During the lowest points of my corporate experience, I used to daydream about magically receiving a fat check. We’re talking tens of thousands of dollars … so that I could not work for a year.
I didn’t want to take a vacation — though I’m sure with a year off, I would have traveled some — I wanted a sabbatical.
A vacation has a totally different vibe. To me, it’s a week (that you have to ask permission to take off) of cramming it all in and fretting about your growing email inbox and being nostalgic before it’s even over.
A sabbatical, though … it’s lengthy enough that you’re actually living in it, rather than watching it fly by.
If I had my way, there would be a “billionaire’s fund” for everyone who wants to take a sabbatical.
Some mega-rich person would see the value of a year spent not working — the deep introspection, the opportunity to travel, the ability to experience new culture, the act of finding yourself without having to worry about survival needs — and would create an application process to fund a year of self-discovery for people across the world.
(If I ever become a billionaire, I promise to do this.)
I DON’T KNOW ANY BILLIONAIRES, BUT I DO KNOW HOW YOU CAN TAKE A SABBATICAL, ANYWAY
One of my clients (Ivy, an artist) got me thinking about this. It started when she told me:
“I want to get away from the noise and responsibility and hear myself think and just be for a while. I want the space to focus on my art without distraction. Like an artist in residence!”
But Ivy can’t just up and take a year off. She’s a mom of two with a lot of responsibility … so she’d basically written off the possibility of getting the break she so desperately wants.
I challenged her, though. Why couldn’t she create her own version of an “artist in residence?” How might we reorganize her life to make that happen?
Well, not only is Ivy making it happen … I’ve coached a handful of other clients who’ve all taken their own version of a sabbatical. They range in age from early 20s to mid 40s. Some had full-time jobs, some didn’t. One lived with parents; most were on their own. What they chose to make of their sabbaticals spanned the spectrum from “traveling the world for 8 months” to “not going anywhere.”
But in each case, they made it happen.
ACKNOWLEDGE THE POSSIBILITY
Like Ivy, most people prevent themselves from being able to take a sabbatical because they assume it’s a no-go from the start.
If you want to take a long break from working, before you do anything else you must acknowledge that it’s possible.
Another client, Jane, was burnt out after years spent working in a corporate office (in a windowless basement, no less), and couldn’t imagine jumping right into another job … but thought that was the only choice.
I floated the idea of a sabbatical out to her, and I could almost feel her relaxing and breathing deeper already.
Before we’d figured out the details — how to manage it financially was the biggest concern — ideas were flowing. Namely, to have a two or three month “stay-cation” and use her time to sleep in and be a “tourist in her own city.”
Her wheels couldn’t start turning until she was allowed to consider it as a real option.
Possibilities will start flowing when you admit: “… maybe I could do this …”
SERIOUSLY EXPLORE YOUR FINANCIAL SITUATION
This seems obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many people are uncomfortably hazy about their financial situation.
With Jane, the first order of business was getting really clear on exactly where her money was going so that she could get equally clear on what she could afford in a sabbatical.
Be honest … do you really know where your money is going every month? Might you be surprised by how much you spend on lunch or coffee or clothes?
I wasn’t paying attention. And I probably could have afforded my own sabbatical, if I had been.
Yet another client, Sasha, was living with her parents and leveraged that as an opportunity to save up months worth of expenses so that she could take a 5-week solo Euro-trip.
Sasha’s trip was planned to the letter, because she wanted to get the very most out of it without draining all of her resources. Her hardcore planning meant that she had enough money when she came back to give herself a cushion. That way, she could find a full-time job without the ticking time-bomb of financial pressure.
Which leads me to …
THINK ABOUT YOUR EMOTIONAL FREEDOM
The whole reason most people crave a sabbatical is for the relief.
It’s a spacious, energizing experience that allows you to re-charge, re-group, and do some soul-searching.
Which means that the way you do it must allow for mental and emotional freedom.
