A 30-Year-Old Quit Her Job, Took a One-Year Sabbatical, and Found Joy

Alma Rex-Ezonfade decided to quit her job and take an “adult gap year.”
Alma Rex-Ezonfade

  • Alma Rex-Ezonfade took a yearlong sabbatical after years of working non-stop.
  • She saved $51,300 for her sabbatical, which she spent on travel and exploring personal interests.
  • Despite initial struggles, she found joy in her time off and plans on taking more sabbaticals in the future.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with 31-year-old Alma Rex-Ezonfade based in Toronto, Canada. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

On my 29th birthday, I opened a savings account and put $500 in it. I had told myself that for my 30th birthday, I would gift myself a one-year sabbatical, and this was my first step in making that dream of taking an “adult gap year” a reality.

I was tired of working and always being on top of things. I immigrated to Canada from Nigeria when I was 22 for my master’s degree and started working right after graduating. It felt like I had been running on a hamster wheel, and I was just going, going, going, going.

I calculated my budget for the year

Before taking my gap year, I was a customer success manager at Astreya, making around 110,000 CAD ($80,500). I was also a content creator and was making nearly 200,000 CAD ($146,600) a year between my 9-to-5 salary and my income from working with brands and doing campaigns.

I calculated how much I actually needed to save based on my spending at the time.

For necessities like rent, car payments, groceries, gas, phone bill, and utilities, I estimated around 4,200 CAD ($3,100) a month. I also decided I wanted to travel, which I knew would be a bit pricey because I’m not a budget traveler. I planned for 18,000 CAD ($13,200) for two big trips and a number of smaller ones.

Altogether, I calculated that I would need to save around 70,000 CAD ($51,300) for my sabbatical, which I did by putting most of my content creator income into my sabbatical fund. If I didn’t have my job as a content creator, I would’ve picked up a part-time job to generate that supplemental income.

I also cut back on expenses. I was never too shy to just say, “I can’t afford that” or “I can’t do that activity,” because I was planning for something that had way higher priority than going out and spending $200 in one night.

I left my job but struggled to not do anything

Saving up took me a little longer than I had planned, but in April 2023, I quit my job.

The day I quit, I just spent the whole day at home, watching the TV blankly. I didn’t do anything else; I just needed my brain to shut off.

On Monday, I woke up at 8 a.m. as usual because I forgot that I didn’t have a job. Then I remembered I could sleep in, but I was already awake, so I tried to figure out what my new routine would be.

I started to put together a plan, and then I realized that would just defeat the whole purpose. The plan was to let go.

Still, I didn’t feel like I could just not do anything. I found myself planning for my upcoming trips, brainstorming content ideas for my YouTube channel, and posting more regularly on my Instagram page. I had thought about starting my own clothing brand for years, so I started working on ideas for that too.

One of my friends said to me, “The whole point was for you to not work. Why can’t you not work?”

The week after I quit, I checked myself into a hotel for a couple of days, ordered room service, and cried the entire time. They were tears of gratitude, tears of exhaustion, tears of relief. I was letting myself feel like, “Okay, I did it, and I’m here.”

I was used to being a high performer, managing a team, having deliverables, and doing all these things. I had to get used to the idea of not working and get over feeling like I wasn’t useful because I wasn’t being productive. I had to shift to having my validation come from my own happiness and seeing my value beyond my work output.

Three weeks into my sabbatical, one of my former bosses reached out to me to tell me about a contract role at Google that she wanted me to interview for. Honestly, I almost took it because I wasn’t used to the idea of not having work.

It took some getting used to, but eventually, I was able to go a whole week without doing any work.

Did I make the right decision?

The first few months when I was on sabbatical, I was so sad.

I looked at all the money that I had put in my sabbatical account and thought of everything else that I could have done with that money rather than lounge for a whole year.

Maybe I should just take it out and buy a house, I thought. I even asked my real-estate agent friend to look up properties for me, but I knew that if I bought the house instead, I’d be miserable, always wondering what I could’ve achieved if I just took the year off.

I remember talking to my therapist and trying to validate the decision time after time. At the end of the day, I realized that I was at the best point of my life to give this gift to myself. And when I settled with that a few months later, I started to have fun with the idea that I was on a sabbatical.

I learned to enjoy myself

I enjoyed having the luxury of time to do whatever I wanted.

I fell in love with working out again. I started coloring, drawing, and doing ceramics. I started reading again and got back into writing. I spent more time with myself and with my family. I picked up childhood hobbies again, like building Legos and taking Polaroid photos. I also cooked more and tried new coffee spots in Toronto.

Enjoying ceramics.
Alma Rex-Ezonfade

Some of my favorite memories from my sabbatical are the many days I spent just sitting on my couch watching TV and only getting up to eat. I finished all six seasons of Downton Abbey in one week. I also watched all of Schitt’s Creek as well as a lot of Korean shows.

Working on my clothing brand became a passion project. I learned about fabrics and the fashion industry — I enjoyed just learning things for the sake of learning.

I visited friends and family in other countries, did some birthday trips with friends, went on a seven-day cruise to the Caribbean, and spent four weeks traveling Europe.

Enjoying Punta Cana.
Alma Rex-Ezonfade

I plan to take many more sabbaticals

After a full year of my sabbatical, my sabbatical funds are almost fully drained, and my income as a content creator is keeping me afloat now. I thought I would be panicking about my finances, but taking this time off helped me develop a mindset shift; I know I’ll figure it out one way or another.

My fashion brand is launching this month, so I’m giving myself until around September to figure out what’s next. My plan is to then work in a corporate job for another three years to get more experience and knowledge, and then take another year off at 35, and I’ll repeat that cycle until I retire.

One of the biggest things I’m taking away from this sabbatical is realizing that a lot of things are not that serious. When you’re an immigrant, a lot of things are that serious; I had to start life over again in Canada and I had to excel at this life. But I realized that I needed to enjoy life.

I’ve never been this happy, and I’m the most broke I’ve ever been. To me, this year has really been about redefining what happiness looks like at different points in my life. My loved ones have pointed out that I’m less grumpy and controlling, and I shout less.

I just feel kind of sad that I had to take a whole year off of work to find joy in my life.

If you took a sabbatical and would like to share your story, email Jane Zhang at [email protected].

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