Have you ever dreamed about ditching the daily grind to start a new life on the other side of the planet? Sherry Ott was living the Sex in the City lifestyle as an IT executive in New York, but gave it all up to travel the globe and pursue her passions.
Sherry took a career break to re-evaluate her life and see the world. Today, three years later, she’s a teacher, photographer, and writer based in Vietnam. She’s also a blogger who started a website to help other corporate casualties plan career breaks to recharge their batteries and/or explore new directions.
If you’re a nomad at heart or just feeling stuck in a rut, Sherry’s story might just inspire you to start packing your bags.
1) Tell us a little bit about your corporate career path.
I worked in IT Management positions for 14 years. It was a career that I kind of fell into thanks to timing and a few good breaks. I studied accounting and business (MBA), then took an accounting job when I graduated in 1992 (yes, I’m old) . Thanks to timing, I ended up doing computer training work since I was the only person at my company who had any familiarity with PC’s, networks, and Windows 3.1 (remember – it was 1992). Hence, my IT career was launched.
I moved from job to job, state to state; always climbing the corporate ladder. More responsibility, better titles, more money…more headaches. Soon I was a in a senior leadership position at a large international retailer in New York City, running a department of project managers, analysts, and developers. Everything a fashionista career girl would ever want — right? I had the Sex in the City lifestyle; career, social life, free samples, money, a great apartment, and no one to think about but myself.
2) What made you decide to change careers?
As my career responsibilities grew, so did my stress and unhappiness. I looked back at my career and wondered “How did I end up here? “ I enjoyed using technology, but I didn’t LOVE bits and bytes. At the same time, the IT world was changing so fast that I never felt I could keep up with it, which left me feeling completely insecure in my own abilities. No one wants to go to work in a high-powered job feeling insecure — it’s a recipe for disaster.
Looking back, I realize that I was investing all of my emotions and time in my job because I really had no where else to put it. It’s not that I ever wanted to be married or have kids. However, like many single people, I developed a disproportionate attachment to my job as I didn’t have any other place to put my passion. The problem is that a job never loves you back — it’s an unhealthy relationship.
So I was 36 years old, living a life most people would want, and I was completely burned out. The stress was no longer worth the salary.
3) What were your biggest career change challenges?
My biggest challenge was breaking social norms and going out on a limb. I realized that I was so unhappy that I needed an opportunity to get away from the craziness to re-evaluate my life and my goals. I wanted a break…a sabbatical, a gap year, a career break, whatever you want to call it.
I also desperately wanted to see the world. When I went on vacations while working, I never wanted to come home. I was so jealous of those people (mainly Europeans and Australians) who could travel for long periods of time and live abroad beyond a one-week stay at a resort.
And I finally realized that I had nothing tying me down. I had saved money, I didn’t like my job — why not take a break? It sounded pretty simple, but going against social norms is never easy. In fact, it’s one of the hardest things you can do in America. But then again, I was 36 and single. I had already taken the road less traveled. So I amped it up a notch in 2006 and decided to quit my job and travel around the world for a year.
As I traveled, I realized that I had awakened a side of me that I had stifled for my 14 years working in Corporate America; the creative side. I had always journaled and loved to write and take photographs, but I did these things for myself. As I traveled around the world to 23 countries, seeing sights that people in their cubicles could only experience via their screen savers, I decided I needed to show other ‘cubicle hostages’ the world they were missing.
I started a simple blog for family and friends to follow, Ottsworld: Travel and Life Experiences of a Corporate American Runaway, which soon gained a large following of people who yearned to follow in my footsteps.
After 16 months of travel, blogging, and photography, I knew I wasn’t ready to go back to my old career and corporate life so I continued to rebel against social norms and moved to Vietnam to live abroad on my own.
Granted, I had to figure out a way to make money, so I took my love for volunteering and got my CELTA certificate (certificate to teach English as a foreign language). With the certificate, I got a part-time job teaching English as a second language in Vietnam. Now I teach English in Vietnamese corporations part time when I’m not working on my travel writing or photography.
I also teamed up with a partner to start up a website for other Americans interested in taking a career break, Briefcase to Backpack. It’s our desire to inspire and assist corporate Americans who need a break. We provide inspirational testimonials and ‘how-to’ tips on how to travel/volunteer/study abroad and how to re-enter the corporate world after your break.
4) What are the best and worst things about your new career?
The best thing is that I’m my own boss! The worst thing is that my fashion sense has gone out the window. I work in my pajamas most days until noon!
5) What advice would you give to someone who feels stuck in an uninspiring job? Do you have any success secrets to share?
Consider taking a career break! It’s not hard and it doesn’t have to be a career killer, as our society would lead you to believe!
A career break can give you the chance to step back and re-examine your career direction and recapture your passion.
Visit Sherry’s site to read more career break stories and get valuable advice for planning your own career break.