When you’re ready to discover your new career, you may be tempted to take some time off to figure things out.

After all, it sounds really nice to take leave time or even quit your job so you can do some self-discovery and experiment with things in order to figure out what you want to do. But should you?

Short answer: No.

Why Taking Time Off Won’t Help You Find a New Career

I’ve worked with multiple clients who thought, “I just need more time to figure it out.” They’ve come to me at the 6 or 12 month mark after leaving their jobs. You’d think they’d have put together a lot of the pieces on their own, but they’re even more confused than before, they have a new gap in their resume, and they’ve lost 6-12 months of income.

How can this be possible? How can taking time off make the situation worse?

The problem is that people learn things about themselves, but they don’t usually know what to do with that new information. Maybe you’ve encountered this. It can sound like:

  • “I found that I love making things with my hands…does that mean I should open an Etsy shop?”

  • “I volunteered at the nature center and love being outdoors all day, but I can’t make a living doing that, so…”

  • “After spending so much time at home, I know I need the accountability of showing up for work somewhere every day, but I hate corporate culture and don’t want to go back to a non-profit. Based on my work history, I don’t even know what options that leaves.“

In most cases, time off and experimentation leads to information, but not to information that’s actionable. The net result is that you’re further away from reaching your goal of being confident about the career you want to pursue.

I call this the “Chocolate Cake Mistake of Career Change.”

The Chocolate Cake Mistake of Career Change

So, say you decide you’d really like to bake (and eat) a chocolate cake but you’ve never made one. Ok, great. You’ve probably at least seen a chocolate cake before. You figure, “I can make an amazing chocolate cake, if I just have enough time.”

It’s true that you have to have time to bake the cake, but time alone does not yield a chocolate cake. (If that was true, I would sit on my couch and wait for cake to appear!)

So, what do you need to make your cake?

1 | The right ingredients

What if you don’t have chocolate? Can you substitute a banana? If you do, you might get a cake but it certainly won’t be chocolate cake.

2 | The right tools

What happens if you have a bowl and a whisk, but not an oven? I’m afraid you won’t end up with cake, although it might be a lovely chocolate soup.

3 | The right recipe

Let’s say you have the right ingredients and the right tools but you don’t have a recipe to follow. You know that butter should go in there, but instead of blending it in, you stick a clump right on top of the batter and pop it in the oven. All the ingredients are there in the right size pan but this time, you’re going to end up with a gooey mess because you didn’t combine the ingredients properly.

And yes, you need time to spend in the kitchen, but let me ask you this: If you’ve never made a chocolate cake before,

How many experiments would it take to get it right?

Imagine all the variables you have to make choices about: baking soda or baking powder? Round or square pan? Preheat to 300 or 450? All-purpose flour or cake flour? Cocoa powder or melted chocolate? Sweetened or unsweetened? Vegetable oil or butter? Or both??

There are endless combinations. And all the time in the world still might not get you the chocolate cake you want.

What can we learn from trying to bake our chocolate cake?

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you just need more time to discover the right career. Get the support you need to get the right ingredients, right tools, and right recipe. The truth is that when you have those things, it doesn’t take very much time to bake a delicious chocolate cake.

Laura Simms is an expert in meaningful work who challenges conventional wisdom by asking people to ditch their passions and start with purpose.

If you have too many passions, zero passions, or can't seem to combine your passions, try her purpose-first approach to find a career you love.  


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