7

The Psychology of Sabbaticals

Knowing how to manage your psychological states are often the difference between a successful sabbatical and an unsuccessful one.

Deciding to take a sabbatical can be fraught with all kinds of unpleasant psychological states. Fear about the future, anxiety about loss in social status, burnout, financial worries and so on all make their appearance. Knowing how to deal with them can make the difference between a successful sabbatical and an unsuccessful one.

The Prelude

The problems begin early. In fact, so early that by the time you realise that there's a problem you're already going through burnout. Burnout creeps up on one the same way one goes broke - slowly at first and then all at once. One morning you wake up and the world is grey and the inside of your mouth is grey and wouldn't it just be wonderful if we could just lie here forever?

So in terms of psychological games, we're already behind the 8 ball even before the break. Burnout brings shame (how did my parents manage? I must be shit!) that prevents us from taking the necessary steps to heal. And no sooner has one realised that things cannot continue like this that we're faced with the impossibility of the ask - leave my job? without another one in hand? Impossible, right? Right?

What will people say? What if I don't get another job? I can't afford it. Oh the shame!

Well, one day you finally figure that it's either take that break or die and you take the break. Ah, delicious freedom, right?

The Wages of Freedom

Yes, it's delicious. Like crab. You don't really get to the delicious parts without a fight. Your mind is waiting for you, patiently and just when you're feeling like a champ for taking your break it attacks - you will never amount to nothing, it whispers in your ear. You're a disgrace for needing rest, it knocks around inside your head. Do you even have a plan bro? it cackles as you binge watch Netflix.

You're going broke. Your family resents your lazy ass and so on and so forth.

Freedom then, it seems, isn't free.

But if you hang in there you will find something start to shift. Each day the anxiety wanes a little bit more. One day you wake up and don't have a scary thought until after lunch and you realise that those mindgames seemed so serious and now they seem so small. How? Were those fears all fake?

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The Depths

And then suddenly, like the floor below you disappears, the relaxation deepens to a point where you're convinced that you'll never work again and you're ok with that. It would scare you but you're just too blissed out to really think about it too much. Yes, at some point you will drag yourself back to work but that's a worry for another day, you muse as you apply the finishing touches on your watercolor. Yes you're a painter now.

The Exit

And at some point, you pack away your easel and realise that you're completely unhireable now. HRs will cackle about your CV in their breaks between playing petty politics and crushing human souls. Your friends will refuse to refer you because you're too much of a rebel. 'It's a real shame', they will agree with each other over drinks at the Employed Persons Clubs.

Mindgames everywhere!

As we've seen, there's psychological stuff to deal with at every step of the sabbatical. And your sabbatical should lead to you blasting away from your old orbit to a new and better one, filled with energy, all engines firing and escape velocity comfortably exceeded. Not even an inconvenience.

But in order to do that, we will have to play each of these mindgames and win. For some situations, we will have to play Judo, at other times Chess, and at still others, bare-knuckled boxing. 

At each stage of the sabbatical, a different mind game breaks out. In the subsequent chapters in this section I will show you the games, how to recognise when they have changed and the correct strategies to deploy at each stage.