Taking a Break from the Workforce: My First Retirement.

Guest Author Lester Herrera was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area known as the "East Bay."  He is currently living in Madrid, fulfilling his dream to live abroad.

As of September 5, 2013, I have officially retired after having only a couple of years under my belt!  Well, I can’t say that I actually retired; it’s more like a break from the workforce.  It definitely felt like retirement on my last day at work when my co-workers gave me a huge going away party for me and there were about 20 people from my organization and from other agencies wishing me well, including my supervisor.

Taking an “intelligent risk”

I might call this retirement, however, this first retirement involves a huge risk.  Instead of working at a full-time job with a steady paycheck and benefits, I'll be moving to Spain to be in the Auxiliares de Conversación program teaching English to students.  While other people my age are working in a cubicle, putting in the grueling hours Monday to Friday, I'm taking the road less traveled and working fewer hours with less pay.  However with huge risk does come with huge rewards.  Having a full-time job with benefits and a steady paycheck is great Job Security.  For me, I want to go a step further than just job security.  I want to further my Career Development by taking “an intelligent risk”.  I simply believe that Career Development puts job stability in place and this opportunity is a great way to strengthen my development.

I understand that job security is very important in today’s economy.  However, in this day and age, no job is secure and I’ve been able to learn about that throughout my time in the workforce.  Before landing this opportunity, I was a career counselor helping dislocated workers find work after being laid off.  I helped clients with their resume, cover letters and their interview skills.  It can be an intense process finding work and it’s not like before that you can just bounce from one job to the next.  I, myself had been laid off and it took me a while to find work.  In today’s job market, it’s super competitive and you are competing against hundreds if not thousands of candidates for the same job, so it was very important to stand out and network with people.  The one thing I can take away about finding work is that you need to learn skills that can help you create opportunities in the future.  That’s when I realized that it’s time to take the road less traveled.   

My Two Main Forces of Inspiration

I learned about this opportunity when I was laid off, so you can say it was a blessing in disguise.  I went to the Los Angeles Times Travel Show two years ago.  I visited the Tourist Office of Spain and expressed interest in teaching English abroad after visiting Spain.  The lady I talked to told me that I should do the Auxiliares de Conversación program through the Spanish Ministry of Education.  I jumped at applying but it was too late to get an assignment and decided to hold it off for a year or two.  After learning about this opportunity, I came across a book called “The New Global Student” written my Maya Frost.  In this book, Frost talks about her experiences in raising children going abroad during their High School years and how going abroad was the best thing their children did.  Not only they did they learn new skills such as new languages and cultures, but each of her children was able to learn how to deal with “uncertainty” and how dealing with this uncertainty has enabled them to gain more self-confidence, gain valuable opportunities, and thrive in every challenge that comes their way.  Dealing with uncertainty is a valuable skill to have, especially in this economy and boy did her daughters stood out and beat out the competition and got incredible job opportunities in the long run after going abroad.  Frost also had other testimonials from other young students that went abroad during their high school years but she offered great tips on what to do if someone has a child that wants to study abroad at a young age and how getting a global education can be more affordable than we think.

So those were the two main forces of inspiration that started this fire of wanting to live abroad.  However, I still had my doubts before making the full leap.  I thought I couldn’t financially afford this opportunity plus, I was hearing bad news about the Spanish Economy.  However, here’s what made me said “Yes”.  When I found out that I got accepted to the program, I said to myself, “It’s not the perfect time right now”.  I consulted with a long-time friend named Julie and she said that it’s never a right time and she doesn’t want me to regret not going.  She told me to ask myself, would I do this program if money wasn’t involved.  After talking to her on the phone, I decided to walk around at my local park.  Five minutes after walking in the park, there was a baseball pick-up game and one the team captains of the pickup game asked me if I want to join.  I told him, “I don’t know how to play,” but he said that’s ok, I’ll learn.  So I went out there joined the team.  Surprisingly it was so much fun that I wish I could do this every weekend.  At that moment, I said to myself, “The answer is yes, I am going to Spain.  This is what I envision my weekends would be if I went to Spain, meeting all kinds of people and trying new things constantly.  After I told the program that I was on board, I went to my best friend at his job and told him, “I’m gonna do it, I’m going to Spain, there’s no turning back!”  After that, my best friend gave me a big hug and we were constantly talking about Spain throughout the day that he actually said that he was gonna visit me.  Shortly after, I told my mom and family and since then, they said they’re gonna visit me in Madrid.  Once I said “Yes” my life for the past four months centered not on my work, bills, and my everyday routine, but starting this new chapter in Spain!

Making the Big Leap

Now that I’m in Spain, I honestly don’t know what to expect.  I’ve been asking people about the program and despite hearing and reading great experiences and a few bad ones, almost every person said that they would do it again.  I guess I’m ready to take this next challenge in my career head on.  I know that I will be working at a bilingual school with kids ages 3-5 and possibly older ones.  If there is one thing for sure, I am expecting to try a couple of new things besides speaking a foreign language such as teaching young kids, developing lesson plans, coordinating student activities, and maybe even creating a new curriculum for teachers to teach English.  Whatever I’ll be doing, I will be acquiring transferrable skills that I wouldn’t normally learn at my regular job.

So, going back to that word “Retirement”.  Yes, I consider this retirement, but I definitely see myself coming back to the workforce once this is over.  I don’t know where exactly I’ll be working, but I think that’s what’s exciting about this opportunity.  This opportunity I’m doing can open many doors for me and for other participants that are in the program.  Hey, I might have a job back in the States or get a fabulous gig somewhere in Europe.  The one person I can think of that retired very early was Michael Jordan.   Yes, he had multiple retirements, however during his first “retirement”, he was trying new things and skills.  When he came back, he won an additional 3 NBA titles on top of his first 3.  I might not have as much money as him, but I will be able to gain a lot of great lessons, memories, and priceless moments along this journey. 

Do You Want to Take a Gap Year, Yourself?

So, are any of you considering taking a gap year from your career?  If you can do it, DO IT!  At first, I was reluctant of doing it this year because I thought I didn’t have enough money and I have loans to pay, but a lot of my friends and family said that I should go now since it can open new doors and create opportunities for myself.  Now that I’m here, I’m ready to take this challenge and if you are considering doing the program, Auxiliares de Conversación or doing a gap year abroad but have questions or concerns, feel free to follow my journey, hopefully you can learn from my mistakes as well as my successes in doing this adventure.  Regardless of what happens at the end of this journey, I can at least say to myself that I was brave enough to take an intelligent risk and hopefully get an awesome opportunity once I leave “My First Retirement”.


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