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10 Things I Learned About Taking a Sabbatical

Have you ever taken a sabbatical – or have you wondered what it would be like if you did? As I emerge from my own sabbatical, there are 10 distinct lessons I’ve learned. Here they are:

1. Rarely—if ever—will anyone tell you “Hey, this is the perfect time to take a sabbatical. Why don’t you go ahead and do that?” This is a decision you will need to make for yourself. It takes guts. It takes a wild leap of faith. And that leap of faith includes flying over the chasm of logic and the almost unstoppable daily grind of responsibility and “getting ahead.”

2. All of those “someday” projects on your bucket list probably won’t ever materialize unless you make the decision that “someday” is today. In my case, it was “someday I’d really like to write a book.” I only had the mental bandwidth to work on my book in earnest once I made the decision to take my sabbatical. Now, 11 months later, that book is published and out in the world. It started with my decision that “someday” is today.

3. Ideas need space in order to emerge. When we’re locked into the loop of daily routines, it’s harder for new, creative ideas to rise to the surface. And even once you take a sabbatical, you have to make a concerted effort to stake out and guard your newfound space for creative thinking. Otherwise, there are gazillions of distractions and menial tasks that will happily swoop in to occupy the free space you’ve created.

4. A sabbatical is not the same as a vacation. A sabbatical is a time of professional exploration and development, whether it’s paid or unpaid, official or unofficial. In my case, my sabbatical meant stepping away from my role as a sales rep in order write a book (to share my expertise in sales) while also taking on clients in a capacity that I love (sales coaching). Definitely not a vacation. If what you need instead is rest and relaxation, go for a vacation instead! Get clear from the start about the purpose and outcome you desire, which will help inform whether you want a sabbatical or vacation.

5. “Do the work you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life.” At the start of my sabbatical, I was almost frustrated with myself for being so busy because I couldn’t help but take on coaching clients while I also worked on my book. And yet, I was happy to realize that a) taking on coaching clients wasn’t a distraction, it was part of the professional exploration that I was aiming for and b) I enjoyed it so much, it hardly felt like work.

6. Sabbaticals can be intense. Again, a sabbatical is not a vacation. During your sabbatical, you may end up creating, producing, studying, learning, and doing a lot more than you ever did during your “normal” professional life. Just be sure that you’re engaging in worthwhile activities that matter to you. My sabbatical was intense—and I cherished every minute of it.

7. Because sabbaticals can be intense, you also need to carve out a block of time to empty your mind. Completely. I did need space for creative thinking (see point 3 above), but I also needed a specific block of time where mental emptying was the end-goal. After nine months of sabbatical working on my book, my boyfriend and I went on a motorcycle trip through Mexico for several weeks in December. (I’m just the passenger!) For hours each day all I could do was space out on the back of the motorcycle and observe my surroundings. It was the best kind of emptying I could have asked for. No expectations, and no future-tripping. I was simply engaged in the moment.

8. Sabbatical is a marvelous time of playing “professional dress-up”. Have informational interviews with people in different professions to explore how your skillsets could fit into different capacities and industries. It’s a time of allowing for unlimited possibilities, because you can temporarily suspend the limitations of logic. For me, what became clear was how good and right it feels to focus on growing my own consultancy as a sales coach—specifically in the Functional Medicine industry.

9. During a sabbatical, you can pay closer attention to your feelings and your intuition. Intuition is our untapped superpower. Intuition tends to speak in whispers, which means it is easily drowned out by the thundering, commanding voice of logic, reason, and daily obligations. When you’re on sabbatical, you’ve created a space where you can listen more closely to your intuitive voice.

10. Going on sabbatical is a luxury not to be taken lightly. I’m deeply grateful for having had the opportunity to do this. For many people, taking a sabbatical isn’t even remotely possible. So if you can take one, make every bit of it count. Don’t let it slip through your fingers. Don’t let the “someday” projects get crowded out by distractions and menial tasks. Relish the intensity and professional exploration, but also be sure to allow time to empty your mind completely. There is a precious handful of experiences I’ve had in my life that make me well up with gratitude and think, “Wow, I did that!” I count going on sabbatical as one of those precious life experiences.

What about you? Have you ever gone on sabbatical? Have you wanted to do so? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

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