Career advisors, whether it’s a person, a book, or a blog, often advise people against “gaps” in their resume. The common wisdom is that employers don’t like to see breaks in job history because it sends a bad signal to the company.
In reality, however, the best thing you can do for your company is to hire the person who quit their job to travel the world.
I started thinking about this again when my sister recently traveled to South America. Within the first day of her trip, she found herself navigating transportation, housing, and dietary logistics in a country where she wasn’t fluent in the native language. That was all in the first day! As someone who has quit their job to travel internationally, I can tell you that most of the time the trip doesn’t go as smoothly as planned. But every time something goes wrong, you learn how to adapt to a rapidly changing environment and make the most of it.
The three best qualities of a colleague and an employee are creativity, resilience, and perseverance, and when you’re traveling internationally, you learn all three very quickly.
Have you ever needed to ask a person for directions when you don’t speak the same language? Very quickly you’ll see people resorting to made-up sign language, Pictionary, and charades performances that would put my last game night to shame.
Now, how often do we all find ourselves in a business negotiation and we recognize our miscommunication with the other side? International travel helps a person develop creativity to solve problems that come-up in the course of everyday life.
I was hiking in Central America once when I dropped my backpack off a cliff and lost my camera, wallet, and passport. It took me three weeks of coordinating with the U.S. Embassy to replace my passport, and all the time I was stranded without a way to leave the country.
For better or worse, this kind of thing can happen all the time when you’re traveling, and you have to develop a sense of resilience and an ability to laugh at these moments. This is an invaluable skill in the workplace because we all come up against challenges – market dynamics, competition, and global events can shake up the world and we need to be able to roll with the punches.
If you’ve ever talked to someone who has taken a 40-hour train or a plane-train-boat-tuktuk trip to get somewhere, then you know that perseverance is the name of the game. And since we’re all too familiar with major work and looming project deadlines, you can see the relationship between long, uncomfortable travel and the slog that never seems to end with late nights and early mornings at work.
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We need to take deliberate steps to embrace this type of experience as valuable additions to a person’s career growth. When you get the chance, ask that person who’s spent time traveling about their experience. You’ll be impressed at how much it helped them grow as a person, and how much stronger they are as an employee.
If we want to develop a workforce that can respond to a changing competitive environment and who can help accelerate growth in our businesses, then we need to reward the people who take the step outside of their comfort zone to travel internationally. The more we work to do so, the stronger our businesses and teams will be.
If nothing else, office happy hours will be entertaining while we get a rendition of what it took to ask for directions without speaking the language!
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