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At the end of 2021, I left my previous job without another one secured. Here are a few things I learned and what I’d do differently.

Between my current role as an APM at a Data Healthcare startup and my previous one as a APM + Analyst at an e-commerce startup, I took a sizeable gap, roughly four months to be exact.

In November of 2021, I’d just left my job — like many across the US — as part of what is now being called ‘The Great Resignation’. Without a concrete game plan, I’d decided I wanted to take some extended time for myself before finding a role and company which would align better with my personal ambitions and values.

I’d timed it so that my last day would be before a weeklong trip with some university friends I had not seen in over three years.

Upon returning from my trip to Miami, I took another week to just relax, binge some shows, start a new gym routine, call up some friends, and engage in other activities I now had much more bandwidth to do.

After that week, I set a personal routine for myself to keep myself moving forward as I looked for a new job. Thankfully the market was hot and after a few weeks of experimenting with my resume, cold reach outs, and tracking applications, I was finally landing interviews.

During my newfound unemployment, I also carved out time to read books I’d been meaning to and take advantage of my Coursera Plus subscription. After roughly four months of studying, recruiting, working out, and relaxing , I finally started a new job as an Associate Product Manager at a Data Healthcare startup.

What I Learned During My Time Off

A few lessons I learned during my time off include the following:

  1. Save up an emergency fund. By doing this, you’ll have the ability to walk away from situations disadvantageous to you. Financial experts generally recommend having about 6 months worth of expenses on hand in case of an emergency.
  2. Create a schedule. We generally crave structure. As children, school and activities took up most of our time. In adulthood, work generally fills that role for most of us. Suddenly yanking away this externally imposed structure leaves a lot of free time to fill with activities. If you don’t find a way to fill up the time, you’ll see it slip very quickly and each day fading into the next. You can use a simple Google Sheets template, or opt for a dedicated app. The important thing is you’re able to impost some structure for yourself.
  3. Set goals. This ties somewhat to the point above. Writing down some goals you want to achieve during your time off will help you accomplish the things you‘ve told yourself you’ve wanted to. Break them down into achievable steps and go after them.
  4. Carve out time for hobbies, friends, and relaxation. It may be tempting to fully pack your weeks with an intense schedule to be as productive as possible. However, in doing so, it is entirely possible to burn yourself out. Make sure you’ve set some hours to read that book you’ve wanted, hang out with friends, work out, travel, or just lay in bed and listen to music. The activity doesn’t matter. What matters is that you can relax. This applies whether you are working or in between jobs.

Lessons I’m Carrying With Me Into My New Job

Now that I’ve started working again, there are a few things I’m going to do differently.

  1. Network. For people like myself, who value work and believe a job well done should speak for itself, networking carries with it a negative connotation. It sounds sleazy, like getting ahead in a method beyond your own merit. Personally, it helped me to think beyond just the transactional meaning which I’d applied to the term in my own head. Building your network can be a great way to learn about new industries, jobs, understand where you fit better, and build lasting professional connections. Just as the best time to apply for a job is when you don’t need one, the best time to reach out to other professionals may be when you don’t need them to do anything for you. In business, you need both solid product and distribution channels to succeed. In your professional career, you need to build both your own skills as well as your reach. If no one knows how you can solve problems for them, how will they reach out to you regarding opportunities?
  2. Be more deliberate and focus on outcomes. As an Associate Product Manager, my performance is tied more to outcomes and less so on output. However, even other jobs which may seem output focused can see employees succeed when they focus more on the outcomes desired. This is both a benefit and curse of knowledge work. Taking greater ownership of outcomes can advance one’s career. However, setbacks can seem more jarring if there’s more responsibility placed on the individual contributor and less on the system they operate under. At my previous job, I was more focused on just taking on anything where I felt I could help out. This is a natural tendency at an early stage startup. There are an abundance of problems to solve. Now, at a later stage startup, I’m focusing more on my defined role while also thinking about the underlying metrics and experience I’m trying to improve.
  3. Try new things and always keep learning. It’s no surprise learning a new school can be good for your brain. It can also help you meet new people, advance professionally, and improve your health. Whether trying your hand at a new activity, living in a new place, or reading a book on a new topic, it will stimulate your brain and keep you refreshed. I’ve set some personal goals for myself in new avenues I’d like to explore.

Conclusion

I’m glad I was able to take an extended break early in my career to evaluate what I want to do next as well as what I’d change about the way I operate. It was a great learning experience through its ups and downs. If you’re starting a new job or have just left one, I wish you the best of luck in making the most of your new situation.

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