I wanted to share my experience of having time out in my business ‘life’ and the impact of this.
There are elements of theory that provide the findings and benefits of a sabbatical which I believe are self-explanatory and many readers will simply ‘get’. The remainder is a reality piece on why some of us don’t do or don’t do enough of it.
My summary of a sabbatical (taking out any corporate policy bit) is about removing yourself from the day to day routine and ingrained habits.
It’s about taking time out to:
⦁ Get some a new perspective
⦁ Improve yourself
⦁ Try something new or interesting
⦁ To focus on resting, relaxing and re-energising
In today’s technological world there is a tendency to feel that you are constantly behind, we spend more time interacting with work. The world is moving faster, we are expected to do more and with less. Some will say we are always on the clock. However, there is research to suggest that when you take a month or longer off, the problems that come up in week one can often be solved by week two or week three. And anything that’s still there when you get back can be looked at through a new perspective.
The suggested time scale for a sabbatical is 4 weeks or more, a stereotypical view is the notion of this being known as a ‘gap year’. This raises a question about our two-week annual holiday, in that whilst it provides a brief opportunity to switch off, that it may not allow you to totally disconnect. It never ceases to amaze me that during any two week break I end up with some sort of illness (cold/cough) and I lose the first few days feeling unwell. There are, however, valid challenges that this isn’t necessarily about the length of time taken out but the quality of the time itself. Hence the up rise of mindfulness and mediation, in which case anywhere between 10 minutes and an hour @ day is considered a success.
And here’s what the business schools suggest are the benefits of a sabbatical.
⦁ Individuals return rejuvenated and energised
⦁ Role focus and direction improves significantly
⦁ People look for new ways to innovate, they get creative with solutions
⦁ Having personal goals have been proved to broaden perspectives
⦁ In organisations it provides the opportunity for development, allowing others the chance to step in ‘and up’ to cover for absence
⦁ It can support reduced turnover within organisations.
I believe I’ve had three conscious sabbaticals (period of over 4 weeks) in my lifetime – the first, being 10 years ago, the second 4 years after that and the third in the last month. There are however some subtle differences between the three.
Let’s start with the first in 2009.
Exactly Ten years ago this month I had what I’d class as a ‘forced’ sabbatical – this was due to the need to have reconstructive spine surgery. It was a successful operation where my rehabilitation whilst due to be slow and steady was suggested to take around 8 weeks.
It’s fair to say that whilst I was out of ‘work’ I was completely out of action for the first 2 weeks only. After this I was able to include some of the simple tasks, I’d got out of the habit of doing e.g.
⦁ Walking into town instead of getting in the car.
⦁ Having a mooch around a shopping centre rather than dashing in.
⦁ Sauntering around our local park and watching a game of bowls.
⦁ Having coffee or lunch out, and wait for it reading a magazine…
In a reasonably short timescale, I realised that there were many things I was taking for granted. It became clear to me that I was missing out on being able to watch the grass grow, to really smell the coffee and to look up and see outside of my daily routine.
At this point I ‘thought’ I might try and do something about it…
However around 6 weeks in, when I was stronger and aware that I’d had my ‘allowed’ time off – I felt I really ought to start thinking about getting back to work. This wasn’t just because I loved my job and my team but also because I’d not even come close to having time when my brain was not thinking or planning for processes, procedures and some structure. I’d not experienced this before, not during my 18-year career and worse still, this time even included the birth of my son. At this point I became consumed with my return to work, going back to routine and familiarity and more importantly habits. I was simply not used to having time ‘off’ and if I’m honest I didn’t know what to do with it.
I very successfully returned to work.
And those feelings of balance… remained somewhere on the ‘try’ list.
The second was also forced, this came in 2013 as a result of a change of direction within the organisation I’d worked in for 23 years.
Initially here I thought I’d take time out to regroup, regather and refocus. I believed I’d enjoy spending time in my home and be able to do all the things I’d been wanting to for a while. Well that was the plan…
Typical of me, rather than spreading things out and working through progressively – I cracked on and managed to get everything on my list completed with 3 weeks. At this stage, I was beginning to crawl the walls. The pace of life was too slow, I wasn’t doing enough, I was searching for an identity and a role. So… I created a new challenge, one that would really take up my time – I threw myself head long into starting my own business.
