taking time off to travel, job-hopping, and being happy

A reader writes:

I’m 24 years old. I graduated college with a communications arts degree, but realized I didn’t really enjoy the work I was doing (writing, working at advertising agencies) while I was in school. After college, I did a yearlong volunteer program and fell in love with the social services field. I worked as an employment case manager for low-income individuals and people experiencing homelessness. After my term ended, I was offered a full time job making a normal salary (with the volunteer program, you only make a small stipend), and I had an awesome relationship with my supervisor. I moved to another city to continue pursuing social services work and found a job working with individuals coming out of prison. After five months, they actually had me working 50% in a prison teaching a life skills class. This role stressed me out to no end, because I am vastly undereducated to be effective in that environment. I ended up quitting seven months in because it was a toxic environment for me. It was a very bad work environment due to micromanaging, gossiping, and coworkers who were rude and didn’t seem happy. I found another social services job right down the street in a public housing community working on a grant as an employment case manager and I love it.

Here’s the thing: I love social services but I do feel ill-equipped in many areas (dealing with clinical issues, diagnosis, and counseling) and I believe I need to attend grad school. The volunteer program that I attended has a program at a reputable social work school that would PAY for my social work degree. So, in a year from now, I’m going to take a year off and travel all over the world and then go to grad school. However, I’m weirdly nervous about how these two jobs will look on my resume to future employers. One job for seven months, and then I will be at this job for one year and five months. The upside is that in grad school, I will be placed at the same agency for three years, gaining clinical experience and solid work history.

After another year at this job, I want to travel. Traveling is a way to broaden my horizons and try new things, to gain more awareness, and to see more of the world. After that year, I plan on starting grad school. Am I off base? Should I just grind it out at this job to have two and a half years at a job on my resume? I want to challenge the idea that we as young people need to have these rock solid work histories. I went from being a communications arts major to being a social services professional. People change, right? People find work that is meaningful! But my parents are super skeptical. They have been in their current jobs for 10-15 years. I will also add that they aren’t very happy. Maybe I’m reading too much Jon Krakauer, but I’m skeptical of the American Dream, and the American obsession with work as a means to an end. My philosophy is that I need to do what makes me happy, and I believe one day I will be a more authentic and compassionate social worker because of the way I’ve treated myself.

You don’t need to see work as the be-all and end-all. In fact, the majority of people don’t. But you do want to make sure that you’re making choices that are aligned with the outcomes you want for yourself.

Much of the time, that does mean creating a solid work history that will give you a decent shot at the type of work you want to be doing in the future. It’s not because a solid work history is a virtue in and of itself; it’s just a thing that often makes it easier to do other things that are important to you (and its absence can make those things harder or impossible).

Ideally you want not just to make yourself happy in the moment, but to lay the groundwork for your future self to be happy too.

In your case, grad school will function as a bit of a reset on your work history, so I wouldn’t be terribly worried about the job history you’re describing … if indeed you do definitely go to grad school.

To that point: To minimize risk here, I’d make sure that you’re accepted into grad school before you head off on your traveling (assuming you can defer your acceptance for a year), be absolutely sure that this is the field you want to build your career in (if not, grad school can make things harder later on rather than easier), and also get confirmation that the program you’re counting on to pay for it is indeed going to pay for it.

Good luck!

{ 202 comments… read them below }

  1. Cambridge Comma*

    This might not be a realistic idea in your field, but when I went back for a master’s, I kept on one small project from my previous job (approx. 3-5 hours work per week, although I did more when I didn’t have any essays due, to get ahead) and was technically still employed there. In my case, I did it for the money, though.
    Also, for the travelling, you might want to think about other goals as well as broadening your horizons. I’ve found that work and cultural activities in my city have broadened mine much more than travel, and I’ve met a lot of people who’ve travelled extensively without broadening theirs at all, as well as people who have never been anywhere and have the broadest horizons imaginable. Have you considered volunteering for relevant projects in other countries as a way of doing both?

    1. Grace*

      This is excellent advice. That year off can go on the resume if the OP does some career related volunteer work while traveling and it would make him/her stand out.
      Also, this may not apply in this situation, but if someone is looking to travel there’s a program where you can do that and work remotely. Great for solo travelers: http://www.remoteyear.com/how-it-works/

        1. EddieSherbert*

          I am also curious about this – my sibling is thinking about applying for it (and sibling doesn’t have those answers, which I find weird)!

          1. JM*

            I remember looking into http://www.remoteyear.com and if I remember correctly, it doesn’t GIVE you remote work, it just sets up a situation that organizes your travel/accommodations for you while you do your own remote work, and puts you in a situation where you’re meeting other like-minded folks in the same boat. So it only makes sense for people that are truly, full time, lucratively employed 100% remotely. It struck me as something that would draw a lot of really privileged folks. Unfortunate!

    2. Bookworm*

      I really want to second that last part of your advice.

      To be clear OP – I’m not knocking travel (far from it) but there is no shortcut to giving yourself an open mind. Many people manage to log a lot of travel hours without really opening up. (Frankly, few things are more off-putting than someone who has experienced some culture shock in another country and lets the experience lull them into the sense that they now understand that culture intimately.) The flip side of that coin is just because you’re not traveling, doesn’t mean you need to stop learning and stretching your horizons.

      1. Julia*

        Or that guy who travelled / lived abroad and endlessly complains. Everything sucks, every other country is dirtier, has less service, the people there are rude/stupid/fat etc.

      2. Kate M*

        Yeah, I feel like everyone who studied abroad in college (including myself) came back calling the US, “the States” and continuously talked about how much better things in other countries were (how much better their systems were, or how much more “authentic” things were, etc). And I was just studying in Europe, so not even that much of a culture shock. It takes a while for people to get over the pretentiousness of thinking that because they’ve spent time outside the US, they inherently are more cultured/know more, etc. (It probably didn’t help that we were all 19-22 at the time as well).

        That being said, travelling is great and I would suggest that anyone who has the chance do it. But don’t confuse travelling with inherent education. It can lead to education, it can lead to meeting other people, or it can lead to you finding the only other Americans at your hostel and grabbing a drink with them at the local pub, not much different than what you’d do in the US. It just depends on what you make of it.

        1. Lemon Zinger*

          I’m so glad you said this. I studied abroad in Europe with a program run by my school. 90% of the students who attend that program spend most of their time drinking and buying things, while I focused on my studies and chose to abstain from most situations where my classmates AND alcohol would be present.

          You need to have a plan for your travel, OP. If you want to learn things, consider taking on a volunteer position abroad, or getting enrolled in some courses at a foreign university.

    3. Dot Warner*

      That’s an excellent idea! OP, look into doing volunteer work overseas with a humanitarian organization – that will give you the travel experience you’re looking for and give you something interesting to talk about in your grad school application.

    4. Yup*

      Honestly, I just want to underscore what Alison said: grad school will function as a new chapter. No one will care much about your pre-degree history; the fact that have some is in itself a huge advantage!

      Second point: you’re absolutely correct to point to the particularly American obsession with a highly scripted career ark: in Australia, it’s exceedingly common for people to take a year off and travel, either before or after their undergrad degree. I’m a little saddened to see people suggesting alternatives or issuing warnings, lest a hypothetical future problem in finding a job.

      So, I want to loudly shout: Just Do It! Your plan sounds solid, enviable, and honestly amazing. Yay for you!!!

      1. John OP*

        Yup, thanks for the comment and the encouragement.

        I’m really fascinated by this discussion and the responses that have been coming in. On one hand, I can definitely see the abundance of pragmatic advice: “But what about finances, you will have no savings!” “What about long term job prospects, your resume isn’t nearly robust enough!” and the more optimistic, not-so-pragmatic advice of, “Do what you love! Take a chance! You are young!”

        This has given me a lot of information to process and to analyze a bit further. I’m happy to be in the position of being able to look at both perspectives objectively, while I have a long time before a decision needs to be made.

  2. FD*

    This is a good time for you to think in general about what’s important to you.

    For some people, the most important thing is to feel fulfilled and satisfied with their job. Work is integral to their identity, and they want to have the best career they can. ‘Best career’ means different things for different people–for some, it might mean climbing the corporate ladder, while for others, it might mean having a job that they are passionate about. The advantage of this mindset is that you have to work anyway, and it’s nice for work to be something you desire to do instead of just having to do. The disadvantage of this mindset is that it can make it harder to build relationships outside of work, and can make things very difficult when a person wants to or has to retire.

    For other people, work is just something they do to get a paycheck, so they can do other things they care about. Maybe that’s social work they care about deeply (but that doesn’t pay enough to live on). Maybe that’s traveling. Maybe that’s spending time with family. The advantage of this mindset is that it tends to lead to a more well-rounded person. The disadvantage is that it tends to make work more onerous.

    In either case, you’re likely to spend your early career trying to figure out what you like to do and what you’re good at. Early in your career, you’re likely to do less meaningful work that doesn’t inspire you much. However, doing well in whatever jobs you have will open up new doors for you.

    For example, let’s say that you want to be able to travel several months out of the year, every year. That might mean you focus on building the skills and reputation to start your own business, something where you can make enough in the nine months you work to just take off several months for pleasure.

    On the other hand, let’s say that you want to develop your career, and you think you’re interested in social work. That would mean focusing on staying longer in jobs, taking on stretch assignments when you can, and looking for mentors in your field.

    Just remember that while happiness is definitely affected by external factors, it comes from within. Be careful not to fall into the trap of constantly chasing the end of the rainbow, because you think that if you just make that one change, you’ll be really happy.

        1. TheLazyB*

          And now I’m wanting to get into a deep philosophical debates about whether she’s claiming those things make her happy. I would argue not but don’t want to derail!!

        2. FD*

          Eh, like I said, external things do definitely affect your happiness. I’ve just seen a lot of people fall into the trap of becoming dissatisfied, making some change that’s Totally Going to Fix Everything, and then doing it over and over again.

    1. FD*

      From your post downstream, I can tell you feel some sadness/resentment because you feel you had a missed opportunity earlier in your life, and should have traveled when you feel you ‘could have’.

      I stand by what I said–there are trade-offs to both sides, and the LW has to decide what’s worth it. Traveling can be easier and cheaper when you’re young and unattached, so for some people, it’s worth taking the time and doing it when they’re earlier in life. On the other hand, getting your career underway sooner can help you be in a more secure position later in life.

      That said, if you wish you had traveled when you were younger, could you start working towards making it happen? Let’s say that it’s a $6,000 trip, if you could save $100/month, you could go in five years. (I acknowledge that saving $100/month is not viable for all people, but this is an example and can be scaled to the situation.)

      If you don’t have the money to spare, I have a few friends who do little side businesses–not enough to do it full time but enough to make fun money.

      Just something to think about. Just because you didn’t do something when you were younger doesn’t mean you have to give it up as a lost cause.

  3. themmases*

    It sounds like this OP has a good relationship with their former supervisor– can they ask that person what they think of this plan?

    They also might want to look into what graduates of this program end up doing. Employer paid grad school often comes with the expectation that graduates will stay a while when they’re done. That could be perfect for the OP in this case.

    1. Dot Warner*

      Good point about employer paid grad school – some of my classmates had their graduate degrees funded by Company X, and when they finished school and decided that they wanted to work somewhere else, they had to pay all the money back. OP, if there are strings that go along with this employer’s offer, make sure you understand what they are!

