When Amit Somani quit MakeMyTrip and moved to Bangalore over three years ago he had no job in hand, or any concrete career goals. He just wanted a clean break from work and to figure out what to do next.
Friends kept saying, oh we know you must have something up your sleeve. “But I really had nothing,” says Somani, who planned to take time off for a good 12 months. One of the first things he did after quitting was to travel solo in China for three weeks.
Today, the Chief Product Officer who oversaw product development at MMT and Google is an early-stage venture capitalist (he is Managing Partner at Prime Ventures). He is an emphatic proponent of a “jobbatical”, which he defines as a self-imposed career break. It even led to his becoming a venture capitalist. “I am an Accidental VC,” he jokes. Incidentally, there is a startup called Jobbatical which does something else.
So what exactly is a jobbatical?
A jobbatical is when you take a break from whatever you are doing for yourself, discover new skills, find out new aspects about yourself, rejuvenate and recharge, says Somani. He says this is very different from a sabbatical when you take time off from work to study or do something else, but continue to be employed there.
But why is it necessary for everyone to take this?
Somani sets the context. “Everyone is running a race today,” he says. “And typically mid-career, people forget why they are running the race, and what gives them job satisfaction.” It is worse in India where, right from school to college to a job it is a competitive rat race without any time for self-discovery.
Of course, one cannot generalise. Some people do have clear ambitions and goals and set out to become a CEO or an entrepreneur, but Somani says he suspects this number would be less than 10 per cent of the workforce.Time to find oneself
The jobbatical then is a period when you spend time evaluating what really fulfills you, meet a diverse set of people, exploring things that you have never done, but wanted to. Even those who have a clear career plan could do with some time off to introspect on why it is really important for them to aspire to that career goal, and what truly keeps them motivated and excited.
A jobbatical is also useful for those feeling burnt out, but it’s equally helpful for those who cope with the stress yet have worked ten years without taking a break in career. Only those who are supremely fulfilled professionally and personally probably do not need this time off, though that number is going to be tiny. “I feel nine out of ten people will be candidates,” says Somani. He points out that there are a couple of people from consulting firms he knows who are currently on a similar break from work.
Both the career changes in Somani’s life came about due to jobbaticals, he says. “I was an accidental product manager. After 14 years in the US, my wife and I had decided to move back to India. We both quit our fancy jobs in the US to take care of some personal matters, and took six months off.” When he was ready to re-engage in the workforce, there were several interviews for software engineering leadership jobs in India. One of those interviews was at Google. But he found they had an opening for a product management leadership role and asked if he could interview for that instead.
The Google recruiters hesitated, so Somani asked if he could interview for both Engineering and Product. Would he be willing to do eight different interviews for each, he was asked. He agreed and got the product job.Risks and safety valves
Before you jump into a jobbatical, there are two or three safety valves you need, says Somani. You first need to look at your financial situation. At least 12 months of living expenses, plus a cushion of six months is essential.
Also, a jobbatical is safer if you are a top quartile performer – someone whom people will come looking for, however long the break. Having said that, Somani says even people not at the top can do with a break as maybe they are not doing their best because they are not in the right role or the right company.
The third thing is that you should not treat the break period as time to goof off on a beach. “The time should be used to explore other dimensions of your personality. Give yourself exposure to things you would not do otherwise,” advises Somani.
Fourth, and actually the most important, is to elicit the support of your family.Social pressure
In India, a break from work, especially among men, is not viewed favourably by society or by employers. The pressure is largely self-made, believes Somani. There should be a clear coping strategy.
What about recruiters? Does it put a question mark on your CV? “Yes, there will be awkward questions and people do still have issues,” says Somani. But things are changing and diversity of experiences is beginning to matter.
A couple of books, Reboot Your Life and The Gift of Job Loss, also endorse the idea of a break, advocating volunteering and leveraging the gift of time to explore more stuff. According to Reboot Your Life , which has interviews with 500 people who took breaks, not one regretted the break.
Finally how many times in your career should you take a jobbatical? At least two or three times, says Somani. Well, nothing like the end of the year to think about this!