Jennie Sanders, 26, took a year out to indulge her passion for sailing and qualify as a professional skipper. She explains why:
After graduating in psychology from Durham in 1997, I came straight to London to work for Price Waterhouse Coopers, initially for six months, then on a three-year contract to train as a chartered accountant. I was a corporate tax consultant, dealing with the Inland Revenue and advising multi-nationals on how to reduce their tax bills, while studying for the Association of Chartered Accountants exams.
The exams were a hard slog; I had to work at weekends, when I would rather have been sailing. That's my passion; I had sailed with my family since I was 10.
Six months before qualifying, I realised I had spent 10 years focusing on exams and I began planning some time off. PWC spends a lot of money training accountants and wants to hang on to them, so they allow staff to take a sabbatical after four years' service.
I had always wanted to get the RYA Yachtmaster qualification - not for career reasons, but because it qualifies you to skipper a boat and I wanted to do that on holidays. So I joined the Flying Fish Yachtmaster Traineeship.
A turn as skipper
After initial training in the UK learning basic skills, we flew to Sydney, where we combined classroom work with sailing. There was a 12-day offshore trip when I had to take my turn as skipper. That taught me forward planning, organisation and managing people. I'd already had sailing experience when I started the course, so that gave me extra confidence and definitely helped me to focus on improving my leadership skills.
I spent the rest of my year off working on boats and travelling in Australia, then sailing to Ireland.
Soon after I got back, one of the partners interviewed me about what I'd got out of it. He was aware, as I was, that I had become more assertive. Then I got promotion! I am now a corporate tax manager, with six people working under me.
As well as having improved my work skills, I now race in a very competitive sports-boat class, which I do every Sunday nine months of the year.
I hope to take another career break when I can - but next time I'll use it to sail round the world!