Running for a Tube, standing underneath people’s armpits, getting your bag caught in the door, missing your train connection, waiting at Clapham Junction (where the mobile signal is consistently bad), travelling for an hour just to go four miles across London – these are things I am oh-so-familar with. And they are just transport-related stress.
Being in London gives you a high propensity to live an "always on" lifestyle. Work phones come with you everywhere (what if your personal one runs out of battery or data?), emails from global colleagues can come into your inbox at any time, social media allows people to have industry discussions at all hours of the day and there are events left right and centre that enable learning, networking and, of course, drinking.
Not only was I doing all that, but I was also on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn to share my experiences, keep in touch with friends, colleagues and strangers and running "always on" Sarah campaign 24/7.
After five years, I was ready for a break. Don’t get me wrong; I love it. I’ve done some awesome things, seen some great locations, been to events, worked on exclusive projects, ate at delicious restaurants, made some amazing friends and had a motivating team around me throughout.
But, boy, was I tired. It was time to take a break, review my passions, spend some time on me and just reset and refocus. And so I quit my amazing advertising role at a global organisation and decided to run that Sarah campaign in smaller bursts so that they can have the maximum impact without using all the budget up at once.
A leap into the unknown
Long-term employers – that’s all some people know.
My career at IBM started with a placement year when I was 20. I returned to IBM marketing full of energy and enthusiasm as a fresh-faced graduate, straight out of Lancaster University. I joined colleagues and peers across the business who had fully fledged and typically long-term careers in the company spanning five to 40 years. Crazy to think, right?
As a huge global company, IBM has opportunities aplenty that enable employees to move around business areas and experience different roles without actually moving company. Factor in training, great managers and brilliant co-workers, and you’ve got yourself a company that retains talent all over the world for many years.
I was fortunate to experience role changes during my five-year career span, working with acquired organisations and their marketing plans, social media for our business analytics brand, UK internal communications for more than 17,000 employees and my final (and favourite) role: digital marketing and advertising.
But what constitutes a "typical" career path these days? Is it staying loyal to the same company, is it freelancing or is it moving every two to three years to gain new experiences?
I had planned to travel after university for six months or so. Save up beforehand and make the most of being 22 (as Taylor would say). However, after a couple of rounds of interviews, IBM offered me a role and I was pulled into the start of my career, transported head first into the delights of the Northern line daily.
It seems common for many young people to take a year out, either before or after university. But, of course, any time not working comes with a financial requirement and many of us aren’t in a position to do this until we’ve earned a bit of money and got that experience that’s much-needed for the competitive job market.
Depending on what life throws at you, and gap year or no gap year, a majority of us settle down into full-time jobs, build our lives in cities and towns, potentially buy property, meet partners and settle down. But that is not for everyone, and once I’d started investigating taking time out to travel, it turned out many of my colleagues had done the same via unpaid leave for varying lengths of time throughout their careers. Brilliant, I thought, sounds perfect. Scary, though. Really scary.
Overcoming the fear
Over the course of 2018, I had varying levels of confidence in myself and my abilities in advertising. I debated in my head the idea of taking unpaid leave – meaning I would guarantee post-travel job security, but in a different marketing role at IBM – versus quitting completely, knowing I’d have to look for something new once I returned.
I wrote a detailed pros and cons chart, thought for hours at a time, discussed with friends and confided in trustworthy colleagues. It took months to do it but eventually I built up enough self-confidence to recognise that I was employable outside IBM. I realised that, to achieve my goals in an advertising career, I was going to have to quit and really challenge my future, post-travelling self.
Another fear was, of course, the financial factor. Given that I’ve had a job and some form of income since I was 16, it was hard to give up the kind of work that would provide me with a weekly or monthly pay cheque. I’m fortunate (in a weird way, given the circumstances) to have some savings via inheritance that I know I can rely on, as long as I budget well. Planning to have this to fall back on, plus my family's support in giving me a room at home when I need it, was fundamental in this decision. I’ve got plenty of hospitality skills from years working at hotels and in bars so I decided to trust myself in my ability to earn money somehow, somewhere, if I got totally stuck or actually wanted to work while I’m away.
My final fear factor was that "CV gap". Are employers going to look at my CV and think: what was she doing for those months? But, actually, I’m positive that the experiences, cultural education and inadvertent networking you gain from travel can only be seen as a positive.
I’ve already had beachside conversations about LinkedIn strategies, having met a fellow digital marketer. I’m blogging, taking photos and looking to grow my social presence while I’m away – that's a job in itself. Taking that time to grow outside the corporate world – I’m looking at that in a positive sense, no matter what.
Having found a note to myself from back in January last year commenting that perhaps I should quit my job, I’m certain that I’ve made the right choice. As the saying goes, every day is a school day, whether that’s learning from new international friends, checking out which Instagram hashtags are going to help you grow organically or taking up a new hobby (my most recent this past year is surfing). There are plenty of situations that can give you new skills and learning experiences, no matter where you are in the world. Be bold and, if you can just do it, just do it.
Sarah Warsaw is a former brand and advertising digital lead at IBM UK. She is currently travelling the world you can follow her adventures at @warsawsworld on Twitter and Instagram and warsawsworld.co.uk