How to take time off from resume-building—and feel okay about it.
by Leah Coppella
Christina Ganotakis is the first-born. She’s also the first in her family to attend university. In her family, the push for academic excellence began early when, instead of signing her up for after-school sports, Ganotakis’s parents worked hard to ensure that she had a tutor throughout high school.
Ganotakis’ parents had worked long hours in their early life, too. When they began their life in Canada as immigrants from Ethiopia, her father worked 12-hour shifts, 6 days a week. Her mother was a bank teller, worked her way up, but couldn’t get as far as she’d wanted due to her lack of formal education.
“The lived experiences of our parents don’t make sense unless we have the highest education possible,” Ganotakis says. “It shows them that all the sacrifices they made and all the hardships that they went through were worth it.”
Over the course of an undergrad degree, Ganotakis worked four part-time jobs in her first two years, became director of communications for one of her programs, volunteered at several different clubs and started a charity with a friend.
“There were times where I was almost pulling full-time hours during the semester,” she says, all while maintaining good grades. “I got straight A’s, but what is the cost of that? I missed out on so many opportunities to hang out with friends, to make memories, time to see my family, one-on-one time with my partner.”
Eventually, and some may say inevitably, Ganotakis burned out. “I was severely depressed. I was on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication in my second year, but I didn’t really talk to anyone about it,” Ganotakis says. “I was in a lot of public spaces, but no one really knew what I was going through because I kept it to myself.” At one point, she came down with pneumonia, but didn’t receive that diagnosis until three months after her symptoms started, because she didn’t make time to see a doctor.
“I wasn’t showering, I wasn’t washing my hair, my acne had broken out, I was wearing the same clothes over and over again. I wasn’t eating properly, I would eat once a day sometimes but then I’d eat five times a day, other times,” she says.
At the time, Ganotakis felt that the unhealthy eating, the brain fog and the anxiety were worth it because she had received those elusive A’s. It wasn’t until she took a step back after graduating earlier this year that she realized “none of it was worth it.” But before this realization, Ganotakis had applied for a Master’s program in Migration, Mobility and Development at SOAS University of London. But upon reflection, she decided that if she wanted to go into this program with the best health available to her, she needed some time off from building her resume. It was a difficult decision that went against her parents’ guidance and example, but Ganotakis knows it’s what’s best for her—so she decided to defer her Master’s program for a year.
Career and life coach Tonya Pomerantz says taking time off, like Ganotakis has decided to do, can be majorly beneficial. Whether that means the ability to fully take time off work, to move to a lower-pressure job, or to simply reduce the number of resume-building commitments in one’s schedule, extended downtime can be an antidote to burnout. But for overachievers and those whose identities are tied to the robustness of their resumes, this can be really hard. Both Pomerantz and Ganotakis have some valuable insights on how to deal with these feelings:
01 • Give up on work-life balance.
Pomerantz says it’s not necessarily an equal balance between work and the life that we need, but the ability for each to flow into the other. This flow didn’t exist for Ganotakis.
“I lived in this idea that I wasn’t allowed to enjoy myself because I wasn’t finished with school yet. It put a strain on my relationships with my family members, with my boyfriend, with myself, and with work.”
02 • Return to your why.
“I know that I can make an impact on people,” Ganotakis says. After a heart to heart with her mother about her life as an immigrant, she saw motivation for a Master’s program that wasn’t based on expectations, but rather, her personal reasons for pursuing this career path in the first place.
“Her story brought me back to what I knew I always wanted to be. It brought me back to that core element of wanting to help people,” she says. “That is what solidified my decision to work with refugees, specifically climate refugees.”
Pomerantz explains the values we held as children tend to stick with us as we grow older. The noise of full-time jobs and school may cloud our vision, but ultimately, what mattered to us then in the most stripped-down form is what will still hold meaning in our future.
“Your values keep you on the track that you need to be on,” Pomerantz says. “It’s when you are not living in congruence with your values that you feel internal conflict.”
03 • Understand the internal and external factors.
Ganotakis has been seeing a therapist to help her build healthy coping mechanisms and deal with the trauma of school. “I don’t use that word lightly,” she says. “School was traumatic.”
It was traumatic because of the mental health problems it triggered, but for Ganotakis, it was also about racism she encountered on campus that diminished her value as a human being. “Being in predominantly white institutions, you feel that so much,” she says.
Pomerantz says that when in an environment that doesn’t feel entirely safe, decision-making is more difficult. That’s the importance of time away from these kinds of environments—it gives us the clarity and safety we need to make the right choices for ourselves.
04 • Live in the present.
When Ganotakis made the decision to defer her Master’s program, she had to welcome the fear and guilt that seeped in. “It was hard to accept that I had to do what was right for me,” she says.
Eventually, she sat with it. Leaned into it. And felt grateful that, for the first time, she had nothing weighing on her mind. “I remember just breathing. Just sitting on a couch and breathing and not having anything in my head at all, just being there. And it was the first time that I felt that in a really, really long time.”
This gratitude for the present is a key stepping stone to a life well-lived, according to Pomerantz. There are many ways to live in the now, but if you’re just getting started, Pomerantz suggests keeping a gratitude journal.
Ganotakis is now in the process of learning to be grateful for her present moment. She’s reading for fun. She’s people watching. “I had never gone a walk before just for me. It just felt really nice going for a walk downtown one day because I could,” she says.
“I’ve been slow, I have lived five years of my life living really fast and not taking a moment to enjoy where I’m at, who I’m with and what I’m doing, so now I’m just taking it slow. I’m just happy to be here.”
Writing her letter of intent for her Master’s program was an almost spiritual process for Ganotakis. It’s helped her realize what really matters.
“It made me wish that I had more to show for my life in terms of the kind of person that I am, rather than the kind of person that I look like on paper. Take time to just live the life that you’re in. Instead of constantly living in the future, I’m now finally enjoying my present.”