Jane — the one who wanted to take a “stay-cation” in her own city — was terrified at the thought of having no income for 2 or 3 months. In her world, that would be incredibly irresponsible.
So she decided to pursue a part-time job. Ideally, something mindless that she could easily quit after a couple months, but enough to supplement her income and prevent financial freak-outs.
Maybe you’re thinking … “Is it even a sabbatical if you’re working?”
And my answer … who cares? It’s your sabbatical.
Jane wants the mental freedom, ease, and relief that come from not having to dive right back in to the corporate grind. She wants to sleep, explore her city, and have more free time to just … be. If having a part-time job enables that more than having no job, then that’s how she should do it.
Ivy — the artist and mom of 2 — isn’t going anywhere, but she still feels like she’s taking a sabbatical.
She’s structured her “artist in residence” like a real part-time job: She purposefully works on her art — and only her art — from 10:00am to 2:00pm every day. All of the “mom stuff” must now fall around that, instead of her art begging for scraps of her time. Carving out this daily space is the sabbatical.
Doing what feels the most freeing is what counts, regardless of what your break actually looks like.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN RISK LEVEL
Yet another client — Diana, who traveled to South America and Africa for 8 months — went pretty “balls to the wall.” She quit her job and lived off of savings (which she’d worked hard to accumulate quite a lot of).
Sasha — the one who did a solo Euro-trip for 5 weeks — also quit her job to make her sabbatical happen.
Which means that when they came back, they didn’t have a job.
That’s fine, if that’s how you want to roll. But you don’t have to go all-out.
Like Jane or Ivy, you can choose a more low-key experience if it makes you feel better, or if it aligns more with your life.
Again, the idea is to do what you feel called to do, in a way that’s going to enrich your life more than when you started.
If quitting your job and globe-trotting is the answer, great. But if that’s actually going to take away from you in a major way … scale it back until you find the balance point of getting what you need and feeling really good about it.
DON’T WORRY ABOUT WHAT PEOPLE WILL THINK
I could write a separate blog about caring too much what people think (though we did record a Side Chat about that recently), but I really mean … don’t care too much what future employers might think.
So many people are afraid to take a sabbatical because of the “gap” on their résumé.
Listen, this is 2016. The time of rigid “rules” about what you’re “supposed” to do with your time are ending.
If an employer can’t be human enough to understand your desire to explore the world, have an adventure, do some deep introspection, or take a goddamned break … then do you really want to work for them?
Besides, I’m a firm believer that a sabbatical is something that can be spun positively.
You could tell a prospective employer about the financial responsibility you gained from having to plan, or the clarity you got from being on your own, or the resourcefulness you picked up along the way.
You’re smart. You’ll find a way to make it sound just fine, and maybe even impressive.
If a few behind-the-times employers reject you for having taken a sabbatical, you’ll live. But you probably will regret it if you let fear of rejection keep you grounded.
PICK A “MAJOR”
The last thing you’re going to want if you’ve gotten this far is to waste your sabbatical.
So … pick a “major.” Having a focal point gives you a way to channel your energy and attention during your break, so that you don’t end up lying on the couch for 3 months watching Netflix (unless that’s your major).
Ivy is majoring in artistic expression. Sasha majored in exploration and solo-discovery. Jane is majoring in rejuvenation and introspection. And Diana majored in deep connection, with herself and others.
Picking a focus creates a touchstone for your sabbatical … it’s a way to keep coming back to what matters, and to pick the experiences along the way that most serve you.
JUST GO, WILL YOU?
Ultimately though, know that there doesn’t really need to be a goal or an end game.
The sabbatical is the point.
Rest, relaxation, recharging, the opportunity to go inward, be in stillness, be silent, explore, figure out a little bit more about who you are, allow what you’ve suppressed to bubble to the surface, and generally contemplate the great mysteries of life … that’s the point.
So, what do you think? Are you inspired to take a sabbatical? I’d love to know, in the comments!
Rachel (+ Kristen)