In my case, it was very much a good idea. I left a project management gig at a private college in Orlando, FL in mid-2009 and moved to Bend, Oregon. The plan was to sharpen my design and development skills while making money selling apps for the iPhone.
I was far from financial independence when I took seven months off from cashing a paycheck. The nitty gritty of this experience is detailed here: What was a time when you risked everything and failed?
The experience didn’t end up being what I had hoped for, but was nonetheless one of the most important moves of my career.
I substantially increased my earnings and earning potential.
Taking time off to focus on iOS development gave me experience and legitimacy in an exciting space. Today I make double the money I did before my break, with room to grow into much more.
Though it’s true that some of those gains are wiped out by geography – San Francisco is much more expensive than Orlando – the privilege of living in a world city is compensation of a different kind.
Being free of a boss made even mundane moments more enjoyable.
I still remember one late Sunday night. I’d forgotten to move the garbage to the curb.
I was about a month into my break, settling nicely in Oregon. As I rolled the container outside, I caught a glimpse of the most beautiful, starry night I’d seen since I was a kid. No moon, and no light pollution!
It was wonderful.
But what was more wonderful was soaking in that scene free of the typical Sunday night jitters. No meetings in the morning, no frustrating projects I had to get back to. No wishing the weekend would last a bit longer.
The next day contained nothing but whatever I wanted it to contain.
This was almost intoxicating. I’d have felt giddy, if not for the sobering counterbalance of knowing that each day had to be used carefully to build my future.
Uber-flexibility recharged my soul and opened new doors.
At one point, feeling restless and stir crazy, I booked a ticket to Madrid, Spain.
Leaving six days later.
Having the flexibility to drop everything and leave if you want was very alien to my mind. At that point, I was five years into my career. I was used to having zero surprises in my schedule. The level of spontaneity where you can be on another continent, in a week, out of nowhere, is a thrilling change of pace.
Spending two weeks in Europe on a shoestring budget was a valuable experience. I put it right up there next to college in terms of educational impact. Not sure I’d ever have done it under normal career circumstances.
It built skills and character.
We live in an expensive world. Figuring out how to get by on very, very little money remains a useful experience. If I want to, I can turn $200 and a trip to Costco into weeks of meals. I can cheerfully entertain myself with little more than the outdoors and some comfortable shoes for hiking.
More than that, taking daily responsibility for yourself and the direction of your life is tough but rewarding work. With a nine-to-five job, there’s a lot of thinking you can put on autopilot. It’s the difference between riding the bus and driving the bus.
But your mileage may vary.
I had very clear goals and expectations of my career break. At a high level, I wanted a job in the new and growing mobile software industry. My entire childhood had been leading me there – I’d just had the bad luck of hitting career-choosing time a few years ahead of the mobile explosion. The break was necessary to adjust course. I had to reboot my career.
In my perfect world, I wanted to be my own boss. Permanently. While that wasn’t yet in the cards, I did get enough experience under my belt to credibly style myself as someone you could hire to get things done for iOS.
If you can be disciplined enough to impose your own structure on an otherwise structureless existence, a career break can be very powerful indeed.
This question originally appeared on Quora: Are career breaks a good idea?