a 6 month sabbatical could look to a future interviewer that you took it due to pressure and he may not want to take the chance on you doing the same to him at a crisis period in the work he wants from you.

What I would do is look for a new company - one that does offer sabbaticals. In most cases you would have to wait 2 years to qualify for taking a sabbatical, but you should be able to get a short one (1 or 2 months) during your transition period to the new company. Tell them you have a few things to wrap up - if they really want you they will give you the time, but make sure the job is locked prior to making this request. Do not use the word stress when making the request...

You said that you prefer the analytical side and that is where you could put your focus. Depending upon the company and the position they are hiring for - most hiring someone with 15 years experience are expecting managerial / lead skills to be included. Analytics is a growing area - especially in costs roles - leading does not always mean managing.
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Old 08-19-2012, 11:06 AM   #12
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Fist try to negotiate a no pay lease with your current company. You haven't talked with you boss yet, so why assume he will not accommodate such an idea.

Otherwise, I would suggest you start the interview process and find your next company now. When you sign on with the next employer, tell them you need to have some time off before joining.

As you never took more than two weeks off before, I would suggest you take a couple of months off, instead of 6 months.
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Old 08-19-2012, 11:31 AM   #13
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Can you take a Leave of Absence for a few months? Taking 1 - 3 months off can give you time to explore what you want with a safety net of returning to the job, even if it stinks.

Meanwhile, you can travel and interview for something new.

I made a switch to contracting/consulting 3 months ago, it reduced so much stress. My biggest challenge so far was more of letting management duties go and just being the PM and SME. Going from 55 - 60 hours with no OT pay to 40 - 45 hours with straight time pay has made me very happy as I don't feel taken advantage of. It's a personal issue as not everyone on salary feels it's taken advantage of, but for me, it was a concern. YMMV
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Old 08-19-2012, 11:46 AM   #14
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There's the saying about the closing of one door allowing another to open (or something along those lines). It sounds like you are trying to leave the old door open while trying to open the new door but that doesn't really work.

Figure our what feels about right, do it, and don't look back. Was it the "right" choice? Who knows and who cares. Let go of your fear of not making the perfect choice, or even with hindsight, the right choice. You can be confident that you did the best you could with the information you had at the time you made your decision.

You are also assuming you will be around in a few years to be content or discontent with your decision. You may get hit by a bus in 6 months and it's all moot anyway! Live like life is short....which it is even under the best of circumstances!
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Old 08-19-2012, 12:01 PM   #15
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As the mother of a CFO I doubt that her Controller taking extended leave other than FMLA would sit well. Even if a sabbatical were possible you would be returning to the same-old-same-old. Were I you I would look for a position with a better fit, talk to your recruiter friend confidentially. Start networking with people who do the kind of analytical work that looks attractive.

I had a neighbor who worked with a firm that placed temp CFOs & Controllers. Listening between the lines I concluded that people management challenges did not go away.
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Old 08-19-2012, 12:29 PM   #16
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Intel has a long-standing policy of giving its employees an 8-week paid sabbatical leave every 7 years. This is in addition to the normal annual vacation.

My brother enjoyed his when he was working there. My neighbor who also worked there took his sabbatical, came back for a few months, then decided to retire early as he grew to love the easy life style. He was barely 40 then, I think.

OK, I need to tell the rest of the story here about my neighbor. The reason he could afford to retire that early was that he took a big gamble on options that he bought with his own money, and became a millionaire nearly overnight. I occasionally buy options as a lark with a few grands, but he plunked down a six-figure sum. Good thing I only played with little money, because I have lost most of it.
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Old 08-19-2012, 12:40 PM   #17
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I feel that I was in your position a few years ago and I think it can be tough. You have definitely saved enough to allow you to take time off, so at least be comforted that if it ever gets too bad, you can quit. For me, knowing that helped.

I knew if I worked a few more years, lived frugally, and saved, I would have enough to retire, so I tried to make work more acceptable. In my case, that meant I got approval to work from home and I avoided the most annoying projects. I switched focus from trying to be promoted to just trying to make each day easier to take.

Can you take a month off? Would that help? If you do have a conversation with your boss and he then fires you, keep in mind that you will be eligible for unemployment … as long as you are not guilty of misconduct.

Can you take an accounting job in an interesting industry or location? That job probably won’t interest you forever, but it may make it easier to make it to the finish line? Also, if it is no better, you can quit with even more money saved.
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Old 08-19-2012, 01:05 PM   #18
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Could you get support from your firm (or even permission) to take time out for professional development? For example, studying international accounting practices (with field research of course).
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Old 08-19-2012, 05:51 PM   #19
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I am still "on sabbatical" as I write this but honestly what I did was resign and decided in advance to create a gap before the next job. If you are burned out (from your description) mental health may trump other considerations. I can tell you that it took a full month to start feeling good physically (sleeping and eating well, losing the stress response, starting and keeping up with a bunch of interesting and enjoyable activities) and then 2 more months to go a little deeper into thinking about what I enjoyed and missed from my work life (physician). For me, I have made a decision to change my area of specialty oncologist to hospitalist) and change my work life to a more controlled schedule (no more 55-60 hour weeks!). I am starting over with a new employer this fall. This is after 25 years of practice.
My potential new employers all asked why I took so many months off. I had to have a well thought out response because I think the assumption is usually that it is not for a "good" reason. I was honest in my responses, describing the desire to recharge as well as changing how I work. It IS a risk. I was only willing to take it because I had saved enough to be okay even if I could not get another job for a long time.
I have never had even a small regret that what I chose was "wrong". I wake up in a good mood every day and feel happy in a way I haven't felt in years.
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Old 08-19-2012, 07:01 PM   #20
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To the OP: You have a huge advantage. You already know what you want to do and that is a huge plus. Back in 1990 I'd returned to the US at age 40 after working as a controller in overseas civil construction projects. I really had no clue as to what I wanted to do with the rest of my working life which I thought would be till I was 65 or so. Having saved some money overseas, I decided to take some time off to decide what I would like to do for the rest of my working life. What I discovered during my sabbatical is that what I really enjoyed in life was being on a sabbatical! I never got bored, I loved not having to go to work - doing as I pleased with nobody and nothing giving me a hard time. So I decided to redirect my efforts to going back to my main area of expertise because it paid the best. A clear goal in mind this time made the work I hated before very bearable and it worked very well with FI/ER 9 years latter when I transitioned to part time work and full ER 3 years latter.

Depending on where you are at in the process (i.e. enough funds are set aside for a comfortable sabbatical with no money worries) I would strongly recommend the sabbatical route even if it means loosing your current employment (I lost my employment when I took that sabbatical). It took a while to find a new job but the one I found actually paid better than the old one and moved m closer to my goal. I know it's not in the accounting framework but - nothing ventured nothing gained.
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