I’ve been back from a life break now for a couple of weeks – and a startling realization is dawning on me.

I’m not the same person I was a month ago.

I’m more comfortable in my own skin as I’m proud of all that I was able to experience while on my own during the break.

I’m more focused and adventureous. I’m open to possibility, which was my highest objective for this break. I crave space, quiet and beauty to be inspired (no small feat in a big city!). I am reading and writing regularly. As I walk out my door, I’m excited to make new connections with people that I don’t yet know. I’m more comfortable in my own skin as I’m proud of all that I was able to experience while on my own during the break.

As I look back at my time in Berlin and its impact, I have gleaned insight into how I would design future sabbaticals:

The location is key.

Whether it’s a bustling megacity or calm oceanside town, it’s important to know what kind of experience you’re looking for in your break. To get a lay of the land, it may even be worth visiting the place before you take your break there to take notes.

The space you’ll be in will have a significant influence on your experience. If you’re staying in a hotel or rented place, in a shared space or single occupancy unit or in a neighborhood with lots of sightseeing, nightlife or creature comfort amenities, all of those factors will play a huge role in how much you enjoy your break.

Identify your critical local businesses during your first week.

The grocery store, hardware store, pharmacy, laundromat, police/fire/emergency station and hospital/medical clinic should be part of that list. Other add-ons could include a neighborhood coffee shop, co-working space or farmers market.

Get a SIM card for your mobile device(s).

Navigating a new place – with the help of a myriad of apps catered to travelers – is invaluable in making you feel comfortable in your new city/town. That said, observe and engage with all that is going on around you. This is a unique time and you’ll want to take it all in!

Make a friend in the neighborhood.

It’s always nice to know people that live nearby (even in your own building!). They can help you get a sense of the local area; they can provide helpful tips to have an authentic experience, all the while staying safe.

Live as if you’ll always be living there, not as someone just passing through.Tweet


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Live outside of your comfort zone.

Learn a bit of the local language. Strike up conversations with people, especially those you wouldn’t normally socialize with. Explore your new home with a childlike wonder. Try new foods, customs and adopt the culture as your own. Be it a café, bookstore or any other neighborhood haunt, be a regular somewhere. Live as if you’ll always be living there, not as someone just passing through.

Try to disconnect with your life back home.

Check in with family and friends as much as needed but not constantly. Allocate only certain hours of the day to being on social media. Remember that your time in your new home is limited and you want to absolutely make the most of it by being fully present.

I will warn you – you will miss your life break home! It is a bittersweet experience returning back to your “normal” life. I even had reverse culture shock as I slowly sauntered past busy, stressed New Yorkers my first week back. Even though it was for only a month, I learned more about myself in that time than I did all year. I really loved the life I carved out for myself during the break – so much so that I plan on returning to Berlin next year to visit my new friends there.

As I was adjusting back into my life in New York (and attempting to console myself!), I stumbled on a TED talk given by Stefan Sagmeister that has been viewed over 2.7 million times. He has in his plans to take a sabbatical for one year every seven years and had done just one at the time of his talk. In it, he states that, “Basically everything we've (Sagameister, Inc., his eponymous design studio) done in the seven years following the first sabbatical came out of thinking of that one single year.” It was even revealed during this same TED talk that 5% of all of the attendees at the conference had done a sabbatical before.

We can try to sum up the value of a life break, qualitatively and quantitatively. In the end, I urge you to find out how valuable it is for yourself – by taking one.

Photo Credit: James Song

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career break, sabbatical, advice, changed my life
Author: Ji Son Choi

Ji Son Choi is a creative strategist who collaborates with brands to bring their values and stories to life via custom content and technology. She has worked at The Guardian, The Economist, The Knot, Good Housekeeping magazine, Los Angeles magazine among other media outlets.