Is It OK to Take a Break After Leaving the Military?

Is It OK to Take a Break After Leaving the Military?
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The heavy demands of military service can make it seem like the government owns you body and soul. Long hours, high-pressure environments, constant stress, frequent moves, and shifting job responsibilities are normal parts of the military experience.


So when the day comes to take off the uniform and exit the service, it’s natural to wonder, should I take time off before starting a new job?


After all you’ve been through, does it make sense not to take a break? There are plenty of good reasons for doing so:


The need for rejuvenation. Taking time to recover – mentally as well as physically – can be very restorative. Now that the daily demands of a high-pressure job are off, some much-needed downtime may bring balance.


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Mental clarity. Turning off the all-consuming requirements of your daily job gives you a chance to throttle back and gradually slow yourself down, rather than immediately jumping onto the next fast-moving train. A slower pace provides the opportunity to calmly reflect and think about your next steps. This is especially valuable if you have no idea about what those next steps might be. Accurately assessing what you actually want to do rather than just taking the first opportunity that comes along can ensure a better overall outcome.


Time to reconnect with family. Your family has been alongside you for the duration, and many times their needs took a back seat to your work schedule and duty responsibilities. Perhaps a mini-family vacation is in the cards (or should be). Quality time devoted to reengagement will strengthen those bonds.


So, Why Not?

Given these compelling reasons, it would seem taking a well-earned break would be a no-brainer. Why do many transitioning servicemembers hesitate to do so? Here are a couple of common reasons – and some ways you can address them if you need a well-earned break:


Financial concerns. The bills won’t be taking any time off, and you want to ensure you can still meet your financial obligations if you are not working. The answer? Planning. Start by setting aside money now to create a bit of a cushion, and consider cutting back on noncritical expenses. Having a financial buffer allows you the flexibility to suspend your job search, if only briefly, without worrying about money.

Résumé gaps. The fear of having a break in their résumé discourages many from suspending a job search. While unexplained gaps can be a red flag to employers, there is a fairly easy way to circumvent the issue: Omit the use of months in the timeframes you list for each position; providing only years “erases” most gaps. Employers generally are not concerned with a month-to-month accounting of your whereabouts, so this is a good way to avoid the issue. Additionally, employers are now more understanding of gaps in work histories since so many job seekers were adversely impacted by the pandemic.


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Make the Break Work for You

If you decide to take a break, consider tackling some activities during your time off that will aid your job search. This includes spending a few hours each week taking online classes from sites like Coursera and LinkedIn Learning; earning an industry-specific certification such as project management professional (PMP); or volunteering for a meaningful cause that leverages your key skills.


While there may be an understandable hesitation in deliberating taking time off between jobs, it can be time well spent in support of your self-care needs and the opportunity to further strengthen your competitiveness, leaving you refreshed, reenergized and ready to jump back into the saddle.


Want to know more? Check out MOAA’s archive of career transition topics. Want some visual aids? Premium and Life members can access all the materials in MOAA’s webinar archive, including tips on marketing yourself for a second career. Learn more about joining MOAA or upgrading your membership at this link.


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About the Author

Capt. Patricia Cole, USN (Ret)
Capt. Patricia Cole, USN (Ret)

Cole is MOAA's former Program Director, Career Transition Services