Now when running your own business there is a notion that you can take off time whenever you want, the reality is however quite different. In my first year I felt I needed to be ‘on’ the business the whole time. The result was that during 12 months in took off only 10 days holiday, and that includes a full week. The reason was obvious, I was busy being busy! I was taking on more and more, in some cases more than I could handle. This was mainly because of the fear that this may be luck which therefore might run out, and that customers and clients may consider me inflexible.
I’ve since reflected back, I started work at 17 and working hard has always been a focus for me. When I’m under pressure I work hard. And when I realis, I’m about to get some quiet time in my diary, I panic with a psychological virus known as, ‘not-working guilt’, and I fill my time which in turn means I end up working harder. This has been a cycle I’ve created and one I have to admit I’ve been pretty great at for many years.
Again, I knew that I need to find a balance, it hadn’t yet however truly materialised.
Fast forward to here and now – Oct 2019.
Long story short, my husband was offered a 6-week sabbatical from his company to recognise 30 years service. A condition of accepting this was that PC access (laptops/desktop) and all mobile service was temporarily disabled – meaning this would be total time off! This opportunity was too good to pass up, so it was agreed we’d take the time together and I’d apply the same conditions.
Initially we thought we’d spent the time at home, doing all some jobs that we never seem to get around to. Then we’d see what we had left and then try and fit in a holiday of some sort. You’ll be pleased to know we soon got over that idea and instead looked at this time as a ‘gift’. We started to focus on what we could do with 40 free days – big things that we wanted to do, that we could never attempt to fit in over several weekends. The things that would add value and meaning to our lives, that we didn’t want to wait until our retirement years to achieve or complete.
I’ll admit to over planning a little, although remind you that this was about an experience of a lifetime. And in fairness planning does give me ‘joy’. Here’s a summary of the 6 weeks.
We travelled to the cultural city of Singapore and took in the sights. And I mean all of them – we immersed ourselves in the cultural experience. Breakfast with Orangutan’s is definitely the way to start the morning. Jumping on the underground even in rush-hour was certainly more pleasurable than in London. The Sky walk and living trees – helped me to get back to nature, whilst the air quality is taking a battering, it was good to understand and appreciate just much more we could be doing too help the planet. I rode a scooter for the first time and got back on pushbike. Whilst this was completely exhilarating, I learnt quickly that age and spatial awareness do not always go hand in hand… Having said this I can’t remember the time I laughed so hard that my face and my stomach actually hurt.
From here we journeyed on to Adelaide. Where we met family we didn’t even know existed. There was plenty of time taken to wallow in the history, heritage and lineages. How completely wonderful to meet people and feel that you’d arrived home. A 90th birthday celebration brought people together from all across the globe to meet and connect. During this stop an international book club was formed – the membership of 8 all committed to reading and reviewing bi-monthly (first virtual meeting was chaired 6th Nov). We had a few days of island hopping where I held a Koala (who knew they had such sensitive hearing), I petted a Kangaroo, saw colonies of seals and stayed up way past midnight to see rock penguins.
Then across to the east, to Brisbane and some of the Islands. 75 miles of sand in a monster truck and swimming in the lake of a ‘healing’ eco island was a truly breath-taking experience. More family time, plenty of love and laughter and a trip that took me back to the days of the TV series Slyvanian Waters.
Up to the North to visit the reef – swimming with Turtles, Manta Rays and seeing migrating Humpback whales was enough to bring me to tears. I left reassured that here have been some conservation successes and that there is recovery.
Finally, the paradise islands of Bali.
A spiritual period where I was able to consume myself in a variety of temples and religions. Here I embarked on meditative hugging, this experience was so incredible the monk and I both cried with connection and joy! We celebrated the end of a fabulous trip at an Elephant rescue sanctuary, where I came face to face with my spirit guide. I thought seeing and swimming with them was enough, but the cherry on the cake was when the matriarch came and placed her forehead on my forehead.