Choosing Yourself: When it’s time to take a breather


I started working when I was twelve. I swept the floors and wiped down the shelves for a gas station that had an attached grocery area. I got paid in cash and made more money than I could baby-sitting. I took other jobs at a Dairy Queen and a restaurant and worked all the way through high school. I didn’t go to college. Instead, I got married and had kids, but always held down a job. I steadily advanced in every organization I joined and switched employers when better opportunities presented themselves to me.

I’ve just been offered a higher-prestige, high-stress position. It comes at just the right time, as I recently divorced my husband, have no reason to go home at night, and have money from the sale of our house. All my friends are telling me to go for it, and I’m scared not to take it. What if I never get another chance like this? But I’m physically tired and emotionally exhausted. I’m in my mid-40s and wonder what you think.


You’ve worked steadily for three decades; you’ve just gone through a difficult personal event, and you’re tired. I think you deserve a breather.

Here’s an alternative to your friends’ advice. Step off the job treadmill. Make a short-term investment in yourself for a long-term gain.

Pushing yourself past exhaustion isn’t productive. You won’t perform at your best. You might resent the job, burnout, or crack under pressure. You might develop negative coping mechanisms to handle the stress. Instead, take some time to reset and renew yourself. You can then return to productive work refreshed and ready for new opportunities. If you give yourself the time to assess your life and what you want in your next three decades, you’ll come back strong.

I realize it’s scary to turn down an offer and to leave a steady income. Many of us have our lives and identities interwoven in continued movement up the status ladder, or at least in taking the next step right away. You might worry that by “casting yourself adrift,” you’ll not be able to come back to a secure job. Except—you’ve shown work ethic and the ability to secure job after job for three decades. Perhaps it’s time to prioritize yourself and your mental, emotional, and physical health.

Here’s how to gracefully turn down this offer, and leave the door open with this employer. “I’m excited by the thought of working for your company. At the same time, I’ve worked steadily since I was twelve, have recently experienced a onetime challenge, and think I should take a few months off, so I’ll be one-hundred percent ready to work full-out in my next job. I hope you will let me know if something opens up in the future.”

Then, take a month or two to heal. Try things you haven’t had the opportunity to while working and raising kids. You can explore new and different skills, like AI, so you return to the job market with new skills, or even a new career path. By giving yourself this gift of time to recharge, you’ll gather your strength and set the stage for a long-term, fulfilling career journey.

P.S. If you enjoyed this somewhat personal post, you’ll like the real-life writing you find on

(c) 2023 Lynne Curry, PhD.

6 thoughts on “Choosing Yourself: When it’s time to take a breather

  1. Lynne, I think you’re suggestion on this is excellent. Though I think I’d propose one other alternative:
    Amend your “I hope you will let me know if something opens up in the future.” to “Would you be willing to allow me to take a (3-to-6) month breather so I can give you my best?”
    Then, she’s can eat her cake and still have it waiting.

  2. A possible second alternative would be to take the job, but to prioritize self-care. The reason I suggest this is because I recall reading studies that the biggest stressors that a human can deal with is the loss of a loved one, divorce, job loss, and moving. You’re supposed to avoid having more than one of those in a one year period, if possible. Additionally, the job market in general is getting worse instead of better and putting off taking this job may have long term consequences. I’d be inclined to take the job but negotiate for more PTO up front (I requested 2 additional weeks per year when I applied for my current job and they didn’t even quibble). Perhaps also negotiate for a hybrid schedule allowing some work-from-home to avoid stressful commutes. Look for ways to take care of yourself and land the dream-job.

  3. Beautiful advice! Sometimes we have to stop our world and get off to find ourselves again. When we do, we’re more likely to exceed in ways we might not have been able to before.

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