Welcome to the Ultimate Sabbatical Guide.
This is your starting point to begin exploring the concept as I answer questions like
- what is a sabbatical?
- why might one take one?
- what to expect from your sabbatical
- how to plan a sabbatical
- what to do in your first days and weeks and months
- how to plan and execute an exit from sabbatical and a return to work life.
and so on.
For each of these questions there are answers that are very correct and very practical but they do not do justice to the fact that sabbaticals are magic. They are portals to lives and places and people and relationships and careers that can only be termed as magical. They are medicines that reconnect you with a source of endless energy inside you -- your joy.
A portal onto new landscape
So, what is a sabbatical?
Simply put, a sabbatical is an extended break from work. There are a number of flavors of this break -- some people use it to enhance their qualifications by enrolling in an educational course, some people use it to travel or recover from burnout or to seek out inspiration when the day to day grind becomes too much.
A sabbatical can be any amount of time from three months to a year or more. It all depends on why you're taking it and how badly you want to escape your previous life, how badly you're burnt out and so on.
Traditionally the reserve of college professors and doctors, essentially designed to allow for further education and to stay current with advances in one's field, more and more people are using the time off work to advance in one's career. Far from being the prefered choice of wastrels and layabouts, sabbatical has been used as a tool of career progression amongst the world's most demanding professions. And the time has come to make it more mainstream, as more and more people find themselves in need to reinvention and realignment as they progress through their careers.
Why might one take a sabbatical?
As my Dad used to say --
Never change a winning game, always change a losing game.
If your career starts to feel heavy, sluggish, uninspiring, if you're exhausted or burnt out, if you feel that you need to upskill yourself to continue to thrive, it's time to make a change and sabbaticals are the best way I know of to do this.
A sabbatical is an investment in oneself.
What to expect during your sabbatical
I talk about this at some length in the 'On Sabbatical' section. We talk about the first few days, weeks and months, the feelings of blessed relief coupled with the panic of being unmoored for the first time in a while. We talk about the anxiety and the source of the anxiety. We talk about the importance of allowing the mind to settle, to reconnect with your joy, to go deep into something, to start to flow energy upwards and outwards into the world.
All these good things though come with their share of traps. You're a cortisol junkie gone cold turkey, there's bound to be withdrawals.
Largely you will be riding this curve -- it will feel a little odd at first and then as you learn to relax into whatever the Universe has in store for you, you will feel more and more joyful and energetic and you exit the sabbatical having found a new vibe and a new tribe and screaming Hallelujahs as you get back to work with enviable new vigour.
But that's not the only path out. And we'll discuss a lot more about exiting a sabbatical. After all the success of the sabbatical is very much determined by where you find yourself after it. We will be paying a lot of attention to crafting the perfect exit from your sabbatical.
Life abounds with practical matters that must be dealt with. The provision of food, shelter and other such material considerations necessary to live with dignity need to be tended to, whether one is gainfully employed or not. Older people with families have complicated financial situtations where income streams cannot be halted without proper planning. All this is true and all this is not even the hard part.
Spouses, parents, friends, children, etc -- all of these are participants in your sabbatical. It is necesasary to calm their fears before embarking on a sabbatical because in the early days, you will need all the support you can get to not bounce from this weird and unfamiliar world that you've just entered.
And planning isn't even the hard part. The hard part is letting the plan play out in real life. You put together 12 months of savings but won't spend anything on your sabbatical because fear. And this is the great man-behind-the-curtain. Fear.
In the end we realise that it's just shadows of the mind. That so many of those fears are fake. And this is the great victory from sabbatical -- our victory over our fears over imaginary futures. But that is in the future. For now we still have to rise above the mind-killer.
The number one anxiety people have is that their time off will derail their career because they'll be unable to find a job after their break. But the list doesn't stop at one. There are whole swathes of various anxieties that come from letting go of a large part of one's identity. In my chapter on Anxiety, I'll talk about some of these and strategies for dealing with this anxiety.
Matters of Identity
People develop their relationship with work through watching their parents work. But unfortunately, the world our parents worked in has disappeared and so our attitudes towards work can be quite outdated. I know of so many people who are burnt out but won't give themselves permission to take a break because 'my father never burnt out. I don't want to fail him', without realising that nothing about your work life resembles theirs.
Other anxieties abound - social pressure to be productive for example, or fear of falling even further behind a peer group. And what society doesn't do for us, we do for ourselves -- beating ourselves up with guilt, absurd stories of how we can never amount to anything, telling ourselves we're fine when the head hurts and so on.
There is no shortage of unproductive mindsets when it comes to work and career. And an unhealthy mindset is the biggest danger to a productive sabbatical as it can cause us to bounce from our sabbatical prematurely.
Even so, we have to navigate the tension between our fears and our desires. Too much fear and we start wanting to control the outcome and fall back into unhelpful ways of working. In the worst case, we bounce from the sabbatical thinking that three weeks of afternoon naps has rejuvenated us.
You're not alone
I know that if you're burnt out, you're not alone. I know because as someone who speaks publicly about taking career breaks, dozens of people reach out to me to talk about this. And I have heard the same story so many times that I can tell you quite confidently that you're not alone.