Meet Plan Go: Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

Meet Plan Go in New York City

I think this picture of me expresses how most people feel when they’re contemplating the possibility of ditching their 9 to 5 in order to embark on their dream journey.

Back in 2003, I graduated college and decided to delay employment for fifteen months. Instead, I traveled the world. I surfed the best waves, started writing novels, and learned that I could take care of myself even when the proverbial shit hit the fan. In one instance, the shit was my surfboard fin and the fan was my head. But, I managed to paddle my bloody scalp out of sharky waters, hitch a ride to the island’s “medical center,” and even score a free room at the clinic and free meals with a Maori tribe.

On that trip, when my funds ran low, I survived off of the rice and spice that I would find on a hostel’s free food shelf. Or I found work in neighboring towns and hitchhiked with an IRA member to my illegal job. (No, I wasn’t making bombs for the Irish radicals, I just didn’t have a working visa to be the busboy in a Bundoran bar.)

As I describe that trip nine years later, I can only sum up my experiences with this cliche truth: It was the trip of a lifetime.

Today, I have a job that fits my lifestyle. (I teach.) But not everyone has ten weeks off each summer and they’re convinced by friends and family that it would be pure lunacy to leave a job in this economy.

Career breaks are not for everyone, but for those who would love to live their deferred dreams, you’ll always ask yourself “When is the right time?” And most people will ask this question well past the right time’s expiry. I think everyone with these ambitions would benefit from having a group of like-minded individuals. It turns out there is a group like this: Meet Plan Go.

Meet Plan Go

Meet Plan Go in New York City

Meet Plan Go’s slogan, which was projected onto the wall of North America’s largest hostel, is Realize Your Career Break Dreams. Most of the individuals attending the October 16th meetings, which were taking place in ten cities across North America, were reading that slogan without pause, recognizing Career Break as a linked phrase. But those who were nervous, could have easily misread it. Realize Your Career… Break Dreams. No matter how the New York crowd read it, if a career break was on their mind, they were in the right place, either to assuage their fears or confirm their concerns.

Hopeful travelers mingled in the conference room, sipping back Estrella beers (one of the evening’s many sponsors).

“I see you want to go to India,” a girl who was eye level with my name tag noted.

We had all written down our names and dream vacations on these stickers. Antarctica, Southeast Asia, New Zealand were on most bucket lists.

“Sure,” I told her, never really sure where I want to go, but happy to answer the question differently each time.

I spoke to one woman who had attended last year’s Meet Plan Go event. At the meeting, she learned about micro-financing from one of the panelists, which was the impetus for her trip to Puno, Peru, where she worked with residents of that impoverished economy.

Meet Plan Go, which started as a resourceful Website for those considering a career break, grew out the “Meet” in its name by hosting annual, inspirational events.

Sherry Ott, one of the co-founders, began the conference by telling future career-breakers: “There are two ways to jump off a cliff… But the plain fact is most people won’t take the leap.” She peered down at the crowd on her figurative precipice. “This is why we’re here tonight: To get you over the ledge.”

When a raise-your-hand-poll was taken to see where on the ledge audience members stood, about 40% were in the process of planning trips, an equal amount had classified themselves as dreamers, while only 20% had ever taken the leap before. Ott then announced her “Big, hairy, audacious goal”–To make career breaks so convincing that they will one day appear on every resume. It seemed as plausible as Newt Gingrich’s moon colony, though it would be very cool if both Ott and Gingrich saw their dreams to fruition. (That was not an endorsement of Gingrich for 2016.)

A panel discussion moderated by National Geographic’s Rainer Jenss, who had taken a yearlong career break with his wife and two young sons, followed Ott’s speech. While the panel did a good job mitigating the usual pre-trip trepidations, they also offered up fun tips and dramatic stories.

Writer Christine Maxfield taught me that I can split the lining of my wife’s bras and have her hide hundred dollar bills inside. (My wife will be pissed when I tell her of this weekend’s arts and crafts project.) Panelist Russ Brooks informed the crowd that he’d been mugged, stabbed, and shot… But all these misadventures occurred in the United States. (Important note: Nobody asked if Russ was taking a career break from being a mobster.) But I think people took his point: Sometimes our fears of travel are irrational. Afterward, there were twenty-minute breakout sessions, where attendees received tips on everything from budgeting to safety, depending on the group they joined.

After the event, I spoke with Jenss, who had first heard of Meet Plan Go in The New York Times. “I felt so strongly connected to what they were doing that I reached out to them,” he told me. “I was really inspired to help other people who weren’t sure if they could do something like this or should do something like this.”

“I find myself thinking what’s the next ambitious thing,” he said after describing his yearlong break as liberating. “It’s exciting… But you have to ask yourself what is it that’s motivating you,” Jenss warned. “I found the reason to do this because of my kids.”

So, I ask you, what is it that’s motivating you to (or stopping you from) taking a career break? Express yourself in the comments section below.

Posted on by Noah Lederman in New York, Or Bust

5 Responses to Meet Plan Go: Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

  1. Justin Lewis

    First off good article. I had read about the events a few weeks back but sadly none in my city. I’ve always travelled and loved it. Did 3 months in South America after college. Then went to work for 3 years. Paid off all my student loans and saved. Quit my job April 2011 and left. Plan was to go for a year or so until the money ran out. It was fantastic. Every little bit of it. Miss it dearly. I did 8 months in one region (asia) and planned it continue going until I shattered my radius. Hit a monkey on a motorbike. Had surgery in Asia and my trip was ended abruptly sending me home with 5 screws and a metal plate. But it didnt stop me. I knew I could travel 3rd world countries while trying to rehab my arm. I recovered for a bit in FL and then packed up my belonging and spent the whole ski season living in Vail. Was fantastic. Then did a few months of road-trips around the US. After 15 months I decided to go back to work. Get a little experience, a challenge, and some money.

    Been back in the corporate world 2 months and it has been a tough transition. I would never regret it and would do it in heart beat as I feel I have unfinished business being sent home early. Damn monkies. The sad part is I have no one talk to my adventures about. Things that jog your memory that no one else will get. I try to remind myself of those times. I have picture at my house. Wear a necklace I had made in India. It’s the little things to keep the dream alive and well.

    For anyone that questions it just do it. Not a single person questions it on my resume.

    If you guys ever do an event in Denver let me know.


    • Justin Lewis

      Sorry for the crappy grammer and spelling. Hit finished before I proof read. Looks pretty terrible…LOL

    • Noah Lederman

      Thanks for your input. I’m glad to hear, despite injury, the trip changed your life and kept you traveling around the States after your motorbike accident. It’s also nice to hear that your career break was well respected in the corporate world. By the way, sorry to hear about your arm and that poor/damn monkey.

  2. Juliann

    This sounds like a great group and great idea. I’m not at a career-break point in my life but envy those who are. Actually, my career is what is allowing me to do most of my international travel right now, so I have no reason to quit. But someday, I’ll take a sabbatical, or retire, and travel to my heart’s content with my family.

    • Noah Lederman

      I think that if a job allows you to travel then it’s a job worth having. I wanted to take a sabbatical this year, but they suspended them thanks to our economy. But I can’t complain. I’m in the same situation as you: work that allows me to travel and a retirement on or before–not over–the horizon. Most people can’t say the same.

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