    2. John OP*

      I’m taking this advice and going to speak with my former supervisor about her thoughts. She is a regular mentor to me anyway with work / life stuff so this is an obvious next step!

  4. Brown paper packages*

    Oh my gosh. You do you. If you want to travel, travel. Are you going to regret not traveling more or maybe taking longer to find a job? Travel! Do it! Work isn’t everything! You’re asking this question on a work-is-everything site.

    The truth is that the right employer will want to talk to you. It will work out and you need to trust it will. I’m sure there’s the perfect boss who also took time off to travel and will want to bring you in for an interview to talk about it. If you’re worried how it’ll look on your resume, then why not start a blog or something now, talk about your life, and then blog your travels. That way you have something to put on your resume during the time you’re off traveling. (And you might make some extra money in the process.)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Well, wait, this isn’t a work-is-everything site, and the answer I gave her explicitly says that work isn’t everything.

      I don’t agree, though, that “it will work out and you need to trust it will” is the way to approach major decisions. (If that were the case, no one would be struggling to get the work they want or stuck in careers they hate.) Decisions have consequences, and you need to have a reasonable understanding of what those are likely to be, and make decisions accordingly. You get to make whatever decisions you want, but for a happy life, it makes sense to try to align them with the outcomes you want for yourself.

      1. Lissa*

        Seriously. I get so frustrated with advice that is “do what’s in your heart and the rest will come!” It would be great if that were true, but the reality is not every out-on-a-limb chance taken is successful. Some are, absolutely, and some things are rewarding no matter what, but ignoring the potential downsides makes no more sense to me than being super cynical.

    2. Brown paper packages*

      To this point also… I had a friend that went to Japan before the earthquake happened and had to leave because of it. While she went for a job and not just to travel, she still ended up with a gap on her resume. But it didn’t matter. She got SOOOO many interviews because everyone was fascinated by her story in her cover letter. Remember your application is a marketing tool.

      1. MK*

        I am not sure I would like to work for the sort of person who decides to interview someone because they happened to live through a natural disaster; that’s actually kind of creepy?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah, for what it’s worth, hiring managers who invite someone to interview because of some interesting non-work-related thing on their resume aren’t really doing it right, unless it’s for a low-skill job where none of your candidates really are better than others at the resume screening stage.

      2. chickabiddy*

        Uh, yeah. Maybe if she was super-active in rescue efforts or managed communications for expatriates or something, that would be worth mentioning in a cover letter. But, unfortunately, there are quite a few people in this world who have survived natural disasters and that doesn’t make them all excellent employees.

      3. Collarbone High*

        Eh, I lived in Japan for five years (including during the quake) and not one employer has been fascinated by that fact. I’m also frankly appalled that she’s using the deaths of nearly 16,000 people as a marketing tool for herself.

      4. Honeybee*

        I doubt that it’s because everyone was “fascinated” by the story; rather, it’s probably because she was able to compellingly explain that the gap on her resume was caused by a natural disaster.

    3. Loose Seal*

      Lol’ing at the idea from making money from a blog detailing another young person’s gap year. Even the guy from Where the Hell is Matt? did his first trip on his own dime.

      1. Honeybee*

        Yes. As Alison can probably attest to herself, making money from a blog takes a lot of hard work. It’s a business one needs to cultivate. Idly writing about one’s traveling experiences (pieces that are a dime a dozen) is unlikely to do the trick on its own.

    4. themmases*

      This is really irresponsible advice. The OP is looking out for their happiness by thinking about their career… They have a calling for social services work and want to make sure they actually get to work in that field! It’s hard to imagine something more meaningful and fulfilling than a career helping others, but the OP does need to be able to get a job– and put a roof over their own head– to get that. They are about to make a big commitment to this field and need to make sure that works out.

      There’s something really ironic about telling someone who wants to work in social services that everything will work out for the best. The OP’s whole career is helping people whose circumstances didn’t just fix themselves! That is such a privileged attitude to have.

      1. FD*

        Yeah, I kind of have to agree.

        It’s all well and good to say that things will work out for the best, but the reality is that things objectively don’t always work out.

        Even the best planning won’t prevent everything; illness and accidents can happen to anyone. However, you can reduce your overall risk by trying to make smart choices, considering risks vs. rewards, and understanding your overall life goals.

        1. Christopher Tracy*

          +1000 to you both. OP, please heed Alison’s more pragmatic advice. Pie-in-the-sky dreaming is nice and all to get you started on your life path (that may change as you already know), but it definitely doesn’t set you up for success without real work and a practical approach to making things happen to go with it.

    5. Puffle*

      Speaking as someone who spent 3 years working abroad/ travelling, “it will work out” isn’t always the greatest approach. I was 25 when I came back to my home country, with only a few years work experience for a company no one in my country had heard of and no specialist/ highly desirable skills. Employers treated me like a wasp’s nest.

      OP, I don’t mean for this to be all doom and gloom. I did eventually find the right employer for me, but it took time and lots of rejections because travel/ overseas work experience doesn’t always automatically translate into a great CV or into being the right fit for the job. Also lots of interviewers were interested in my experiences abroad, but often all it meant was that we had something cool to talk about in the interview.

      Tl;dr this is something that only you can decide, and whilst travelling might be the right decision for you, you need to consider the potential downsides and also what the next step after the travelling would be.

    6. Engineer Girl*

      This is horrible advice. Anyone that has lived a while in this world knows that:
      * There are always consequences to our choices
      * You don’t get an exception from bad things happening to you, even if you live reaponsibly. (Others can mess up your life too)
      * You can’t make plans for tomorrow based exclusively on what is going on today. Things always change. Not always in your favor.
      And equating blogging with work experience is laughable. There are plenty of mediocre blogs out there. Very few blogs successfully monetize. If someone put their blog on their resume as a replacement for work experience I would really question their judgement. If they were a good candidate it might help if the blog was well written. But a blog can never replace work experience (unless you are making a living off of it).

      1. Yup*

        I think lots of responses are taking Brown Paper Bag’s post waaaaay too literally. To me, it reads as: for sure, get your ducks in a row, and go an travel! Not “buy a one-way ticket to wherever and pack a hope and a dream.”

        And there’s a certain irony to the “you can’t know how this will affect you in the future” stance — because by that standard, we can’t be positive that it will affect OP deleteriously, either.

        1. Whats In A Name?*

          Yes! I read that comment the same as you and have been a little surprised at the pile on.

          The outcome for this can really go either way – including staying abroad permanently due to something they find there.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          It’s possible as Alison suggested that she could get accepted into grad school and defer entry for a little bit and do a few months travel. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an entire year. Or there may be a program similar to studying abroad that could be feasible.

    7. Susie Carmichael*

      lol this is definitely not a “work-is-everything” site. The advice here is nearly always objective and balanced. The reply even said work isn’t everything but make sure you really consider what you are doing and what is important to you for YOUR life before making any big decisions.

  5. Janice*

    I’d love to have your problems, to be honest. Oh no, upper middle class 20-something ennui! You really need to spend a year traveling to ~treat yourself?

    1. Key to the West*

      That’s completely unnecessary! She/He may have saved up since her/his part time job at 16 for all you know?

      So what if she/he wants to take a year for herself before working until she’s/he’s 60+!!

    2. Katie F*

      That doesn’t make it not a legitimate concern she’s considering. Yeah, it’d be nice to be able to worry over whether taking a year off to travel was going to impact my future career, but she’s in the perfect place and time in her life to start doing just that if travel is an important priority for her.

      I have a friend who travels regularly. She’s not upper middle class, she’s not in her twenties. But in college she decided regular travel was her number-one priority, above everything else. So she chose a career in the medical field that allows her to get a job basically wherever she is and save up to take long traveling holidays (two months or so at a time) and move frequently if she chooses. She set her life up that way, and she’s sacrificed some other creature comforts in order to be able to travel. And she’s totally content with that.

      Everyone’s different. If travel is important to this person, now is the time to start plotting a life trajectory that will allow her to make the most of that priority.

      1. FD*

        Exactly! I know some people who travel is their top priority. As a trade off, when they aren’t traveling, they live seriously cheap, like, living in a crappy shoebox apartment with an air mattress, they don’t ever eat out, etc.

        Now, there is a degree of privilege there–there are some people who won’t be able to afford to travel no matter how cheap they live because they just don’t make enough money for it. However, there are other people who don’t make huge amounts of money but make major sacrifices to get to their goal.

        1. Katie F*

          Yeah, she was lucky in that her career interests lined up with a field that experiences a chronic shortage of trained workers, and it’s a nationwide issue, so she really can just go wherever and find a job fairly quickly. She also sticks with each job long enough to get a solid positive reference, and her part of the medical field is subject to fairly high turnover rates anyway, so her potential employers don’t usually mind the part where it’s clear she may not be permanent.

    3. Amelia Peabody*

      Wow, you’re rude! I hope you don’t always let your problems get the better of your manners like this. Bitterness is not a good look on anyone!

    4. boop*

      Middle Class means you own a company and everyone works for *you*. I think at that point, traveling wouldn’t even be a concern.

      If you are doing the work, you’re Working Class. That’s… why it’s called that.

      1. Daisy Steiner*

        ?? Is this an American definition? That’s not even kind of close to describing he class distinction in the UK (I really can’t sum up such a nebulous concept in one line, but it’s much more of a blue collar/white collar divide than about company ownership).

        1. FD*

          I can’t speak to whether it’s the technical definition, but it’s generally not the colloquially used one. (Though, to muddy the waters, Americans generally place a high value on being part of the middle class, so they tend to define themselves as being part of it, irrespective of actual income level.)

        2. K.*

          Not this American’s definition. I’ve never heard class structure broken down that way. It’s inaccurate. A VP earning six figures doesn’t own the company and works for someone; she would not be considered working class.

        3. all aboard the anon train*

          Definitely not the American definition. I think the American middle class is more in line with class distinction you’ve described in the UK – a blue collar/white collar divide. Though, the American middle class is so broad that you can be blue collar and still be middle class.

        4. Laura (Needs a New Name)*

          It’s conflating two possible definitions of “bourgeoisie.” One typical usage is that the bourgeoisie are the middle-class The Marxist definition is that the bourgeoisie is the capitalist class who owns the means of production. For Marx, you’re either in the proletariat or the bourgeoisie. But typically when we talk about class differences, we differentiate within the proletariat – you can sell your labor and still be very comfortably middle, upper-middle or even upper-class in the way we tend to use those classifications.

        5. Anonymous Educator*

          In America, if you own a company and make enough money to hire people to work for you (and your company is sustainable and not on the verge of bankruptcy), you are very unlikely middle class.

          The definitions aren’t clear-cut, but middle-class can range anyone between blue-collar working class (“lower middle class”) and rich but not filthy rich (“upper middle class”). People who own successful businesses tend to fall even outside of the the rich into more of the filthy rich territory ($500,000 to billions).

          1. Nerfmobile*

            It depends on how you define ‘owning a business’. There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people in the US who own small local businesses – auto repair shops, concrete pumping companies, even small marketing agencies – who may take home $50k, $100k, maybe even $200k per year but would never ever get close to $500k. It takes a different level altogether to hit that higher boundary.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            You’re talking about corporations, not businesses, in terms of filthy rich owners. I don’t think $500,000 is necessarily filthy rich. Billions would be.

