Sabbatical: are you thinking about it?
31 July 2019
From my sunny terrace overlooking the mountain, I write. An activity I’ve taken more time to do over the last few months, as I’m nearly halfway through my sabbatical year. This unexpected pause has made me feel great, and has literally transformed me.
It all started last October. One fall morning, on the way to school, four children (my two daughters, and their two cousins) were arguing in the car. To relax the atmosphere, I suggested we play a game: taking turns, they each had to say what one another’s qualities were. My turn came: “Mom, you’re funny, but when we talk to you, it seems like you’re not here. You don’t listen to us.” Oh my god, I was taken by surprise. My daughters had just told me the truth. I was there, physically, but my mind was elsewhere. Always thinking about strategies, solutions, my team, my clients. Without even knowing it, I was on the clock 24 hours a day. Also, at the time, I was very forgetful and had trouble concentrating.
The beginning of a personal and professional reflection
I took advantage of my awareness to deepen my reflection. Surprisingly, this crossroads came at the same time my three-year work contract that I had successfully honoured after the sale of my business, was coming to an end. The timing was perfect. While thinking about my future, I realized that my mission for the firm was done. I was proud of my accomplishments, but I wasn’t fulfilled anymore. The sandbox was too small to accommodate me.
The nights before making my decision, I didn’t sleep very well. Some honest prevarications. Among other thoughts, I was too young, at 44, to take a sabbatical year and I was going to send the wrong message. Would they judge me? I was putting my career on hold for a year. But when you’ve had only three jobs since the age of 14,you have always worked extremely hard, and haven’t taken maternity leave, because you were a business owner, it catches up to you. As soon as I made my decision, my indecisiveness turned into excitement. Every day has been an opportunity to learn something new. And for the first time in my life, I wasn’t in a hurry to optimize every second of my day to get more done. I had never felt such freedom.
This break has transformed me. I developed active listening skills, and learned to live in the present moment. I’m doing things I had never done before like horseback riding and show jumping, fetching fresh eggs on the farm, building an insect hotel, attending a monster creation workshop, cooking fresh pasta, spending the summer at the cottage. I saw people I had not seen in years. Professionally, amazing things have happened.
I started writing columns and started a book project. I got closer to the academic world by mentoring a group of students, and becoming a sponsor for a cohort of MBA students. I gave lectures.
My break was also beneficial on a physical level. I sleep better. My spirit is light. I no longer have my brain going at a hundred miles a minute before going to bed. And my back pain has disappeared.
Before my sabbatical, I was experiencing signs of being overworked. I’ve since rediscovered my memory and my concentration. I don’t have to write anything down anymore. No more forgetfulness!
You need a break? Plan for it. Visualize it. Talk about it.
Some employers offer the possibility of a sabbatical year or a leave of absence. Ask them about the company’s policy. In order to be completely at peace, I recommend planning your finances accordingly. Several options exist, one of which consists of living with 80% of your annual salary and saving the other 20% in a bank account dedicated to a “deferred salary leave”. After 5 years the cushion should be sufficient. See the 5-Year Plan tool.
If that length of time seems too far away, another approach would be to take several weeks without pay, during the summer or when business is slower, for example. Come to an agreement with your employer, your business partner or the board of directors, and plan to notify them at least a year in advance.
In September, when I drop my children off at school, they will have my full attention. I will continue to enjoy every second before returning to work. Because life is short.
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