What is a sabbatical?

What is a sabbatical?

Sabbatical is just a fancy word for 'career break'. Traditionally it has been the reserve of academics, university professors, scientists and so on who take a break from their normal stuff and go chill for a little while. A break in the routine so that they can indulge in rest and recovery, some research, some play, some attention to other aspects of one's personality.

There are some things that are luxuries that money cannot buy. An afternoon nap is one of them. A career break to just chill is another of them. It is the sign of a prosperous and civilized society to have a professional class that enjoys sabbaticals and as a result lives a richer and more fulfiling life. 

In fact, it may be a civilizational imperative that the professional classes of society cultivate a depth, a seriousness, a sense of joy and wonder that allows them to collectively build a world that is not so uni-dimensional, a world that enjoys and celebrates a life of the mind and the heart, in addition to a life of accumulating wealth.

The ancient Indian texts talk about this

Purushartha (Sanskrit: पुरुषार्थ, IASTPuruṣārtha) literally means "object(ive) of men".[1] It is a key concept in Hinduism, and refers to the four proper goals or aims of a human life. The four puruṣārthas are Dharma (righteousness, moral values), Artha (prosperity, economic values), Kama (pleasure, love, psychological values) and Moksha (liberation, spiritual values, self-actualization).[2][3]

And the reason this is there in the ancient texts is because balancing these four duties is societally and civilizationally important. We have a lot of material on the Artha part of life. We need someone to talk about how important the other three are -- the path of desire, guided by one's values, towards liberation.

Hustle culture and all is great but I am sure by now we're all ready to look at some alternatives. It seems logical that there should be paths apart from the omnipresent 'sigma grind'. A more gentle, more civilized, more examined, more deep experience of life is available. It is my mission to get as many people to taste this as possible.

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Like entrepreneurship, life on sabbatical has a purpose all its own. The opportunity to go deep and study something is so amazing. The opportunity to travel and read and think and feel and climb and swim, to live a more almost primal life. This is a wonderful thing.

And nothing bad need happen from doing this. You will do it, you will feel better, life will feel amazing and after you will find your feet. Trust yourself to do that.

So the Sabbatical Handbook is exactly what it says on the cover - the handbook for people who want to take a career break. And the desire to take this break can be for whatever reason - exhaustion, boredom, FOMO, poor compensation. A well taken sabbatical can really have a positive impact on your life trajectory.

There is also a more serious side to this. I fear we might be on the precipice of mass mental overwhelm. The global information networks have taken over our lives. The blue light of their screens pervades deep into our nights. The exposure is relentless and continuous. In the coming years, it will be more and more necessary to really do a hard unplug from time to time. This is something to be considered. I consider this in some length in 'This is not your father's career'.

Being able to do a sabbatical well will be the difference between those who remain sane and those who go insane under the relentless grind of these screens. Don't worry about how the asli sharks live. We are not them.


90+% of startups fail. And 100% of them work crazy hours. Can we really say this is working? And by the way I have always loved to work like that, with all consuming passion. But as Kevin Kelly recently said, if you have a good work ethic, it's important to have a good rest ethic.

And during this rest period, it is then possible for us to nourish other aspects of ourselves. The reader, the dancer, the musician, the writer, the hiker, the....the list is endless. We can travel. We can be in nature.

We can read whatever we want. That's right we can do away with the relentless self-improvement, the Atomic Habits and Think and Grow Rick and we can just read for pleasure! We can read from morning to night any darn crap - Swedish detective novels, fantasy novels, Almanacks, Borges, SICP (first three chapters again) - just read indiscriminately and like a fool, with no thought given to why just reading whatever we feel like till we start to feel like ourselves again.

And then one can go deep into some infinite wonder and mystery of creation and experience what it is like to be bursting with energy and joyfulness. And we can bring this energy and joy to the next stage of our careers.

And this is what a sabbatical is. It is a coming back to life.