This is the eighth article following The Irony of Quitting My Job to Take a Sabbatical, the first in a series on what I learned and what I’d recommend from quitting my job to take a six-month sabbatical (without another job in sight). In my last post, I talked about the importance of patience in committing to true change. Life, travel and the start of the holidays got the best of me, and now three weeks later, I’m back to share a couple reasons why very few people knew about my plans to quit to take a sabbatical.
“Every really new idea looks crazy at first.” – Alfred North Whitehead
How ironic that my last post was about patience, and these past few weeks have put me to the test.
With traveling and other factors, I found myself overwhelmed, pressed for time and seemingly unable to put words down on a page. Times like this happen, and when it does, I’ve found it best to respect my limits and move on.
Amidst everything going on, I also realized I neglected to mention a key aspect—the role others played while I brought my idea of quitting my job to take a sabbatical from fruition to realization. So here goes!
New ideas are exhilarating, full of promise, and the best ones may seem a little crazy or even absurd.
These nebulous ideas around change, innovation or growth—the ones that you’re unsure of how it’s going to come about—they need careful nurture and development at the beginning.
The reasons aren’t what you may initially think. No one is going to steal your thunder or take over your idea. Reality is, most people are far too preoccupied with their own lives and problems to invest the time, work and resources it takes to bring an idea to fruition.
Very few people in my network knew about my upcoming leap of quitting my job to take a sabbatical. I was very selective in who I told, and while this wasn’t strategically planned (it was more based on what I felt comfortable with), it was helpful in my process of taking the leap.
For me, there are a couple reasons for carefully nurturing a new idea—whether it is an inkling of a startup, change or life goal.
1) You give yourself the chance to nurture and develop the idea at your own pace
One reason is to respect your sanity, pace and process as you go through the initial vetting of the new idea. The idea must be nurtured and developed within yourself, and then later, further refined with your trusted advisors.
In what I’ve shared so far of my experience in quitting my job to take a sabbatical—it’s primarily all been in my head. That’s where every idea begins, in thought form as you dream, assess and shift to a version that is right for you.
The idea stays within until we work to bring it into reality with our actions. At some point, because ideas seem more real when it extends outside of you, you will start telling other people about them.
But for the most important reach goals and dreams, it’s wise to be careful and selective on the people you introduce the idea to in its fledgling stage.
Especially when you’re still unsure. Especially when it’s a fresh, somewhat unformed idea that is subject to change.
With existing questions or challenges around a new idea, it’s best to shield the idea from additional resistance and potential attack from the masses, which may include conservatives, naysayers and the like (who, as well-meaning as they may be, project their own insecurities).
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to tell anyone in my network. Well, not entirely, at least. I certainly didn’t want my colleagues at work to know, since I decided to wait until July to quit my job.
But for most people within my network and outside of work, it was no secret that I didn’t like my job. In past years, I talked about wanting to quit, but it was always in context of looking at different jobs and having another job lined up. I never once mentioned a sabbatical, along with not having a plan of what I was going to do afterwards.
I was a little hesitant to tell others, especially while going through the internal turmoil of getting the inner confidence to take such a leap. Part of me wondered what others would “really” think, particularly when most people I knew were climbing the corporate ladder—the exact opposite of what I was planning on. Part of me wasn’t ready to defend my position with questions and concerns from well-meaning family and friends.
2) You provide the momentum and incentive for yourself to start making progress
The other reason is based on the old adage of actions speaking louder than words. I wanted to reach the inner certainty and start taking action before telling others. Instead of telling, and seemingly continuing the talking I’ve done in the years before I committed to taking the leap, I wanted to show.
As Derek Sivers talks about in his TED talk, when it comes to these broad, ambiguous ideas or changes, telling someone your idea may make it less likely to happen.
When you talk about an idea and receive acknowledgement from others in return, you experience what is called social reality. The mind is basically tricked into feeling that it’s made progress, or that the goal has been completed, and you feel the reward before you’ve done any work towards the idea.
The premature reward isn’t helpful momentum towards putting in the work towards attaining your goal. It’s common for many people to not do anything else after receiving acknowledgement for an idea.
Keeping life goals and ideas for change to myself is a mentality I’ve started to embrace more and more, particularly as I continue to explore different avenues. I’ve heard many successful people say they don’t say anything about their idea until after it’s done or significant progress has been made.
In the initial, exploratory stages where shadows seemingly take form only to disappear and different routes appear left and right, I’ve found that not telling others your idea is generally for the best.
And when you choose to talk about your idea—even if you’re still in the vetting phase—you can share the idea in a deliberate way without receiving acknowledgement. And after you’ve chosen a path, it’s a whole different phase with specific and measurable goals when it’s beneficial to tell others who will keep you accountable.
So who knew of my upcoming leap?
For the first several months, aside from the friend who sparked the initial path, the only other soul who knew of my upcoming plans was my husband—my best friend and number one trusted advisor.
He has been nothing but open-minded and supportive from the beginning, and back then I knew how lucky I was for that. Even with all the uncertainty, we trusted in each other to figure it out, and to do whatever we needed to make it work.
We were also blessed with no student debt between the two of us and no kids. Even then, it was still an important decision that we made together, and we were both aligned on the decision to quit my job in July of 2014. I wouldn’t have quit if it weren’t for his initial support, encouragement and escalated exclamations of “Just quit already!”
The two other people in my network I told before I was entirely sure were my sister and another friend—both contemplating leaps of their own. My sister was planning on moving to live in Prague, Czech Republic, where she barely knew anyone. My friend was planning on quitting her job and taking a sabbatical herself. We reciprocally supported and inspired each other to embrace the unknown.
The few others who knew were people outside of my network. Like I shared in a previous article about building community, likeminded strangers I met at conferences and events were key in making the seemingly unreasonable more reasonable. With no prior identity, preformed assumptions, stigma or potential repercussions, talking with likeminded strangers—who had all made leaps of their own—made it easier for me to be vulnerable and to ask probing questions.
All of the people I told weren’t yes-men.
They didn’t provide acknowledgement or kudos for anything I hadn’t done. The conversations were raw, pointed and candid. They included objective discussions about the pros and cons, resources and different options.
This leads me to an important caveat around advice from others in our community. Many of us receive advice, solicited or not, from well-meaning friends, family or even strangers.
I generally only ask advice from people who have walked the path of where I want to go.
And even if they have gone through something similar, there are always differing factors such as timing, skill sets or circumstances beyond the scope of even the best advice.
And so it was in this way that I wandered through the process of making the leap—with only my husband, sister, good friend and several strangers who knew of my idea. Once I internally committed in May to quitting in July, I started letting some other people know as I saw fit. Most everybody else found out after I turned in my two weeks’ notice.
New ideas need careful nurture, development and protection from external sources in their initial, nebulous stages. For me, there are two reasons to keep new ideas under wraps: giving yourself the space and time you need to bring the idea to fruition, and providing more momentum in taking action towards the idea. What have you found in your experience with new ideas?
Within the remainder of the year, I’ll be playing catch-up on articles missed from the past several weeks. Up next will be what I promised last time: the considerations I took (and what I failed to consider) in preparing for the leap.