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Every sabbatical is a personal and unique journey
Over the past six weeks, I’ve spend thirty hours speaking to a bit more than forty people about sabbaticals.
“I told my husband I have an important call with my sabbatical consultant” Kristina (all names have been changed) told me over Zoom as we were meeting for the very first time, a few months into her sabbatical.
I laughed. I’d never thought of myself as a ‘sabbatical consultant’, but as she said it, I realised that there was probably some truth there.
In the past six weeks, I’ve spoken to a bit more than forty people about sabbaticals. Half of those people were thinking about taking time off work, a third had already taken the leap and the rest were actively planning their upcoming time away, trying to figure out how to “make the most of it”.
That’s roughly 30 hours of uplifting conversations in which I was given a window into people’s lives, their unique and complex love-hate relationship with work, their excitement at stepping off their familiar life path, and their fears at the idea of diving into the unknown.
65% of the people I talked with were calling in from the US, 15% from India, 10% from the UK. Half men, half women. They were coming from everywhere in the business world, from big corporations like Samsung and top consultancies like Bain to start-ups and not-for-profits. Some were software engineers and product managers in tech, others worked in finance, strategy or marketing roles. Some had only been working for a few years while others had been thriving in the business world for twenty years until something started feeling so off inside them that they could no longer ignore it.
Every single one of their journeys was unique.
It felt obvious to me that each of them had unique gifts to share and that taking proper time off work would allow them to grow and unleash them.
When I started talking about using movement to reconnect with our bodies such that they can help us make decisions that feel truly aligned with our deepest wants, Zoe, a professional dancer turned marketing professional, lit up. It reminded her of the Feldenkrais technique that is used in dancing, where dancers lie on the floor and tune into their bodies until their intuition guides them into moving—and they follow that intuition, sometimes for hours at a time. The deep connection she had with her body was stunningly obvious to me, even through Zoom. I felt energized and more connected with myself after speaking with her for 40 minutes.
Amit was only a couple of months into his sabbatical, but he had been churning through the to-do list he had set up for himself at the start of his sabbatical. He’d done loads, yet felt neither refreshed nor content. If anything, he felt just as exhausted than on the day he left work. He realised through our conversation that he had been keeping himself incredibly busy because he was worried that not working would make him lazy. But the busy-ness he was imposing on himself and his fear of laziness were precisely what was keeping his curiosity away from guiding his explorations.
Julie and I riffed on how spending time in nature makes us feel grounded and alive. The day after our conversation, she went for a long walk somewhere in California early in the morning, shared a gorgeous picture of the hills she was exploring on social media and went on to have a creative and productive day. Her post inspired me to do the same thing the next morning—albeit in London, where it was slightly less sunny—and to write a few thoughts on how powerful nature can be in helping us regulate our nervous systems.
After forty calls, I’ve realised I can help in a better and more sustainable way.
These conversations gave me the energy and the inspiration to create something that I know will help people shape their sabbatical in a way that feels aligned with who they are deep-down, independently from the job they’ve just left behind.
I’m building a self-paced ‘guided journey’ that covers everything I’ve learned about sabbaticals from my own and others’ experiences. My long term plan is to create a series of modules covering each part of the sabbatical journey over the next few months, from the moment you start thinking about going on sabbatical, all through the sabbatical itself and up to when you start thinking about returning to some form of work..
I’m planning on releasing the first of those modules, ‘On Sabbatical’, in a few weeks.
In this module, you’ll find structure you can lean on when you feel you’re going adrift, pointers towards exciting explorations that have helped fellow sabbatical-takers shape their journeys in a meaningful way, guided exercises to help you reflect at critical moments, and a wealth of resources that are bound to ignite your curiosity. You’ll also find comfort in the fact that the challenges you are facing are challenges that others have faced before and there is a way around them, although usually the only way out is through.
Last, but not least, many of the people I’ve spoken with have reported that one of the toughest bits they have found about being on sabbatical is that they often feel misunderstood by their families and friends, so I’ve also decided to build a community of people around the course so that you can meet others who are on similar journeys, share stories and cheer each other on.
I’m planning to release early access to the ‘On Sabbatical’ guided journey to people who follow this Substack in the next ten days.
Independently from that project, I’ll write about a few common threads that came out of those forty calls as well as some of the common stories we seem to be telling ourselves that stop us from immersing ourselves fully in the sabbatical experience.
Stay tuned. I’m excited about this!
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