            Off topic, but I find it hilariously ironic that the term one-percenters refers to both filthy rich billionaires AND outlaw biker gangs.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Hmmm, that’s not the definition here in the U.S. — maybe in another country?

        Regardless, though, Janice, “I’d love to have your problems” isn’t a kind answer to people seeking advice here. Please don’t do that to letter-writers.

    5. FD*

      Hey, I’m not sure if you’re new, but we have a culture of being polite to letter writers here (and to each other). We may tell them that they’re wrong, but we try to stay away from personal attacks.

    6. N.J.*

      Who said this individual was suffering from ennui? She actually came off as pretty practical to me, considering she is weighing the pros and cons of whether traveling before grad school will screw up her employability later on. As well, since when is struggling to find your path in life and career planning so out of the ordinary that you are saying this OP is some sort of privileged brat, since that is what you are implying? When we are young and planning on schooling and career trajectories and life goals is when we ask these sorts of questions.

    7. SystemsLady*

      Upper middle class doing social work? I doubt it! She’s probably saved up for years and knows she won’t have a lot of chances.

      How rude to criticize somebody for being in their 20s and wanting to travel.

      Guess I should stop complaining because another division’s million dollar+ mistake (seriously baffled this only made the base’s local news) held out my military spouse for at least two weeks, preventing us from taking a trip to another country we’d wanted to take. After months of hearing “we’re on time or early, be proud!” (not common at all). I should know what ~real problems~ are and not let excitement for something fun I’d planned affect my always completely rational ~adult emotions~.

      (Fortunately no financial loss as we’d planned to use military travel options – that it turns out would’ve worked out perfectly for us…)

      1. SystemsLady*

        (it wasn’t secret or anything for the record, the base’s news is public and it also made the local newspaper)

    8. Bookworm*

      And I’m sure there’s someone who would love to have yours – but that doesn’t make them any less real when they’re the ones sitting in front of you.

    9. Honeybee*

      You don’t have to be upper-middle class to take a year off to travel. Some people do it by working in each location they travel in and being really frugal. Others save up for it for YEARS because it’s a goal of theirs. For all we know she’s been dreaming about this since her first part-time job at age 16 or whatever.

      1. Mazzy*

        +1. Or you just go somewhere really cheap. Someone in my office knows Spanish from his father and travelled throughout Central America for months on close to nothing. He makes a low salary and lives with a million roommates all sharing one bathroom, so I doubt he’s hiding money anywhere.

    10. Gaia*

      Whoa. First of all, let’s not bring class into this. My family is by no means “upper middle” anything. In fact, we’re not even lower middle class. My sister still took a year to travel. She scrimped and she saved and she scarified home cable and internet and had a low cost cell plan and ate ramen most meals and lived with 2 other roommates, etc. She did this for five years to save enough money to travel. It is about priorities – not class.

      Your comment is rude and you should apologize.

    11. Susie Carmichael*

      Wow. Projecting much? This was very rude and a very absolute statement to which you have no evidence. You do not kno wif OP is upper middle class or if OP has been saving since their fast food job in High school? You do not know if OP has NEVER traveled anywhere because her family could never afford it, so now they feel it is important to them and would like to try it before diving into doing work that they believe is their calling?

  6. Loose Seal*

    As a former social worker (working with child services, now retired and working part-time with drug-addicted adult prisoners), I want you to know that a LOT of new social workers burn out after a year of working in the field. They come out of school with the drive to save the world and then cannot pace themselves. It concerns me that you want to go to grad school but have not stayed with a population for more than a year. Social workers come and go and, sadly, the people that rely on those services are very used to the fact that they will have lots of case managers who barely have time to understand their case before they move on. I know you say that you will be with one agency for three years while in grad school but you are looking at that from a resume-building stance rather than from longevity for the *people* you will serve. I encourage you to find a population you want to work with and stay there at least a year (preferably 2) before going to grad school. If, after the year, you still like working with those people — your clients, not your coworkers — and are not burned out, you will find grad school much more useful to you because you can relate everything you are taught through your work with your population.

    As for the travel, do that for you but don’t make the mistake that you will be a better social worker for it. In fact, you will likely be a worse social worker if you put any kind of emphasis on it. The population you work with will never understand someone having the ability to take a year off for travel and none of them will have a concept of “treating oneself.” These people are trying to get their lives back together. Look up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The people whom you will be serving are going to be on the bottom wedge of the pyramid. You sound like you’re at the top. You would be a more effective case-worker if you spent your year off treating yourself as a year trying to really understand what it means to be on the bottom rung of the pyramid.

    In short, you are trying to enter a *service* field but you are coming off sounding like you want to do it because it makes you feel good. Social work CAN make you feel good — a small percentage of the time. But the majority of the time, you will feel over-worked, neglected, under-educated, and definitely under-paid. But you do it for your chosen population, not for any of those other things.

    Look back at those coworkers you didn’t like. Is it possible that they had a good handle on what it’s really like to be a social worker for that population and you came barreling in like a gamboling puppy who didn’t take the time to assess the situation and fit it? FYI: ALL social work is micro-manage-y. It’s that way because there have to be rather specific laws in place to prevent these populations from being abused and/or forgotten by their case workers. These laws have come about over the years because people have died while being supposedly under the eyes of a case worker.

    Your college major won’t make a difference, probably, if you stay in social work. (I was a theater major myself who worked for a decade in theater before I fell into social work.) Some states will have laws that say you have to have a certain degree to be able to call yourself a social worker but you can still get hired usually if you just have a bachelor’s degree in *something.* You are just called something else like “case worker.” So you likely don’t really need a grad degree to get work in your state. I encourage you to take time to really decide what you want to do. Please don’t take up a slot in a paid-for grad program that someone else could use who will actually go on to make a difference in the lives of others before you have definitely decided that you want to be doing the under-appreciated work of social services.

    1. Mike B.*


      OP is so sure that social work is her true calling that she’s prepared to spend a great deal of money, sacrifice a year of earnings, and leave a long gap on her resume to explain. It’s very possibly NOT her true calling. If she’s miserable after a year of grad school, she might not have much choice but to continue; she’ll have limited or no savings and an unimpressive resume.

    2. Christopher Tracy*

      Very well said. I hope the OP really thinks about your points, especially the one about why she really wants to get into the field in the first place.

    3. New Bee*

      What a great comment! I think you have gotten beneath what some commenters are seeing as an entitled/privileged attitude in a very thoughtful way. I’m bookmarking this advice–I work with new teachers in low-income schools, and they’re very much the same.

    4. Sarah Gross*

      I have a 12-years-and-still-going social services career in fields of homeless services, housing vouchers, public benefits, and employment counseling, and my impression is that OP has worked enough in this field to recognize it’s a good fit and that she finds it satisfying and rewarding. It is something she wants to do and seems to be good at (hence being offered a job by her internship employer), going to grad school after her travels sounds like a good plan.
      Loose Seal’s response, while intended to be helpful, makes a lot of presumptions. Just because she is going to travel doesn’t *at all* mean she plans to “put emphasis” on her travels when working in social services. Also, “none of them will have a concept of ‘treating oneself’ “? Just because someone is homeless or just out of prison or mentally ill or struggling for whatever reason, doesn’t mean they have no concept of treating oneself. That’s making a sweeping generalized statement about a large and varied group, and it strikes me as a very “us” and “them” perspective with some implications of condescension, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs withstanding. On top of which, she may be traveling to underdeveloped parts of the world, which can very much be an eye-opening education.
      “Social work CAN make you feel good — a small percentage of the time. But the majority of the time, you will feel over-worked, neglected, under-educated, and definitely under-paid.” Social work makes me feel good most of the time, regardless of being overworked and underpaid, I like it and find it rewarding every day, even on the most difficult and draining days. And I’ve done it all — street outreach to the homeless in camps under bridges, working with people who are chronically homeless and have severe mental illness, you name it. It’s difficult and draining at times, but I love almost every minute of it.”
      As for Loose Seal’s final paragraph, yes it’s true that one doesn’t absolutely *need* a grad degree to work in this field. I didn’t get into this field until I was 31, and went on to build my career without a grad degree, but if I’d started this type of work 7 or 8 yrs earlier, I probably would have gone the grad school route. I’ve been fortunate and persistent in finding opportunities for growth, but the absence of a grad degree has been very limiting in many ways, and the majority of routes to promotion in this field require an MSW or similar. Not all, but the majority.
      As for Mike B’s, we don’t know the status of her savings.
      OP may make some naive-sounding statements such as, “I want to challenge the idea that we as young people need to have these rock solid work histories,” but in fact is making sound, smart decisions and building a work history that sounds solid enough to me for someone in their early or mid-20s.

      1. Loose Seal*

        The thing is: you’ve done the work enough to know which population you like serving and to know how to get satisfaction out of your job (as have I). OP has next to no work in the field. Obviously, people have to start somewhere. I am encouraging her to take a very hard look at her experiences in the field thus far and to really, really think about what it will take for her to be satisfied in the field. And I’m begging (really begging, not hyperbole) for OP not to take up what sounds like a free ride, tuition-wise, for a graduate degree, if she is not absolutely certain this is what she wants to do. Scholarships for grad school are few and far between and I would hate the thought of someone who would put in a career being bumped by someone who isn’t 100% certain this is what they want. (I’m assuming that they aren’t 100% certain since they’ve reached out to ask questions. I am hopeful they are truly evaluating the answers they get here and did not merely hope for rubber-stamping of their career plan.)

        I think you misunderstand me where you quote my saying that the work can make you feel good a small percent of the time. In my experience, people who find social work fulfilling get their fulfillment from themselves, not from what happens to their clients. I will never be able to explain this well — and I’ve tried to explain it to my family and friends over and over but they can’t see why someone would want to work long hours for peanuts trying to make a few people’s lives different — so I’m not convinced I’ll be able to really articulate this; it’s my fault for not being able to make this understood so I don’t blame you at all for misunderstanding. I (and you, from your description) and other people who have spent years in the field have something innate in us that makes us take satisfaction from helping others. I suspect this is true of a lot people who work in the “helping” professions, especially the careers that don’t pay well. I have no idea what quality it is that makes me get back to this day after day but it is definitely NOT given to me by the clients, my bosses, sister agencies, or the state or federal government. We are able to take a smidgen of success (for example, like the day I talked a company into donating hearing aids and the cost of fitting them for a parent who had never been able to hold down a job because she had never told an employer she was hard-of-hearing) and expand that feeling of “YES!” we had when we got off the phone and make it last for days or weeks while we slog through the rest of our job. And then we have the other quality of not taking things personally when our clients don’t work out the way we’d hope (like when that parent didn’t start holding down jobs as soon as she got her hearing aids); many new social workers would have considered it a slap in the face if they had pulled off the unthinkable, like getting this donation, and the parent wasn’t eternally grateful to the worker and made the worker’s work the turning point of their life. See, I can’t describe it well and I’m sorry for that but I do really mean that OP shouldn’t be looking to the job to provide satisfaction; she needs to be able to pull satisfaction out of her day somehow, on her own.

