I don't know what I want to do

MAY 5 2011

This is one of the commonest things people say to us. "I want a career break but I'm not really sure what I want to do." So let us help you decide.

What don't you want to do?

One of the easiest ways of working out what you do want to do is eliminating what you don't want to do. For example, which of these would you never want to do in a million years?

  • Bungee jump off a bridge
  • Sit and patiently explain something to a small child
  • Do strenuous exercise or activity for several hours a day
  • Go near a snake
  • Work with people you don't understand very well (and who don't understand you)
  • Show your legs in public
  • Anything related to your day job

All those somewhat random-looking examples are part of some fairly common career breaks! I'm sure you can think of other career break, gap year and travel experiences you'd either run a mile from or simply have no interest in.

Where do you want your career break to take you?

I'm not talking literally here, although thinking about what part of the world you want to go to is, of course, important too. Everyone's career break should contribute to their personal and professional development. So, for example, if you want to be more confident, travelling alone might be a good bet. If you want to change career and become a teacher, then a TEFL course, TEFL jobs and volunteer teaching would be a good match for you.

Take a moment, right now, to think about where you are now and where you'd like to be. Is it a big or a small gap? What needs to fill it? What experiences and skills do you need to get there?

What do you love doing?

We still get some people thinking that their career break should be worthy, all about 'giving back' and not about themselves at all. While your career break should be constructive, it's vital that it's something you want to do as well (unless you just want to sit in front of the telly watching a 'Mad Men' box set, because that isn't going to get you anywhere).

Do you love your job? Don't laugh, it does happen! If so, using your professional experience to help others could be a great career break for you - you'll be developing your communication skills at the same time. What do you do in your spare time? Footie-lovers can coach kids, budding writers can start travel blogs (who knows where it could lead?), and animal-lovers can volunteer at game reserves.

Is there something you've always wanted to do but never had the chance? Perhaps you've always fancied working with kids but couldn't find the right job or volunteer opportunity here? Maybe you really want to learn to surf but you live in the Midlands? What about learning a language, in the country where people actually speak it?

What are you passionate about?

If you're still dithering, this question should focus you a bit. What do you really care about? What makes you well up when you see it on the telly or what makes your heart pound? Social injustice, animal welfare, education, the environment, travelling, sunsets, adrenaline rushes, foreign cultures, child poverty and weird food are all things that career breakers deeply care about.

This is your chance to make a genuine difference to the world, so pick a part of it where you're going to feel the effect too.

Still can't decide?

Well, that's what we're here for. Wing us an email (it's confidential, don't worry), or leave a comment in the box below if you don't mind your query being public. And we'll see how we can help.

Good luck!

This post was written by Rachel Morgan-Trimmer, founder of The Career Break Site. She's advised hundreds of people on their career breaks and can help you too.


Submitted by TEC (not verified) on
Really helpful advice that. Thanks. I always assumed you had to teach english or something. Nice to know there are other options out there.

Submitted by Rachel on

Thanks for your comment. We find a lot of people are surprised to find out the range of options on a career break, especially in volunteering.

Submitted by Fiona Hall (not verified) on

I am a Registered community nurse with a job I enjoy. I would really like to take some time out next yea,r when my youngest son goes to uni, to travel and possibly work for a hospice or similar abroad. As I have a mortgage I would need to be paid.
Do you know if this would be possible, and how to go about achieving it?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards


Submitted by Rachel on
Hi Fiona, thanks for your comment. Most career breakers with a house rent it out when they go travelling, to cover the costs of mortgages. Medical placements for paid or volunteer work always need nurses. http://www.projects-abroad-pro.org/ have a lot of volunteer placements for professionals. If you're looking for paid work, Australia and New Zealand are good bets for nurses. If you work for the NHS, it's worth asking for a sabbatical (ie they'll keep your job open) as the NHS are generally quite good about these things. Good luck, and let us know how you get on!