Taking a Year Off
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Like Rheingold, most men who make successes of their year off quit their jobs without another one waiting for them. Others, like sales whiz Matt Green, return to their current careers re-energized. Every four years or so Green would quit his job in enterprise software sales in the Bay Area to take an extended break to ride bikes, as well as spend more time with his family. Green owns bikes for a reason: to use them, despite the occasional hazards. He was twice helicoptered off of racetracks after "dismounting" one of his superbikes at upward of 90 miles per hour.

He not only lived to bike another day, but each time Green came back into the working world he also managed to move up the ladder a couple of rungs. By the time he retired, in his early 40s, he was president of worldwide sales at BEA Systems, one of the most successful software companies in history.

"When I came back to work after a break, I found that I had a more realistic, pragmatic view of how to accomplish a goal like hitting the quarterly numbers," says Green. As a result, senior executives began to acknowledge his opinion on a new level. "I gained a maturity and perspective that went beyond the simple requirements of the job."

"If you do something impressive with your year off, you'll never have to hide the time on your resume," says sabbatical coach Prout. "No one is going to be impressed if you just kicked around on a beach, but if you've taken on a challenging project and learned something, future employers will see it as a plus."

Travel writer John Flinn and his wife celebrated their 30th birthdays while on a year-off trip around the world, traveling through Nepal, Kenya, and Egypt. Four years later they set out again. Flinn leveraged his two leaves of absence when he nabbed the coveted job of travel editor at the San Francisco Chronicle. "I have – let's face it – one of the best jobs around, and I owe it entirely to the two years I spent bumming around the globe," he says.

At 37, Kevin McKeown took a break from his life as a freelance translator in Vancouver after the failure of a seven-year marriage. He signed on to crew a three-masted barque sailing from Nova Scotia to the Virgin Islands, then through the Panama Canal to Polynesia and the Cook Islands. The skills he learned while living the life of an 18th-century sailor – maintaining rope, mending the sails, swabbing the deck – are invaluable, if not obviously transferable to most modern-day careers. "When you integrate yourself back into your old life, you bring back a sense of resourcefulness," says McKeown. "I became much more pragmatic about everything from my car breaking down to my business. You look at a problem and say, 'Okay, what has to be done to solve this?'"

Before he left McKeown was disenchanted with work and relationships; now back less than a year after an additional jaunt through Southeast Asia, his business is doing better than ever, he has plans to buy a house with his new girlfriend, and a child is on the way. Life, a year later, is good.

A year off is a chance to change yourself, but it's also an opportunity to change the world. Aaron Frank was a 27-year-old lawyer living in Atlanta when he packed his car and headed west with no destination or idea of what he was going to do. "All I knew was that putting on that suit every morning didn't feel like me," he remembers. "I had a lot of momentum in my career, but I began to feel like my routine was a thief stealing my life away one day at a time."