        Also, and I know I don’t owe you an explanation, but since you were a bit presumptuous yourself with your “us” and “them” speech, I was raised in a home in southern Appalachia without electricity and running water but full of physical, emotional, verbal, and sexual abuse. I was removed from that home at age 7 and placed with — and later adopted by — relatives. Granted, I was never actively homeless but I think I’ve got enough street cred to say that I have no “us” and “them”, at least not in the way you are insinuating. The reason I mentioned Maslow to the OP was because they say they haven’t had education in this area and may not have heard of this hierarchy. Since effective social work is all about starting where the clients are starting from (as opposed to where you think they ought to be starting from or not taking the time to figure out where they are starting from), I thought it might be useful for OP to do a little studying of what needs drive people. It was not intended to be condescension but an honest assessment that no two people are exactly the same and one would be a more effective social worker if one admits and acknowledges that.

        1. Honeybee*

          As an interesting related point, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has been criticized by other psychologists and researchers for a long time. Maslow’s theory was derived from his study of successful people, primarily, and from Americans/Westerners from one cultural standpoint. It’s not that it’s not a useful foundational paradigm, but rational humans ‘violate’ Maslow’s hierarchy all the time. The placement of sex on the bottom physiological tier is one of the things that creates the most controversy amongst social scientists, for example, as many many many people will seek out safety and love before sex. Another thing is this idea that people proceed in an ordered fashion from step to step – a lot of people are pursuing and worrying about multiple ‘wedges’ at the same time.

          That said, I do think it’s kind of odd to say that people who grew up or still are poor or working class have no concept of “treating yourself,” because of course we do. It’s just that the things that they might do or be able to pay for to treat themselves is different from the things wealthy people might do. But the concept still exists for them – and I think that’s what Loose Change means about making the distinction seem a little “us” and “them.”

          1. AnonAcademic*

            I think it’s the idea that a year of travel as “self care” is an order of magnitude more expensive than, say, getting your nails done, and so there are some class-based stratifications of what kind of self care people have access to. Equating self care with travel can read as tone deaf; I’m thinking of the common advice to take time off and travel to prevent workplace burnout, which doesn’t apply well to someone working 2+ jobs to survive who might not have paid time off or funds they can spend on travel.

      2. Susie Carmichael*

        I agree more with your comment than the original in this thread. I also didn’t gather that the OP wasn’t explicitly sure that this was what they wanted to do with their career. It is a privlege to be able to travel, however I don’t think it reads as OP feels entitled. Just rather, they would like to do this thing before really diving into a career they are sure their heart is set on. That includes working at the volunteer org they worked at before and going to school to obtain a degree they feel can market them better in the field. There’s nothing wrong with being young and wanted to see a bit of the world before life really happens, because then often you have to put it off longer and longer once career begins, a spouse happens, children happen.. etc. That doesn’t make them entitled or thinking they’re above the population they wish to work with.

        As another comment pointed out, OP could also find ways to do volunteer work abroad that could be a part of their resume that directly relates to the type of work they hope to do.

        I definitely don’t think them traveling for a year is a bad idea, it is definitely something that should be done with much care and consideration and planning, and I think the OP is aware of that as evidenced by them writing in for suggestions.

    5. Honeybee*

      In short, you are trying to enter a *service* field but you are coming off sounding like you want to do it because it makes you feel good… But you do it for your chosen population, not for any of those other things.

      I don’t know that these two things are mutually exclusive. I was assuming that the OP meant that working for and helping out people in need makes her feel good and makes her enjoy the work. I think that most people who work in social services type jobs do it because helping other people makes them feel good on some level. As you pointed out yourself, people don’t stay if they are miserable and burned out even if they realize that they are helping others and doing the work for other people. They stay because on some level they enjoy it, even if the work is grinding.

      It also sounds like she has two years of experience in social services work. Two years is not a really long time, but a long enough time to get a grasp on what the basics of a career are like. How many years does someone need to work before they are ‘worthy’ of taking a slot in a funded graduate program?

      1. Loose Seal*

        She doesn’t have two years yet. In a year, she will have a smidge over two years. If she stays at the current job as she plans for the next year (absent needing to leave because of things outside her control, like they stop paying her or something else that’s egregious), I’d say she would know enough about herself and the population she’s working with to make an informed decision. I said in my original comment that she should should work one year, preferably two before deciding on this.

        However, it’s not us she’s going to have to convince. I can’t tell from her letter if she’s a shoe-in for this paid grad school position because of her previous volunteer work or if she has to apply to the grad school and her admission considered like any other applicant. If the latter’s the case, I’d start talking to the school now and see if I could get a realistic idea if they would consider her after a year off to travel.

    6. CEMgr*


      Loose Seal, that is excellent advice and speaks highly of your skills in understanding and advising people. OP, please take this advice for the solid gold it is.

  7. Mike B.*

    Am I alone in thinking that this isn’t a great idea?

    Traveling for an entire year, even done as cheaply as possible, is quite expensive both in terms of the actual expenses incurred and in terms of the opportunity cost. OP has not been spending the time since college working in a high-earning job, and she’s contemplating entering a three-year graduate program to begin a career that isn’t particularly well paid. If she’s fortunate enough to have some resources at this point, perhaps she should consider taking a much shorter trip, or none, and beginning the next stage of her life with as much financial security as possible.

    And “I want to challenge the idea that we as young people need to have these rock solid work histories” strikes me as a naive thing to say. No one needs a rock-solid work history, but there are consequences to making one’s history less solid–in this case, she will have much less margin for error if graduate school doesn’t work out as it often doesn’t.

    1. Loose Seal*

      And I wondered exactly how the OP is planning to “challenge” it. Challenge is an active verb; it generally means doing some social justice work to try to change things for the better for yourself and others. I think OP is using that statement because they think it sounds noble but has no intention of doing anything with it except indulge themselves.

      1. Yup*

        >> I think OP is using that statement because they think it sounds noble but has no intention of doing anything with it except indulge themselves.
        This reads as extremely judgmental, as well as deeply condescending. It’s one thing to bring up how many years of work experience OP has; it’s quite another to decide that you know what she means when she makes that statement, not to mention the negative lens through which you interpret it.

        I read the OP as saying that there are different paths to building a career and finding a vocation, and not all are linear. Hundreds of letters here demonstrate the truth of that last part. We can help her weigh the pros and cons, but it’s ill-conceived to insist that she know *now* what she wants to do for her whole career before she… actually does it (ie, your statements about grad school).

        I give OP a lot of credit for writing in and opening up the question. Judgment isn’t helpful.

        1. Whats In A Name?*

          I have to agree with you here. I read the statement as more of a “I don’t want to follow norms because they say I have to” and less “I’m going to be a pioneer in my generations backlash to the instituation.”

          I was trying to bite my tongue but this last comment is quite presumptuous and crosses the line between advice and unnecessary judgment.

          I really saw it as her saying once she goes full in with her career the taking time off to travel abroad will likely not be something she would do because of job and quite honestly I think a gap at this point in her resume would be received more easily than after a 15 year career when an interview might think “well, if she up and quit once after that long, whats to say she won’t do it again?”

        2. John OP*

          Thanks for adding this comment. I think by “challenge” I mean to engage people in discussion around the possibility of alternate and untraditional career pathways.

    2. FD*

      I think it really depends on the LW’s goals for herself. I agree that it’s expensive on both fronts, but only she can decide if the cost is worth it.

      I agree that she should be aware of both the financial and opportunity cost of traveling though.

    3. all aboard the anon train*

      It strikes me as naive, as well. I know the traditional workplace is changing for my generation, but I still think people, no matter the age, are going to frown at such a varied history in such a short amount of time.

      But I also think the idea of traveling to broaden horizons and become more aware is a little naive. A lot of people across different generations assume that traveling is the only way to be cultured or “authentic”, but someone could travel to every continent and still not have a broad understanding of the world. Someone who doesn’t travel can be extremely cultured and aware.

      OP should do what she wants, but I think she also needs to realize that she might not get what she wants or expects out of any of these ventures.

  8. Old Grumpy Guy*

    I’d be careful about where this rationalization takes you: “My philosophy is that I need to do what makes me happy, and I believe one day I will be a more authentic and compassionate social worker because of the way I’ve treated myself.”

    I will take the side of your skeptical parents here, even if I don’t agree that this is about work history on a resume. You sound like you are trying to give a work-based justification for doing what you want to do (travel), and it seems both false and self-serving. There is a difference between engaging in self-care and having the type of balance in your life that allows you to give to others versus presuming that doing what you want for yourself somehow makes you more empathetic to others.

    Travel is a form of consumption. Your journey to self-actualization and the experiences you gain are about you. This is not inherently “bad” or “good,” and, in fact, many of the skills you use or gain while traveling can be work-transferable. While some people do combine travel with volunteering, “volun-tourism” itself is often complicated and problematic. Most of what you can actually offer to contribute to others and not just be about yourself you will find in our own backyard, not halfway across the world. But I’m sure you know this from the field you are working in and going to grad school for!

    If you want to travel because now is a good time in your life to do it, by all means, go for it. If it does not jeopardize your ability to go to grad school or continue to develop in your intended career, then wonderful! The timing might be perfect now, and there is no guarantee that you’ll get this window again. But do please be honest with yourself first (and then your loved ones) what this is really about, and that the primary point of your traveling is not actually career-related. If and when the time comes to explain in interviews how your travel benefitted your career, you will find that the examples that travel provides are not about “being more compassionate because I treated myself,” rather you will be able to speak to specific skills you have used (e.g., navigating communication barriers with people from different cultures).

  9. Sunshine Brite*

    I’m a clinical social worker. Some of what you wrote reminds me of a former coworker who did some of her travelling before settling into a social services role and counseling grad school degree. She’d had a psychology undergrad. She found a path and has been in the same position for awhile even though she couldn’t commit to the year working at our shared job because of her love of travel.

    I have to admit I’m concerned about some of the things you’ve written here. Year long volunteer programs are often vastly different than the overall work they support, I’m thinking some sort of AmeriCorps. Pursuing social services work is so broad… I would almost encourage you to think about what populations excite you most to work with before grad school. I went into grad school with one idea about who I wanted to work with and ended with a completely different population but related work that I fell for during my internships that really challenged my understandings of what the field had to offer.

    A lot of social service environments are toxic because employers are trying to pull too much out of their people for too little. It sounds like employment case management fits you much better than clinical roles so far. You feel ill-equipped in those areas, but do you want to work in those areas? Some people stick to doing employment case management and some hate the more therapy related aspects of the work and that’s ok too.

    I’m wondering how the reimbursement process would be for the volunteer program if you’re set on grad school. Would you have to work for them? Would a year off affect eligibility? Etc. Shortness of previous positions never really affected me in my job search so far as I know, but by the end of the program I knew what I wanted to do.

    I know different schools and states are different, but given what you stated here, I would encourage you to seek a variety of placements. We could not be placed at the same agency for both placements/in the same role and that helped every single one of us in different ways. I would be very concerned seeing your resume if you had stayed at that agency as your only placement experience as each way a placement or population served changes us in different ways and provides different perspectives.

