Should You Take Time Off Between Jobs?

When I was transitioning into a UX career, my mother advised me: “Don’t quit your job until you’ve got another job lined up.” Sounds sensible enough.

So I proceeded to do exactly the opposite and quit my job without another one lined up.

In this article I’ll share with you some ideas that helped me make this tough decision, and why it’s paid off for me.

DISCLAIMER I’m incredibly entitled (and grateful) to have the means to weather a “funemployment” period. Having some savings and a roof over my head is something I don’t take for granted, and I realize that’s not everyone’s situation.

Some of you reading this might be facing an important decision right now: should you quit your job when you have nothing lined up?

I’ve talked to various people who’ve been turning this question over and over in their minds.

Here’s an actual conversation with a friend:

I’m trying to gauge if I want to travel first or square away my next job. I’m afraid most companies wouldn’t want to give me 1-2 months in between jobs. I’m feeling restless and this transition to UX is taking forever, and if I get a new UX job, I’ll just have to start work right away.

Some people want to travel. Some can’t stand their current jobs. And some want to take time off to transition into another career, maybe even enroll in an immersive full-time program.

Regardless of your motivations to quit, I’ll share with you two ideas that have guided me well:

1. Important vs Urgent

In life, there are important things and there are urgent things. The separation between them can be dreadfully subtle.

Important things are things that you don’t want to regret not doing when you’re on your deathbed. They are the big goals of life. Examples include traveling, starting a business, creating a non-profit, spending time with loved ones, losing weight and getting healthy again.

Urgent things are things that often pose as important things. The report due tomorrow (which no one may ever read). Your coworker’s birthday party this Friday. Fixing the leaky faucet or cleaning your room. Urgent things matter, but they’re not important.

(I borrow this concept from Oliver Emberton, who wrote an amazing piece called “How to Master Your Time.”)

This is also a theme throughout the classic book The Alchemist. The protagonist, a shepherd boy, is on a quest to search for a great treasure. But he had to quit his job first. During his journeys, the boy is constantly embattled with struggles and decisions that veers him off his original path. Finally, years later, he summons the courage to return to his goal and finally achieves it. And he gets the girl, too :)

At the end of the day, this is about priorities. If you’ve been dreaming of traveling for the past 3 years, I think your future self will forgive you for giving up a few months of steady employment.

2. Learning vs Earning

This next idea is borrowed from Mark Suster. It’s called “Is it Time for you to Earn or Learn?

The basic idea is to determine if you’re at the stage to focus on learning or earning. This doesn’t mean that the two are mutually exclusive; certainly you can learn while getting paid.

But for those of you who are stuck in a job you don’t like, and want to make a career switch to UX, it may very well be worth it to take time off to learn, sacrificing your earnings in the short run.

I personally know someone who quit a high paying job to do a UX internship. I know others who’ve left their stable jobs to travel. They all eventually got jobs or started their own businesses. They all ended up okay. I’m betting that you will be okay too.

Personally, this helped me decide that forgoing a full-time income for a few months (EARN) was worth the knowledge and skills I might gain studying on my own (LEARN).

When I asked myself: “Is it time for me to learn or earn?” The answer was LEARN.

How It’s Paid Off

There are many benefits of not having a full-time job while your pursue other goals. I traveled. I read a lot of books. I even picked up some design skills I’ve been procrastinating on learning forever.

And when I was done “doing me,” not having a full time job allowed me the focus to interview. (It can be stressful to take a sick day off to take an interview.)

In the end, I found a full time UX job, which I’m grateful for. But the most surprising thing I discovered during this free time was the freedom of allowing myself to do what I want, in spite of fear and the initial loss of money.

Because spending time on yourself – for your mental health, physical wellbeing, and spirit – should be considered a real investment too.