The Great Resignation: travel the world to reframe your relationship with work

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Want to break free from the same-old? With the world opening up again, travel could be just the way to do it.

A few years ago, Emma, a PR account manager from Manchester, was stuck in a job from hell. She was working all hours of the day and even when she wasn’t physically in the office, she was worrying about client presentations, or her boss, or how she could possibly get through the week without “dropping the ball”. 

“I was obsessed with doing everything perfectly,” Emma recalls. “Part of the problem was that I was working for a big-name agency. I told myself I was lucky to be there; that I’d never get the same chance elsewhere. I didn’t even stop to think why it was that I was so miserable – in my mind, it was me, not the job, that was ‘wrong’.”

A moment of truth

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Things came to a head when Emma was due to take two weeks off to attend her sister’s wedding near Cape Town, South Africa. “I almost didn’t go, that’s how messed up my perspective was,” says Emma. “The wedding clashed with a big client launch we had coming up, so it was the worst timing – at one point, I was looking up whether I could fly over just for the evening reception. I lost all concept of what really mattered.”

Luckily for Emma (and following several tearful phone calls with her sister), she got on the plane. She spent the full 14 days, as planned, hopping between safaris, beach walks and a Cape Winelands rental. And, as she relaxed in the Southern Hemisphere sunshine, surrounded by wide-sky views and the laughter of her loved ones, something started to shift.

“It’s such a cliché, and I can’t say when exactly it happened, but I had this ‘aha’ moment where I realised I’d been wasting my time at work,” Emma explains. “By giving myself permission to finally unwind, thousands of miles from home, I woke up to what was happening. The late nights, the stress, the feeling of Sunday night dread: they’d become such a big part of my reality, I had stopped noticing them. It’s only when I got a glimpse of my true self again, on that holiday, that I could recognise that.”

The Great Resignation

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Emma’s experience is far from unique. Since her break in South Africa, a global pandemic has set in; with the unexpected side effect that many of us are now questioning how and why we work. 

This step-change, dubbed “The Great Resignation” by management professor Anthony Klotz, has meant a massive 40% of employees are now thinking about quitting their jobs, amid a wave of epiphanies over what really matters in life. 

In the past 20 months, we’ve lived through the sharp end of lockdowns, loss and loneliness. And many of us have also experienced the joys of more family time, remote work and the opportunity to explore new interests. 

Above all, there’s a newfound sense of poignancy to what we do. We know now, more than ever, that life is too short to be spent languishing in a job that isn’t fully satisfying. And, while no role will ever be 100% sunshine and unicorns, we’re more aware of the options available to change things up. 

Job-sharing, hybrid working, a swap to a slower way of life: all these choices are on the rise, as the world’s workers etch out space to breathe – space to be joyful, even. 

On the road to adventure

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However, these changes don’t just happen overnight. You need the conviction and indeed, the understanding of what it is that you truly want to put them into play. And, as Emma found, travelling the world can be a great way to kickstart the process. 

“It’s not like my South Africa trip waved a magic wand over my life and made everything better,” she says. “But it gave me the distance on my job that I so urgently needed. It’s amazing what being half a world away from your problems does for putting everything into perspective.”

This broadened vision is fuelled by living in the present – when you’re face-to-face with new experiences, people and places, you can’t help but embrace the here and now.

“Travelling to a new place, whether near or far, pushes us out of our comfort zone,” writes Kristen Fuller, M.D in Psychology Today. “Whether you are experiencing a new way of life in a foreign country or trying a new local dish for the first time, travelling can open our minds (and stomachs) to a whole new way of life. Everything you see is new and this brings out your inner explorer.” 

Pressing reset

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When you travel to somewhere new, you see the world through a different lens; but you can also use that lens to reframe how you see your life back home.

Ever had that sensation when you’re out for a run, and you manage to untangle a problem you weren’t even aware that you were thinking about? Travelling provides a similar kind of reset: with the blank canvas of somewhere new – new people, new views, fresh ideas – you relax and open up enough to suddenly grasp that you need to leave that unfulfilling job, home or relationship. You gain a clearer view of what it is that’s holding you back; and also what makes you tick. 

In other words, you get back in touch with your gut. And, away from all the distractions of daily life, you can also build the courage to act on that instinct. Happily, Emma did exactly that. The holiday she almost cancelled was the trigger to her quitting her job, and finding a role that didn’t leave her feeling like she was limping through each week.

“Leaving that company was such a relief – it was a huge weight off my shoulders,” says Emma. “Of course, I’ve made mistakes since then. I’ve dabbled in freelance and that didn’t work out. Then I landed another apparently great job where the culture wasn’t a good fit. But that break in South Africa was a turning point. Now I’m much more proactive in my career, and I’m not afraid to pull the plug if something isn’t working.”

With the world opening up once more, perhaps some wake-up moments await for you? Check out Flash Pack’s trips to fuel your escapism: long may the adventure continue. 

Got a story or adventure that could inspire a solo traveller like you? Tag @flashpack on social or email [email protected] to be featured.

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