    While I value travel and believe any travel broadens horizons, I think it’s naive to think that you would gain additional awareness without cultural immersion as a piece of that travel. I don’t think your plan is completely off base but I do think it needs some serious re-evaluation in terms of feasibility. Young people haven’t had rock solid work histories recently; it doesn’t need to be proven. Many people, including myself, didn’t have rock solid histories because of hiring freezes and economic downturn. I have an undergrad in history and would have been considered a human services worker providing direct care after a path in business or public relations did not pan out, but that’s not what I wanted to do. That’s why I went to grad school. You need to make these decisions for you, not for some overarching idea about what this means to your generation. People change and find meaningful work by trying various things on and seeing where they take them. Work is not the end all, be all. It’s a tool to live how you want to live and pay your bills. For some people that’s working a lot, for some that’s to support a hobby or travel. For some it’s survival. That’s not the American Dream, that’s a reality of or economic outlook. We trade money for goods and services. I admittedly disliked everything I’ve read of Krakauer’s because it comes from such a privileged outlook.

    It’s interesting you attribute your parents’ unhappiness to working in their current jobs. It could be so many things. Overall, my dad would seem not very happy to some if you hear him but I know he wouldn’t work any other job. It’s just that he’s close to retirement and has to go two more years because of the way the union changed over the years to take retirement without penalties and his portfolio was affected in ’08. It’s not the job itself, it’s that at this point in his life he expected to be tinkering on cars all day.

    Self care is important as a social worker. But so is an honest examination of privilege and the role it plays in the decisions you make and interactions with others.

  10. Le Social Worker*

    I’m a social worker, MSW level with a license. While I don’t love my job every second of every day I do love my career and the people I serve. Earning you MSW is tough. Even if your volunteer program pays for the classroom portion of the education you’ll still be expected to complete extensive internship requirement. Most internships are unpaid, although I know some universities are pushing for payment/stipend for the internships. Will you have to be volunteering while you intern? If so, it’s pretty likely that the volunteer work will need to be discrete from the interning. Most schools have policies that you can work/volunteer at an agency but to receive credit for internship hours you must be doing something entirely different within the organization from what you do during work/volunteer hours. For example, if you spend your volunteer work conducting home visits and assessments they might require that you run groups and provide individual counseling as your internship. If you’re considering a specific school, contact their field office and see how they handle this.

    As for the short term gigs, it’s not uncommon in our field but it does make me wary to hire someone when their resume is primarily short term stints. One or two won’t make or break them, but it gives me pause when someone has ten jobs in ten years. Burn out is high in social work (MSW or not), and I never want to hire someone who’s entirely burnt out at their current organization because chances are good they’ll burn out quickly with us too. My best advice is to seriously consider what it is that you want from graduate school and a social work career. Also consider that you won’t necessarily earn more money because you have your MSW (whether or not you should is another debate). Maybe it’s your calling, maybe it’s not. Explore it a little more before making a major commitment.

    1. Susie Carmichael*

      Even if your volunteer program pays for the classroom portion of the education you’ll still be expected to complete extensive internship requirement.

      I think OP said their prior volunteer assignment, that is paying for the grad school will also allow them to return to working there while in school for the experience needed for the program. I am assuming this will cover the internship/clinical requirements of grad program?

      1. Sunshine Brite*

        It really shouldn’t. Most have conflict of interest clauses to stop organizations from getting unpaid clinical labor from their employees for free.

        1. Le Social Worker*

          Exactly, Sunshine Brite. That typically isn’t permitted. If organizations do permit someone to volunteer/be employed in addition to the internship hours the two must be discrete activities and that’s something that OP’s school would need to approve.

  11. catsAreCool*

    “I’m skeptical of the American Dream, and the American obsession with work as a means to an end.” Does the OP mean that the OP is skeptical of the idea of working to be able to afford food, shelter, and clothing? I have found that working is pretty helpful when it comes to affording these things.

      1. Katie F*

        I’m in a job I truly love, and there are STILL a lot of days where I’m there mostly because they pay me enough to live on and a little bit besides. Some days everything is perfect and I hit my Zen place and the world makes sense again, but a lot of days I’m just writing because it’s five days til payday.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      Many psych studies show that work in and of itself is fulfilling. For example, when prisoners actually helped with local projects they had increased self esteem because they had helped create something VS destroy something.
      Work is good. It only becomes a problem when it becomes an obsession.

      1. Koko*

        I would edit that slightly: meaningful work is fulfilling. What constitutes meaningful work can vary from person to person, but there’s plenty of work that is better described as “busy/rote work” than as meaningful work. The prisoners likely wouldn’t have had as much benefit if they had been asked to, say, dissemble and reassemble a machine just to occupy them for an hour. In the Office Space movie, those employees didn’t find filling out TPS reports to be meaningful work. Projects that never seem to end or where you never seem to see a tangible or visible benefit produced as a result of your labor can also begin to feel meaningless and demotivating.

    2. Katie F*

      I think the OP is more referencing the “work until you die and then work some more” part of the American corporate psyche that infects a lot of workplaces – as in, I imagine it’s a reference to the fact that Americans are offered truly paltry vacation and/or sick time (IF sick time is ever offered at all) and we don’t even take what vacation time we ARE offered, on average.

      I’m obviously reading into the sentence, but that’s how I read it: “I’m skeptical of the American corporate ideal of working forever just to keep working forever just to keep a job.”

    3. Bookworm*

      I think that OP is suggesting that she doesn’t want her whole life to be constructed around making as much money in her career as she can. A lot of the narrative in school is all about maximizing your potential, career-wise, so it can feel like a really radical decision to make a life choice that doesn’t prioritize that.

    4. Florida*

      Americans are not obsessed with work as a means to an end, anymore than Americans are obsessed with food, water, and shelter. The only options besides working are winning the lotto, robbing a bank (not recommended), or being born into a rich family. For everyone else, work is how they make money.

      Did you mean to say that you don’t want work to be the end goal? As opposed to a work being a means to an end? If your goal is to travel, then work is normally the means by which you would make the money to achieve that end.

    5. catsAreCool*

      Thanks for the replies. It bugs me sometimes when people act like all Americans are the same and when people seem to think that people don’t need work/money to pay for the basics.

      1. Florida*

        Agree. But most of the time when someone is saying that all Americans are the same, they are saying that to point out that they are different. “All Americans are ___ (except for me, I’m different).”

        And with needing money to pay the bills … there is this myth that has been taught to the last few generations (definitely to my generation) that you don’t need to worry about money. Focus on finding a job you love and following your passion, and the money will come. Once you have a few years of adulthood under your belt, you realize what crap this is. But I don’t blame a college student for not realizing this. If you have been told your whole life by every important adult in your life that you just need to focus on your passion and the money will follow, then that’s what you think is right (until life has a way of teaching you otherwise).

      2. Hrovitnir*

        Mentioning a cultural ideal is not the same as commenting on the individuals that make up a group. And there’s a difference between needing to work to live and needing your work to define your life.

        People have very different inclinations in regard to the latter, and the USian *cultural* relationship with morality as it relates to money and work is quite specific. Or at least very intense.

        1. Koko*

          We can thank our Puritan forefathers who believed poverty was how God marked those he wasn’t going to save for that.

    6. Koko*

      I think OP just didn’t use the phrase “means to an end” correctly. She seems to be saying she doesn’t agree with the idea of work as an end in itself. For OP, if they’re reading, “means to an end,” as the poster above references, refers to something you do solely for the outcome it produces and not for any enjoyment of the task. Such as working to pay for the things you want in life, and not because you value work itself.

  12. the gold digger*

    Jon Krakauer, but I’m skeptical of the American Dream

    Didn’t he write “Into the Wild?” I saw that movie and all I could think was, rich kid thinks he is making this bold gesture against society, but he has no student loans and he has the luxury of knowing that if he really needs help, all he has to do is pick up the phone and call his parents. It’s fine to give away your money and burn your cash if you have rich parents. Most of us do not have that luxury.

    I hated that movie.

    1. Katie F*

      The book is great, for the record! Krakauer is incredibly honest about McCandless and how his omgromantic ideals were really terribly misguided if well-meaning at best and led directly to his death at worst.

      McCandless’ sister recently published a book that I highly recommend. It delves a bit into their highly abusive upbringing (which Krakauer did not delve into in his book, at the request of the family) and how that likely influenced Christopher’s decisions and cannot be understated as a part of what happened to him. https://www.amazon.com/Wild-Truth-Carine-McCandless/dp/0062325140

      1. Bookworm*

        Yeah, the book is very straightforward about the fact that it’s not really a great decision. I haven’t actually seen the movie though.

        1. Katie F*

          The movie idealizes it quite a bit more – not entirely, but something about the transition onto the screen just made it seem more like “he had to do this thing to come of age and ~discover himself~ and oh no he forgot the whole ‘having to eat’ part, but wasn’t his mission so ~romantic~”, whereas Krakauer is really upfront with “This was a bad choice, and here are ther easons, and this was also a bad choice, and so was this, and hey let’s take a look at why it’s important to be an expert on the wild flora nad fauna of the wilderness if you decide to live there and shun society”.

          1. Katie F*

            And he made all of those points without actually demonizing Christopher’s choices,e xactly, just laid them out as what they were while keeping all his humanity and worthiness as a person intact.

          2. Kelly L.*

            Right, and didn’t it turn out that the real reason he died was that he ate a plant that wasn’t even known to be poisonous at the time (I think there was a guidebook that called it safe), but it turns out it is in large quantities, and it fatally caused him to lose the urge to eat?

            1. Katie F*

              The shortest answer to that is, “Maybe.” Krakauer makes a pretty persuasive argument that it was the plant, but that’s been challenged equally persuasively by other outdoor experts who point out that the real problem was that his whole diet simply did not have enough calories to replenish the truly astronomical amount he was burning just trying to stay alive. He DID eat the plant, in quantities higher than was likely safe, but it’s never really been proven that that’s what killed him. Krakauer definitely thinks so, though, and actually wrote an article for the New Yorker further defending the idea later on, after it was challenged.

              1. Hrovitnir*

                I choose to believe he starved, since he did approximately zero-to-little preparation or research and it seems the simplest explanation that he died from poor nutrition. Though either are possible of course.

                1. Katie F*

                  I personally agree with you for the most part – I do think he probably made himself at least a little sick by eating the wrong kinds of plants (his book, while thorough, didn’t mark that the wild potato is toxic in large amounts and he truly was eating a large quantity of it) but I think the larger problem was that he simply wasn’t getting enough fat/calories. Rice is all well and good, as are local plants, but trapping small animals like rabbits will never get you enough fat/protein to keep going.

                  I think he died from simple malnourishment.

    2. Mazzy*

      I read the book when it must have first come out and I never heard of it beforehand, and I remember it being very straighforward. In his defense, he just wanted to escape society. It didn’t matter if he was rich or poor, he would have done the same thing coming from a poor family. I don’t think there was anything idealistic or romantic about what he did and he wasn’t trying to be bohemian or whatever. Some people just hear the call of the wild and really want to just go to the middle of nowhere. I didn’t get the feeling that it was about rebelling against class or his parents.

    3. Hrovitnir*

      Oh holy shit I hated that movie so much, oh my. So many levels on which I hold that character in contempt – and I watched it because I have friends who loved it. Unfortunate.

      (The book most likely is better, they usually are! I’m too poisoned against it though.)

