Christopher Gehring left his engineering job to take a career break and focus on his health.He said his cholesterol and blood pressure were high and he was close to being classified as obese.In April, Gehring — who’s returning to his former employer this spring — ran the Boston Marathon.LoadingSomething is loading.Thanks for signing up!Access your favorite topics in a personalized feed while you’re on the go. download the appThis as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Christopher Gehring, an engineer who’s wrapping up a yearlong career break.As a Gen Xer, I remember when hustle culture was the norm.Leaving a promising career just to take a break was almost unheard of — and if someone did decide to step back, it was viewed with suspicion. But things are different now, and the need for flexibility and balance has become more widely recognized. Taking time to care for yourself and your family is now seen as a healthy choice rather than a sign of weakness.For me, taking a career break was the best thing I ever could have done for myself.I can be an intense person and fall into periods of workaholism. Last year, my job — I’m an engineer who worked at a medical-device company — had become very stressful. I was putting in 60- to 70-hour weeks, including nights and weekends. We were launching a breakthrough product, and the work needed to get done. It was rewarding, but I was neglecting my health. I ate poorly, slept too little, and rarely exercised.When I went for a checkup in the winter of 2022, my doctor didn’t need to say a word. The numbers spoke for themselves: My cholesterol and blood pressure had skyrocketed, and I was dangerously close to being classified as obese.Though my employer didn’t offer sabbaticals, I remembered colleagues from past jobs who’d taken leaves of absence for personal reasons, and I knew I needed to do the same.Becoming a serious runnerThe decision to take a professional break wasn’t one that required a great deal of planning on my part. I’m lucky to be in a position of financial security. I have sources of passive income, and I can buy health insurance from my state. Besides, I didn’t think I was going to be out of the workforce long — six months tops.In April, I left my job without any concrete ideas of how I wanted to spend my newfound free time. I wasn’t interested in traveling the world or writing the next great American novel. Instead, I wanted to tackle some long-overdue organizational projects around my house and spend time with my friends and family, including my elderly mother, my brothers and sisters-in-law, and my niece and nephews. With my nose to the grindstone, it was harder to maintain those relationships. Finally I had time to spare.I did have one semi-ambitious goal in mind: to become a more serious runner. I’d completed a few half-marathons in the past — or rather, I’d survived them. I was younger and managed to finish through pure adrenaline. So I enlisted the help of a private coach and a dietitian and joined a local running club to stay motivated.As I got fitter and faster, I lost 25 pounds, and my cholesterol levels dropped to those of a healthy 19-year-old. After participating in two half-marathons last fall, I decided to take on a greater challenge: the Boston Marathon, the most prestigious of them all.I joined up with the charity running team from Mass Eye and Ear, where my late father was an ophthalmologist. I ran in his honor and raised funds for the hospital.It was a wonderful experience. The marathon course winds through towns I grew up in and past the hospital where I was born. It was really emotional, feeling the crowd’s energy and knowing my dad would be proud of me.A time of refreshment and renewalEarlier this week, I accepted a job with my former employer. As much as I’ve enjoyed this career break, I’m ready to get back to work.This has been a time of refreshment and renewal for me. And I’m returning to my company with a new perspective and understanding of what I can do and what I can offer — but also with a sharpened sense of my responsibility for my health. I’m accountable for maintaining my own boundaries. I’m going to give 100% of my effort during work hours, and when I’m off, I’m off.I’d encourage anyone in need of a professional break to find a way to make it happen.For some, the loss of income is a big obstacle. I understand that; I’m a practical person. You need to weigh the benefits of the time off against the potential financial loss.But it’s important to have perspective and think about the long term. A break might allow you to resume your career in a position of greater strength. Maybe you’ll come back a more productive worker ready for a promotion. If nothing more, it will give you a deeper understanding that achieving a balance between work and health is crucial for a fulfilling and sustainable career.