What is a sabbatical? And why go?

March 11, 2017

In three weeks, my husband and I will board a flight bound for South America and our six month sabbatical will begin.

I wondered whether I should publish this post. Not everyone will agree or support our choice of packing up and traveling, and that’s okay. I realise a sabbatical is not a conventional choice. It’s not the norm. Not what you’re supposed to do after you get married.

What some may not realise is that this sabbatical has been over two years in the making. From serious thought to bringing the plans together. This sabbatical and career break is a big deal for both of us. We didn’t make this decision lightly. We made subsequent decisions about our daily life, money and careers to arrive at this point. Before any plans or bookings were made, figuring out our ‘why’ was important.

Every person who has taken one, or plans to take one will have different reasons. I don’t feel the need to justify our choice, but I realise some might be curious about this choice and wonder whether a sabbatical might be for them.

What is a sabbatical? What is a career break?

Basically, a career break (or sabbatical) is dedicated time away from a career to go do something else for a while. This might be travel, study, raise a family, volunteering, etc. Some people or websites use the term ‘sabbatical’ to mean pretty much the same thing, but there are organisations out there that have sabbatical policies for their employees. My workplace has something to that effect, but unfortunately, and rightly so, I don’t qualify as I’ve only just started. Though it’s nice to know that the option is there if I wish to take it in the future.

Why go on sabbatical?

In short, we can’t *not* do this. We have the means and the opportunity. When will a time like this come again?

When I first thought about this idea, I just wanted to ‘p*ss off and be somewhere else for a while’. I wanted to find out what I was capable of, what was important to me and clear the slate to create a life where I was happy with what I did. At this time, I was completely miserable in job and clearly wanted to escape. I felt muddled with my career. I didn’t know where I was heading.

The ‘just be’ part has been the common thread throughout these past two years or so for why I wanted and needed this sabbatical. Though there are some other aspects to the ‘why’ that have evolved over time.

  • Letting go – I find letting go and just ‘being’ equally challenging. Always have. Not being productive EVERY SINGLE DAY feels like failure. Not living up to my own exceedingly high expectations of myself. This is tough to admit. Heck, I’m even worried I won’t blog or journal our travels perfectly! ffs.
  • Learn – I want to learn more about myself – perspective on what’s important, patience and my capabilities. I want to challenge myself and push through the discomfort. For example in South America, we’ll be doing the Lares Trek on the way to Macchu Picchu. The Lares Trek is approximately 33 km and reaches an altitude of 4550 feet. I’ve been working with an exercise physiologist the last four months to help with my movement patterns and functions following my hip replacement in 2015. I have doubts. I have fears. Learning to back myself is important to me and my development as a professional too. Over the last two years or so, I’ve seen this lack of confidence all too evident in my professional work and manner. Time to change this.
  • Bring inspiration – Towards the end of last year, my feelings about my career direction and general lack of self worth were symptoms of burnout. Again. And I didn’t see it coming. Again. But because this burnout had nothing to do with my workload. This time, this burnout was emotional. I had pushed through life and kept busy following Mum’s passing because that’s what everyone else does, right? I felt that by keeping up and keeping on going I was coping, that I was simply going through the experience. A recipe for self-destruction if you ask me. By doing something totally different from the day-to-day, I hope to bring back inspiration for both my personal life and work.

Final thoughts

I love to travel. I want to see and experience more of this world because life wasn’t meant to be lived in one place. My husband and I are very lucky to have found each other, as we both value experiences. This sabbatical is not one long holiday as others might see it. Far from a holiday, this sabbatical is an investment in ourselves, our lives and our relationship. Sure, there’ll be some fun times, but there will also be days I’ll want to quit, pack up and go back to my comfort zone.

Free of ‘to do’ lists, I’ll no doubt see each day differently, and see different details. This, and perspective on what brings joy and what is important to me will bring inspiration. And maybe some clarity on how to move forward, with work and daily life.

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