    4. Koko*

      Oh my gods, I hated it too. He came off like such an entitled brat who didn’t care at all about how what he was doing affected the people who loved him.

      The book is slightly better at showing him experiencing remorse in the end for being such a selfish twat, but the movie never really strayed from portraying him as a hero of sort to be admired.

  13. Diluted_TortoiseShell*

    Grad School: Alison’s advice is spot on. I decided not to go to graduate school in my intended program after I spent six months surfing the job forums. I didn’t like what I saw, even for the PhD required jobs.

  14. Diluted_TortoiseShell*

    Travel: Have you looked into a Fulbright? Not only does it pay you to live abroad for a year, you get to complete a project of your choice. Recent graduates are the target audience for a Fulbright Fellowship.

    I completed a Fulbright in 2010 and the pay was $35,000. I’ve traveled a fair amount, and I really enjoyed being in one country for a full year. You don’t get the depth of understanding and personal growth from 2 – 3 week stints in yet-another-hostel/train/tourist area/hike through a secluded park that you do establishing yourself in a foreign country and building a program from scratch.

    1. Sparrow*

      OP, keep in mind that taking a year to travel or working for a full extra year aren’t your only two options. If you’re concerned about your job history but traveling is important to you, maybe sticking with the job for closer to two full years and traveling for 4-5 months would be a good compromise. Or perhaps a Fulbright, as someone mentioned above (contact your alma mater about this – many colleges offer fellowships advising, even for graduates). I think you have some options here, it really just depends on your priorities for both the moment and the future.

      I agree with Alison that you should get the grad school stuff lined up solidly if you want that to be an option, but remember that this doesn’t obligate you to go. If you defer for a year and in that year decide that you’re anything less than 100% sure about the MSW, so be it.

      1. John OP*

        This is a really good point! Thank you for bringing this up. I have a close friend who just finished a Fulbright in Spain and had a positive experience.

    2. stevenz*

      The Peace Corps is also an awesome thing to do, can be directly related to social work, and is gold on a resume.

      1. Rob Lowe can't read*

        This is definitely a viable option, if the OP (or anyone else considering it) is willing to make the slightly-more-than-2-year commitment. I’m an RPCV myself, and I know a lot of people who went into social work after completing their service (most of whom do not have social work BA/BS degrees, though many went on to earn MSWs).

        1. Bookworm*

          I also know a lot of people who did the Peace Corps (including my sister) and it’s definitely great for broadening your horizons, but a much bigger commitment than just backpacking around Europe or Asia. I know a lot of people who really battled serious loneliness and culture shock during their stint. That said – I don’t know anyone who regrets it.

      2. Emac*

        And there are universities that partner with the Peace Corps that the OP could check out. There are some that give scholarships to RPCVs and some that have joint programs where the service years are counted as part of the program, usually with a discounted or free tuition for the whole program. There are at least a couple of those for MSW programs.

    3. Honeybee*

      I was also going to suggest a Fulbright, or one of the multiple other programs that caters towards recent graduates and allows them to work abroad: CIEE, EPIK, JET.

  15. Jenny*

    If you’re serious about wanting to travel for a year (and it sounds like you are), I think you’ll always regret it if you don’t – and this is the time in your life when it’s easiest to do it. It’s so common now for people in their 20s (especially in between college and grad school) to spend a year traveling that I wouldn’t too much about it affecting future job prospects. And sure, being able to take time off work and travel is a sign of privilege – but so are plenty of other things that nobody bats an eye at (nice apartments and cars, meals out, smartphones, you name it). Don’t let anyone make you feel like you shouldn’t travel just because there are other people who can’t afford to.

    1. Loose Seal*

      Is it particularly common for young adults in the U.S. to take a gap year to travel? I thought it was more of a European thing.

      Maybe it is common and I just don’t run in those circles but it’s a bit of a stretch to say a year’s travel is equal to the price of a smartphone. Also, someone could afford a nice apartment if they had roommates or a significant other with a higher paying job and someone could have a nice car given to them as a present. I think you might be looking at it from a semi-“keeping up with the Joneses” sort of way in that it’s OP’s money and she should spend it as she likes. I agree with you on a personal level. But OP’s actual question concerning the travel is will the employment gap caused by the year of travel going to be a problem on the resume. And I think it’s disingenuous to say that it wouldn’t cause a problem. Year-long gaps can be a problem, no matter what the reason behind it.

      1. Mazzy*

        I don’t think it’s common and yeah, it can be a problem, but I think they should still do it. I took a longer gap to do fun non-career jobs and travel and live short term in a few places.

        The real issue is that you will have to be OK being “left behind” in your career. Others your age will be in higher level positions for the first ten or so years until you can catch up. I did definitely have to work harder once I got in my profession to make up lost time. Yeah, hard work is important, but I was around some people who didn’t work hard but gather expertise just by being there. That can be frustrating to be around. It’s something to be aware of.

        I do think 20s are the best time to travel. Yes, it’s nicer to do when you have money in the bank but its best to do some things when you’re young and cute. You will make lots of gaffes and need help from strangers when you’re in various countries. In my experience, people were much more willing to help a young traveller because they think it’s exciting when you’re travelling and it reminds them of their youth. I think it gets harder with age, you will be a bit more on your own. When I was in my 20s and people hear me speaking English, they’d ask me where I was from and more than once I joined groups of other young strangers/locals/travellers for dinner or drinks. That stops happening once you get a certain age.

        It also does help in a way to understand the rest of the world to get a feel where people are coming from and get an idea of the issues people in other countries find important.

        1. MK*

          Traveling in your 20s is more “fun”, but I generally found that bars, pubs and restaurants are pretty much the same in all countries. And the conversations one has there with other young people are rarely profound and hardly representative of the culture of the country.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          No it doesn’t stop. I’m not a young person, and everywhere I went in the UK, I found other Americans. They hear the accent and are all, “AMERICAN! Which state are you from!?” Except in Wales, where even Welsh people wanted to know where I was from because many of them were chatty AF. :) (I have a really funny story about that but it’s not relevant here.)

  16. Macedon*

    imo this isn’t a decision you should take now. Give it this next year, so you have enough experience to double-check that your first job was a fluke because of the back-stage work environment and not the work itself. You need to make as sure as you can of this, because you’re in a field with a very high burn-out rate, and if you can’t take the heat, you need to know so before you throw a lot of time and money into staying in the kitchen.

    Revisit the idea in a year, as it fits your current scheduling anyway. Save money for your trip and schooling, but don’t commit just yet.

    1. Susie Carmichael*

      I dont think that was OP’s first job. She stated she accepted a position after the year long volunteer gig. Then relocated and took the job that she didn’t like and quit at 7 months but quickly found a new job at a housing agency that she loves and has been there a while and is planing to stay another year before taking off to travel.

      1. Macedon*

        Yep, you’re absolutely right. I missed the bit about moving to a different city to pursue another job (the prison one) after the volunteering programme.

  17. stevenz*

    I’ll start by saying this: I wish I had done what you’re describing. It’s easier to do such things when you’re young, fresh, and unattached. Later, you get used to a lifestyle that depends on a steady income, all your friends are doing the same, you might get married, have kids, then you’re 50.

    I don’t think employers are expecting a 24 year old to be “stable”, so I doubt the resume that will come from your travels and education will be seen as a lack of initiative or focus, and you’ll be much wiser and more rounded. I would suggest that you be open to many possibilities, and not focus like a laser on doing social work when all is said and done. There are a million occupations out there that don’t readily meet the eye while you’re getting a college education. It may turn out that you want to be a marine biologist or medical photographer or a sharpshooter. Not only is it not only about work, it’s not only about money.

    This is all easy to say for me, but it’s said from the heart. But if you have faith in yourself, some risk tolerance, and a sense of adventure, take advantage of the opportunity now. Travel is the best educational opportunity there is. Sure, it may not work out the way you want it to, but you can pull the plug any time and come home. But I warn you, traveling gets in the blood and once you start, it’s hard to stop!

    1. MK*

      I am sorry, but “travel is the best educational opportunity” and “you will be much wiser and more rounded” is nonsense when stated as a fact. Travel can be educational and might make one wiser; or, it can simply one undulging themselves with an extended vacation. Crossing a border is not a magical experience in and of itself.

      What really strikes me about the letter is this: the OP says she has discovered a passion for social work, but feels undereducated to do the work. So, the solution she proposes is to treat herself to a year of travel and then go to grad school. That’s not the first impulse of people who have found their calling.

      1. Honeybee*

        Why not? It sounds like she’s settled on a potential career but also really wants to travel, and maybe realizes that it is harder to travel for extended periods of time once you get going in a career – and grad school does reset your resume somewhat. So if she wanted to take a year ‘off’ to travel around the world doing it before going to graduate school is probably the best time!

        I do regret not teaching/living abroad for a year or two after college. It was something I always wanted to do, but I decided that since I needed graduate school to have the career I wanted I should just go straight there. My options for traveling for extended periods of time are much more limited now.

      2. Susie Carmichael*

        Why isn’t it? It sounds like the PLAN of someone who is considering their life, not an impulse.
        Why can’t someone “treat” themselves to seeing some of the world they live in prior to digging into the next plan for their life?

        OP also said they were considering staying another year at their current social services job (working with a housing agency) to have 2.5 years at this job before taking time off to travel. This sounds like someone who is planning to me and asking if that will be enough job experience from an employers perspective.

        I think some are missing what the OP has laid out and have immediately jumped into chastising them for having the privilege to explore their world a bit because “how dare they?!” OP isn’t saying they are running off tomorrow to do it.

      3. Stevenz*

        Sorry, it isn’t nonsense. Experience is the best education by far. Of course it depends on what you mean by travel. If it’s an annual trip to Disney world, then, yes, not so “educational.” (But Disney world is a fabulous thing to see and having seen it – twice – I understand its attraction.). If you leave the US for the first time and spend a week in London in the lobby of the Savoy having tea and watercress sandwiches, then, yes, you won’t learn a whole lot. (But tea at the Savoy is divine.).

        But if, as you travel, you pay attention to what’s going on around you, particularly the people and how they live and the environment in which they live you can learn an awful lot. In the process you put yourself in a much larger context than just a Cleveland one, or American one, or a white person one, or an English speaking one. You find how how very different other people may be, but more important, you find out how very much the same we all are. That is a crucial little lesson in being human and the wider your scope of knowledge of that fact, the more grounded you will be. No matter how entrenched in “real life” you become with your 9 to 5 job in middle management for 20 years, you will never forget the smile of the little girl who gave you a handful of raspberries as you walked along some back road in France, or the snake under your bed in Bangkok, or the view from the Eiffel Tower, or the sound of a samba band at 3 am on the beach at Ipanema. If those kinds of things don’t move you, there’s plenty more out there that will. I’ve been fortunate to have traveled a lot (though never found a snake under any bed, or have had tea at the Savoy), and I stand by my assertion, that many many other people have also made, that travel is the best education.

      4. Mela*

        Actually, that’s a great impulse for someone who’s found their calling. I jumped into a job and then another one immediately after university and never got to fulfill my dream of living in country X. At 26 and with 3 years of work experience in my field, I knew I needed to go to grad school (really, promise). So I specifically chose to move to country X first and get it out of the way before grad school–after graduation you want to be capitalizing on your network and getting a job asap not taking a year off (what an odd time to take a year off, much more strange than before grad school!).

