Mind the Gap: Should You Take a Break After Leaving Service or Between Jobs?

Mind the Gap: Should You Take a Break After Leaving Service or Between Jobs?
Consider these guidelines if you've decided to take a break after leaving uniform. (Photo by pixdeluxe/Getty Images)

Historically, it has been considered taboo to have a gap in your résumé for any reason. But is that still true?


No doubt you will find varying opinions, and the decision to take time off is unique to every person. If you’re thinking about stepping away, here are few things to consider:



Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is my “why” – the purpose or reasons for taking some time off?
  • Am I tired and/or burned out?
  • Do I know what I really want to do in my next phase of life?
  • Do I have the means to take a break in salary – if so, for how long?
  • What is the cost to my health and family if I do not take a pause?
  • In addition to rest and relaxation, how else will I invest my time?


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Unlike many of your career moves while in service, this is a decision you get to make. You are not going to go stale or shrivel up in 30, 60 or 120 (or more) days out of uniform. The life experiences, maturity, and wisdom you bring to the table have staying power and are likely the reasons for which you will be hired.


Talk to your mentors – in particular, those who have gone before you. Pay special attention to those who took a break, and to those who didn’t and wish they had. Gathering different opinions will help inform your personal decision.



If you have determined time off is right for you (and your family), it is important to make sure you maximize your time and achieve the results you seek while mitigating stress.


The first step may be to determine a timeline. Be honest with your self-appraisal: You may not need or want as much time off as you originally thought, or you might need more time to achieve the personal goals you’ve set.


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That’s why it is important to identify those goals: rest, travel, family time, networking, informational interviews, etc. Hold yourself accountable so that at the end of your break, you can look back at your tangible achievements. This will also help mitigate stress should you question your decision to take time off.


Understanding your financial situation is another key to stress management:

  • Know your basic expenses, and if needed, eliminate any extraneous things for the near term.
  • Know your sources of income – retirement pay? VA disability? Weekend drill pay if in transition (presumably you wouldn’t work more if the point is to take a break)?
  • Consult a financial adviser who can provide creative near-term solutions so you can get the rest and relaxation you may truly need.


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Remember, taking time off while putting yourself in financial peril will only add to your stress, not alleviate it.   


Execute (aka Enjoy!)

Do what you set out to do in your goals. If rest is a priority, make sure you do exactly that. Do not busy yourself with too many chores and administrative items – those create stress too. Schedule down time and play time – literally. Both are extremely important to physical and mental fitness.


You may be called upon to explain your time off in either personal or professional settings. Be confident when sharing your story, but do not overshare. It is no one’s business to know your personal affairs, medical status, or other factors in your decision to take time off.


Craft a truthful statement that speaks to your decision. It might sound something like one of these:

  • “After serving in the military, I (or my spouse and I) made a personal (or family) decision to take time away from work so I could spend some real, quality down time to rest, relax and reconnect with family and friends. It was such a gift! Now I am ready to get back to work!”


  • “I haven’t had the summer off since high school and my timing was perfect! I will start my job search after Labor Day!”


  • “I can’t remember the last time I took a nice long break around the holidays. I am really looking forward to this unique time! After all, my vacation clock will be zero when I start working again. May as well enjoy it!”


In my humble opinion, taking a break demonstrates excellent self-awareness –a wise, prudent, and courageous decision showing you’ve overcome the fear of “gap-taboo” or scarcity mentality. And others are going to respect you for it! I have never met a veteran who took time off and regretted it.


To support your decision, MOAA offers a suite of transition services and resources including webinars, workshops, LinkedIn profile review, résumé critique, and career counseling/coaching. When you’re ready to reconnect professionally, check out the MOAA events page to take part in upcoming offerings.


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About the Author

Cmdr. Erin Cardinal, USN (Ret), ACC, CPC
Cmdr. Erin Cardinal, USN (Ret), ACC, CPC

Cardinal is MOAA's Program Director, Transition Services & Family Programs. She is a Certified Professional Coach (CPC) and has extensive experience in coaching servicemembers through their transition from active duty to the civilian sector.