PharmaView: Time Away from a Life in Big Pharma

“It is worth having dreams,” and worth fulfilling them, says former Novartis employee Anna Kroczak.

By Paul Thomas, Senior Editor

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There are times in each of our lives when work gets to be too much. We hear a whisper inside our heads: Just quit. Leave. Take time off. Do something big. Travel. Live life now, before it’s too late.

We hear the whisper yet easily dismiss it: Not now. I can’t afford it. I have obligations.

Anna Kroczak heard the whisper, too. When her department at Novartis Consumer Health in Nyon, Switzerland went through a restructuring early last year, she decided it was time for a change and left her job. An experienced project manager and expert in pharmaceutical manufacturing, Anna would have been attractive to other companies, even in a down economy. But instead of hitting the job market, she first hit the road—setting off on a round-the-world trip with her husband, Alek, and 10-year-old son, Marcin.

Tokyo, Kyoto, Bali, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, San Francisco, New York, and more. Now back home, Anna wouldn’t trade her experience for anything. Even as workers at Novartis and other manufacturers in the EU—including in Anna’s native Poland—face layoffs and uncertainty, she feels more confident than ever to get started on the rest of her career.

“I am sure there will be employers, headhunters or HR people who will not like my choice, who might call it ignorance or lack of seriousness,” Anna says. “But I just need one employer who can see and understand the positive sides of such a decision and all the benefits I have taken from it—for myself and for everybody around me, including my future employer.”

We might not have the ways and means to travel the world. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn something from Anna. At our request, she has written down some of her thoughts about the importance of her time away:

Back from Sabbatical—How Will My Career Go Forward?
If you had asked me one year ago whether I would like to go on a Round the World trip, I would have told you it was impossible. Our jobs, our careers, our son’s school . . . all the obligations we had.

But we wanted it so much—to travel all together as a family and not to wait for it until we were retired. We managed to get our sabbaticals from work, we agreed on the itinerary, prepared the budget, bought the Round the World ticket, read some travel books and off we went. Sydney

This trip was, for our family, a source of incredible power and energy. It has increased our self-awareness, given us the chance to discover and rediscover each other, to understand who we are and what we want from life.

The value of problems is different now; there is less stress and much more joy and happiness.

We had so many contacts with people all around the world. We are members of the Servas organization, which makes traveling a bigger and more real adventure. People invite you to sleep in their homes, they offer you their hospitality and you learn a lot about the way they live and their culture. What an incredible learning experience it was. It has really enriched our lives.

During the trip we completely disconnected from anything that was part of our everyday life before. We started noticing the beauty and simplicity of life, the amazing views and the incredible landscapes. I want to remember this now that I am back to reality. I want to make sure that I enjoy the simplicity of life even when I am back in my complicated world.

Food was important. Our goal was to eat well and local, to discover as much of different dishes as possible. The culinary experience was amazing. It will be a pleasure to try to include some of these foods in our daily menu back at home.

Our son has grown up and we have suddenly had time to notice it. He has never spent that much quality time together with his parents. We were hiking, swimming, sailing, windsurfing, diving, walking on long wild beaches; we have seen animals and plants we have never seen before. But we were also visiting museums and temples, learning and discussing history, geography and culture. The learning for him and for us was enormous.

We have fulfilled dreams which were ending up on our New Year’s resolutions list for years now.

It gives us great power to realize that dreams can be fulfilled. It is worth having dreams, it is important to believe they will come true one day. As per the old saying: “You do not regret the things you have done but those you did not do.”

Looking for a job is a very positive experience for me now. I know what I want from life. I have come back reassured on what values and principles are important for me and why. I realize what my strengths are, what my experience is, what my value in the job market is.

Will this experience help me in my career going forward? I have no doubts it will. But I will be able to prove it only some time from now when my job search, which I am just starting, proves successful. My work/life balance has moved a lot to the life side during this trip and it is time now that it comes back to normal/equal.

I have learned so much in such a short time and would recommend this kind of experience to everyone. Just go for it, you will never regret it.

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