        But as much as I wanted to have that experience, I was itching to get back into work a few months in and ended up cutting the whole thing short and volunteering in my field in a completely different country. Obviously I can’t speak to my future prospects as I’m starting grad school this fall, but I think a long-term volunteer stint in the middle is just fine for my cv and I’m not worried in the slightest at the 6 month gap I took to travel.

    2. Pinniped*

      I respectfully disagree. My early 20s was one of the hardest times in my life to travel, and it’s only now, almost a decade later, that I have the income to make it possible. Also, for the first time in my life, I feel confident that if I did take a year off, I would have enough experience under my belt to be employed again on my return. I suspect there are many phases in life where world travel is easy. Right now, the most frequent travellers around me aren’t my friends, but their parents.

      I remember feeling in my early 20s that I had to do everything! right! now! all! at! once! but now I think that, provided I’m not terribly unlucky, there’s actually quite a lot of time in a lifetime to fill up.

    3. Tea*

      I agree with the… what’s the best way to phrase this, the romantic sentiment you’re conveying to the OP, and how looking back on life, many people wish that they’d adventured and seen more of the world while they were younger and relatively unattached. In fact, I’ve even taken that same sentiment to heart– I’m in my mid-twenties and travel pretty extensively, because I love being able to see other parts of the world.

      That said, I would caution against treating travel as “the best educational opportunity” out there, and acting as if international/frequent travel is reserved only for the young and unattached. Traveling can expose you to different cultures, languages, and people… but just existing in another place doesn’t teach you anything in and of itself. People aren’t sponges who just osmosis up ~the local culture~ and come back enlightened or with a different mindset. To learn anything, whether it’s halfway across the world or in your own backyard, you have to be active, aggressive, you have to be seeking out education, and that’s not a choice reserved for people who are able to travel.

      Also, this probably isn’t a once in a lifetime chance for the OP to travel around the world either. People in their fifties travel, people travel with spouses, with kids, with their elderly parents (hi mom, hi gramps). People travel on the cheap, they travel in hostels, in huge sightseeing groups, they live large in five star hotels with room service and personal butlers and everything in between. Things might be “harder” when you’re wrangling children and trying to coordinate vacations so that everything aligns, but they’re also “harder” when you’ve got no money, no friends to journey with (cause they have no money), in a motel full of cockroaches or crashing on a local friend’s cigarette-smelling couch.

      I don’t want to critique your choices and how to you got to where you are at life, but above a certain income/living level, people designate their own choices and priorities, and then choose to live them or not. If travel is something you’ve always thought of with longing, if adventure is what you want, don’t think that because you’ve got “a lifestyle that depends on a steady income, all your friends are doing the same, you might get married, have kids, then you’re 50,” that you’re destined to never find it. It’s definitely possible!

  18. Brooke*

    This has kind of been alluded to in other comments, but I’d ask yourself: why do you want to be a social worker?

    I’m not a social worker, so I can’t advise on this, but I doubt the work will be that much different with a master’s degree. I don’t know! But it doesn’t sound like you either. Yes, you’d have more tools and more support… but I would ask other graduates of the program what they thought of it and what the work is like after graduating. The social workers I know say the work is hard everyday — and they already HAVE advanced degrees and know how to diagnose people.

    But get more information from people doing the jobs you’d expect to be doing. Then you can be more sure of the right path for you, whether it’s social work or something else.

  19. Milton Waddams*

    This is a social class issue.

    If you come from an upper-middle-class family or above, do whatever — you have to really screw up not to have everything work out OK in the end, which usually involves far more than taking a year off to go on the Grand Tour (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Tour, for those who don’t know).

    On the other hand, if you are not, I would urge you to think twice about copying the lifestyles of the rich and famous — if you look at the founder of their family, you will often notice that they did none of the things that their children or grandchildren do. That lifestyle — travel, the arts, philanthropic hobbies, a “life of the mind” — is a siren’s call to lure you into the sea. A family never has to worry about their fortune so long as those talented people who aren’t working for them are doing the same leisurely things they themselves are doing.

    1. Brooke*

      I think you’re making very broad generalizations. Sure, the people you describe exist. But so do people who work, travel, work, travel… on their own dime. Some people I know have jobs they can do while they’re traveling, and some save up money in a job so that they can travel, come back get a job, and travel again. It’s just a different lifestyle, but it doesn’t make it invalid. Nor does it make yours or any other lifestyle invalid. For what it’s worth, I don’t know any adult that’s travelled the world because of their parents or social status.

      1. Whats In A Name?*

        Yes, this is way too sweeping and broad. I spoke of a friend who did this in my comment below. She sold her car and everything that wasn’t nailed down. Between that and meager saving she lived abroad for a year with only enough possessions to fit in a backpack. And her family was lower middle class, maybe below that.

        We can’t make assumptions about OP’s class status – it’s not fair or relevant to the question.

  20. Kay J*

    I really don’t want to be too harsh on the OP, but I do think they should consider how they come across in this letter. A lot of us are picking up on similar threads of middle class privilege and naivete. If the people you’re helping also pick up on those same things, they’re less likely to feel like you’re really in their corner. Traveling and volunteering often give you a glossy or rose-tinted version of the truth, so please consider dedicating yourself to working somewhere for more than seven months before going into grad school.

    1. Susie Carmichael*

      OP found another job after quitting the prison job and has been working in Housing Services for I believe 1.5 years and plans to stay another year before traveling. Why is everyone overlooking that portion of the letter?

      1. Kay J*

        You’re right, I definitely glazed over the other job.

        However, I still have the same impression of the letter (apparently the harshest one of the polite ones! I didn’t mean to raise the bar). It seems to be the impression that the social worker commenters above have as well, which is that the writer needs to think about their path and that more practical experience will only benefit them.

        The way they talk about money and world travel in their last paragraph has me concerned that they don’t understand the ability to take a year off from work (no matter how long they saved up, as you’ve pointed out is possible) is deeply alienating to most people who have lived their lives on a low income.

      2. Koko*

        I got from the letter that she had been there five months and a year from now she would be at 1.5 years:

        “So, in a year from now, I’m going to take a year off and travel all over the world and then go to grad school. However, I’m weirdly nervous about how these two jobs will look on my resume to future employers. One job for seven months, and then I will be at this job for one year and five months.”

  21. Susie Carmichael*

    I haven’t read down all the way yet, but I want to clarify out loud what OP’s work history looks like

    • Undergrad degree in communications – worked in field during school at advertising agencies.
    • Graduated
    • Did year-long volunteer program (earned stipend) in social services.
    • Was offered/accepted full-time job at prior program, earned salary. (how long?)
    • Relocated
    • Took another job, working in prison system 50% of time, was unhappy. Left at 7 months
    • Found another social services job working with housing services has been there a year and a half?
    – Is planning to, after another year at housing services job, leave to travel.
    – Will have 2.5 years at housing services job once they leave to travel
    •Planning to travel for a year (age 25/26)
    • Planning to return to grad school after year of travel / will work with prior employer (social services) for 3 years while in school

    Maybe I am mistaken in how they laid things out, but I do not see a terribly sketchy resume here? I don’t understand all the “THIS IS A HUGE MISTAKE YOU ARE ENTITLED” comments that I have read so far (I plan to finish the thread after I get this thought out)

    Maybe I interpreted their job history incorrectly? Are people suggestion OP have 4-5-6 years at SAME job before tackling grad school and/or taking sabbatical?

    What is wrong with wanting to travel while young, before you are saddled with life things that include other people and possibly children?

    1. anonymous here*

      I was thinking about this too. This is probably going to get me chewed out but… advice says more about the person giving it than the “givee.” No one who traveled is telling her not to travel. No one who traveled is saying they regretted it.

      I would guess that most of the people calling OP “entitled” are the people who, themselves, stayed at the same job for a long time and probably had a safe career path. (Or, if there was a blip in their career, they held it responsible for NEVER GETTING A JOB AND IT RUINING THEIR LIVES, when there was probably some other reason too.) This is just a guess, of course. But it’s like telling people worked their whole lives to get where they are, “Hey, it’s ok for people in their 20s to take some time off for them. It’s ok to travel. It’s ok to have a gap in your work history. It’s ok to not have the ‘perfect’ career path.” And they probably feel attacked because THEY worked and THEY didn’t take time off, and for someone else to say, “I can travel and enjoy my life AND have a fulfilling career,” they call them entitled so they don’t feel all their hard work was wasted.

      That’s not what they’ll tell you though.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        For what it’s worth, literally no one has called the OP “entitled.” I just did a search for it on this page, and all eight instances of it are people arguing against calling her entitled, but no one actually has.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          In fact, I just read through everything to be sure, and aside from one really rude comment that tons of people have called out, the harshest thing that has been said was one person saying the letter sounded like it had some “middle class privilege and naivete” — and that’s it. Everyone else has been quite supportive.

          It’s interesting to me that so many people are getting the sense that people are calling the OP entitled, when there’s none of that actually happening!

      2. anonymous here*

        To clarify: I’m not saying it WON’T be harder to get a job, by the way. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. I’m also not saying traveling is the right option or grad school is the right option. It’s all variable.

        This is only in reference to the part where some people seem personally offended by OP’s letter and who have decided to come up with certain adjectives to describe her character.

    2. TL -*

      No, the OP will have worked at current job when she leaves to travel for a year (so she’s been there ~5 months at the writing.) “One job for seven months, and then I will be at this job for one year and five months. ” (emphasis mine).
      I think people are reacting to the OP’s reasoning that traveling will make her a better social worker and that this “self care” will be a net positive thing for her career as well as striking a blow for non-stable work histories. All of those things are unlikely to be true, so if the OP is working from that framework, it doesn’t make sense to encourage her.

      If the OP had written in worried that it would completely derail her entire career for the rest of her life, even though she could afford it and was young, I think the responses would have been entirely different and much more positive, though still tempered.

  22. Susie Carmichael*

    I guess I want to add that I have a dear friend who travels as much as she can possibly travel and does not come from money, she has a degree is social work as well, and has varied work history all within the umbrella of social services. It is an underpaid field, we all agree. But there are suggestions here that she should not travel because that is entitled behavior? She works hard to fit it in to her budget, finds creative and cheap ways to do it. Because it is important to her.

    There are a lot of assumptions that this OP is taking a year off because they come from money and can afford to do so instead of considering maybe they saved their money well when they were younger? Maybe they lived at home with their parents (who are blue collar maybe?) while they were in school and working the volunteer agency and didn’t have a lot of expenses until they relocated a couple years ago to find more work in social services? I don’t read that this OP is some snobby rich entitled brat and it’s really confusing that the comments I’m reading are suggesting such.

    And then so what if they are well-off? Only people who grew up struggling are effective social workers? I’m just confused by some of these comments that seem to be stating absolutes about the OP when none of that was mentioned in letter

    1. TL -*

      I actually don’t feel like people are talking about the OP’s monetary decisions at all, really. No one is lecturing her about budgeting or asking how she’s going to afford it. People are mostly talking about long-term career impact (likely) and some social workers are weighing in with concerns specific to the field, which I think is fair. But I’m not seeing a lot that’s directly related to the budget.

      A few people did say that travel was not likely to improve her social worker skills and that it may be detrimental for her to bring it up to her clientele, which is a fair point, but it’s not saying anything about having the experience itself (or whether or not she can afford it.)

  23. Tobias Funke*

    I spent a year and a half in child welfare being held personally responsible for outcomes by management. (I’m a clinician now.) Like Loose Seal said, in this field you can’t derive your satisfaction from outcomes. And I’m not sure what I’m picking up on in this letter, but LW strikes me as someone who will feel ineffective when there is no happy ending. And in social work much of the time, there is no happy ending. There’s TPR and arrests and DV and hospitalizations and relapse and suicide. And there are good outcomes too. But you cannot derive your satisfaction from any of them.

    1. John OP*

      I derive much of my pleasure in this field from the relationship building aspect of working with clients. I love using conversational techniques to provide an objective point of view that takes into consideration the options a client has in any given situations. I love being my client’s biggest cheerleaders in every choice and every outcome, good or bad. I’ve learned that outcomes are things that a rare but when they happen it is important to celebrate! I like accountability, setting goals, and teaching technology skills to people who have not been brought up learning those skills and how they can affect the job search. I understand the peaks and low points of this work, and I learn more about the good and the bad every day I’m on the job. So, I would politely disagree with that assessment.

  24. Laura*

    I took a year off to travel before grad school, and for me it was a really good decision. It helped me clarify my specialty within my grad program and helped with the mental separation necessary to follow through on the career change that I desperately wanted. I actually applied to grad programs while traveling and made my decision where to go while traveling. In retrospect, this part wasn’t such a great idea but it all worked out okay.

    If you’re going to spend a year traveling, right before grad school is probably the best possible time career-wise. It gives you something definite to go home to and a way to ease that transition rather than coming home to just job search. Assuming you go to grad school full-time, when you graduate employers will be thinking of you as a new graduate rather than as someone who just got back from a year of travel. Your past job history definitely matters, but it’s not the only thing. I put the travel on my resume as a one-liner, mostly to explain the gap, but I don’t think it really made much of a difference in either direction when it came to job searching. Most employers viewed me as a new Master’s grad.

    I know some other commenters have said that while you’re traveling you should make sure you also volunteer or work to have something to put on your resume. I disagree. A lot of personal growth can happen when you’re just traveling (particularly around less developed countries) and need to navigate adapting to different cultures and finding your way around a place where you don’t speak the language or know how things work. I highly encourage the OP to think about traveling beyond Europe, Australia, or other “easy” places. You will learn more about yourself and build real coping skills if you step further outside your comfort zone.

    If the OP is considering volunteering abroad while traveling, please do some serious research on the harm voluntoursim can have on communities, particularly children. DO NOT EVER volunteer in an orphanage. EVER. You can find many articles illuminating all the reasons why this is actually harmful for the children.

    1. Whats In A Name?*

      This is an excellent point: If you’re going to spend a year traveling, right before grad school is probably the best possible time career-wise. It gives you something definite to go home to and a way to ease that transition rather than coming home to just job search.

    2. John OP*

      Thank you for this perspective and helpful advice. My friend has also pointed out something you commented on: the idea that traveling just to travel, in and of itself, is enough. At first, I wanted to just volunteer everywhere I possibly could and get work-related experience. All of this aside, my travel plans look like this so far: I’m converting an old van into a travel camper for a trip around the US, and then considering hiking the Camino. I’ve also built a relationship with a farmer in Hawaii who has a farm where I can live for a month while working on their farm. Yay for new experiences!

  25. Pinniped*

    Hey OP, a question for you about travel and happiness. Have you travelled long-term before? The reason I ask is that I personally have super diminishing happiness returns from long-term travel. I feel I get the same benefits from a month on the road as I do from several months. I’m 29, and over the last decade I’ve taken a variety of trips between two weeks and six months long, and I find that after about a month I become desensitised to the novelty and challenge of it, and I don’t learn as much. If I’m travelling longer than a month, I find fulfilment from studying or working on a project in another place (and staying put there), rather than from constantly being on the move.

    I always thought I’d take a year off and travel in my 20s, but a bunch of awesome career opportunities meant I’ve stayed put. Now I suspect that I wouldn’t have enjoyed travelling for a year as much as I thought – I really value building my expertise and (hopefully) my contribution to the world, which it’s hard to do on the road. I’ve also negotiated with my employer to take about a month off for travel each year – I work in an underpaid, demanding industry, so it’s a benefit in a job where there aren’t loads of benefits, and my employer knows that travel is my main interest/hobby in life.

    Basically, I wonder if you could ‘have it all’ by taking shorter trips that fit in with your work and study commitments.

  26. John OP*

    Thank you all for the thoughtful comments!

    I can definitely recognize where people are coming from when they see some of my statements as naive and privileged — I want to acknowledge that I do speak from a privileged perspective being a young white male who is college educated with little debt who was raised in relative safety. It was helpful to be reminded of my tone and how I’m coming across and how that might come across to my clients. During my volunteer year, “unpacking” privilege was a huge theme and was something that was talked about constantly in our volunteer Community. All of this to say: I’m working on it, and I know that being a social worker means examining how my privilege affects decision making.

    The decision to attend grad school is no where near set in stone, which I should have made more clear. I’ve done research into the program and have conducted informational interviews with current members of the program to learn more, and I think the program would be an excellent fit for me since it is structured very similarly to the volunteer program. I am taking Amy’s advice and checking on deferment and my chances of being accepted. The most helpful comments came from folks, like Loose Seal, who have backgrounds in this field. I appreciate their comments and will need to ask myself important questions about the work as a way to determine if it is a career that makes me tick. Another commenter helpfully noted:
    “Give it this next year, so you have enough experience to double-check that your first job was a fluke because of the back-stage work environment and not the work itself.”

    Also this from Loose Seal about my other job:
    “Is it possible that they had a good handle on what it’s really like to be a social worker for that population and you came barreling in like a gamboling puppy who didn’t take the time to assess the situation and fit it”

    A huge theme that I’m pulling from the comments is that I should try to examine more deeply my desires to become a social worker. Thinking about a population that gets me excited is an important consideration. Aside from my full time job, I’m a youth mentor, do activism work, and work as a shelter volunteer as a way to work with different populations to understand their needs and to see if a spark arises for future career options.

    Im going to continue this year doing my work. Advocating for my clients, working hard, volunteering and doing some continued work around self examination and reflection. I appreciate the thoughts and words of encouragement and the helpful nudges to being proactive and pragmatic when planning for the future. Traveling is simply a plan, and I will continue to examine it as an option that, in my opinion, will bring a lot of value to my life. I have also never had the opportunity to travel, and this would be my first time outside of the US.


    1. Kay J*

      It’s cool to hear from you OP, and thank you for taking all of these comments (well, the polite ones at least, ignore the one everyone dogpiled for good reason) into account. Sounds like you can handle criticism and that’s one of the best skills to have.

    2. Loose Seal*

      Thanks for commenting!

      I wonder if you’ve made any decision whether you are more apt to go the clinical social worker route or the case manager route? If you like, there can probably be some talk in the open threads on Fridays with social workers where you can ask questions (general questions about the field, I mean). It might help you with your thought process on this. Either way, good luck with whichever path you choose!

      1. John OP*

        That’s helpful. I really get a lot of energy from the conversational part of the work. Like, using techniques like motivational interviewing to walk with the client while evaluating different options, and the consequences of those actions. Sometimes I get drained easy when doing case management referral work, like making linkages for a client to another service that may better serve them. I have friends in this field who really love building relationships with other agencies to make referrals. I’ll post into the Friday thread and see what’s going on!

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      One thought here — if you’ve never been outside the U.S. before, do that before committing to a year of travel. A year is a LONG time, and you might discover all sorts of things about travel that make you change your mind about how long you’d like to go for.

  27. J*

    I’m interested in this push-back against the idea of having “rock solid work histories” that I’ve come across in a couple of AAM comment sections. (Been digging in the archives; I don’t believe this is a recent theme.)

    The advantage of a “rock solid work history” is that it shows that you have experience sticking with something over long periods of time and are somewhat familiar with how to handle a project that grows/changes/reanimates-after-being-thought-dead. It’s the difference between a series of short-term relationships and being with someone long enough to have negotiated “we spent last Christmas with your family and I’d like to spend Easter with mine” a couple times around. Or how you’ll get something different from re-reading your favorite book 10 years later.

    My imagination fails to conceive of how this would ever not be a feature of work. Going deep, building expertise, seems to be built into the system for some professions. (Most? Many?) If you don’t stick around long enough, how will you get there?

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      I think part of the desire on the part of employers that you have a solid work history is more than just what it says about your character/work ethic—it’s the only basis they have for predicting how long you’ll stay at their company. The hiring and training process is taxing on an organization, and they won’t really start to reap the benefits until about six months after you’re hired. If you leave after six months or one year, they get 0 to 6 months of useful labor out of you.

  28. Whats In A Name?*

    Before I read any comments and get my point of view tainted, I want to say go for it. I say this for a couple of reasons
    1) If you are thinking and contemplating it hard enough to write in for advice on an internationally viewed advice column you may regret NOT doing it
    2) A negative learning experience is still valuable – even if you hate it, you’ll learn something.
    3) You are still relatively young, just out of undergrad – likely the most opportune time to do something like this.
    4) I have a friend who did just this – she sold EVERYTHING – car, furniture, clothes. Everything that couldn’t fit in a backpack. She then spent a year traveling abroad and blogged about it – she worked odd jobs, volunteered, met tons of new people. Her interest and work after undergrad were in sustainability and she brought a lot about what she learned/saw back with her and used her blog to build a foundation for her work. She also go a job within about 6 months of returning in her field.
    5) Regarding your parents, this is something people in previous generations just didn’t do and they probably see this as a lack of stability and are rightly concerned. Nothing will change that, but my guess would be they’ll support you no matter what in the end.

    Good luck!

    1. Elizabeth West*

      2) A negative learning experience is still valuable – even if you hate it, you’ll learn something.

      Ooh, that’s an excellent point! No effort is really wasted if you can get something out of it. Even complete failure has plenty of value to glean.

  29. Stevenz*

    Truly fascinating discussion especially about how expectations can or should vary depending on class/economic status/demographics, etc. Sure there are huge numbers of people who cannot afford to travel at all, whether for lack of money or their world view just doesn’t accommodate the idea. For example, when I lived in Milwaukee we had a secretary who had never been north of Wisconsin Avenue. I can’t imagine that, and what it does to one’s head, but she was quite satisfied with it.

    Point is, you don’t need $money$ to travel. Every year tens of thousands of people – young student types especially – come to New Zealand with only a work visa in their pockets. They work a little, travel around a little, work a little, lay on the beach a little, learn to herd a few sheep, and have a really good experience from it. They make good temporary friends, lifetime friends, see what life is like on the bottom of the world (it’s not exciting, which is part of the point), and then they go home and go back to school or start to work or otherwise get on with life. (The really privileged ones go on to do the same thing in Europe or India or Argentina). But travel can be done very cheaply and with lots of others to enjoy it with. Is it always great? Is it always safe? No, but staying on the south side of Milwaukee has its risks, too.

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