To take a sabbatical or not to take a sabbatical—that is the question.
Taking a sabbatical may seem like a scary idea, one full of emptiness and the unknown. It can feel like a precarious venture, as most sabbaticals are periods of time without much inflow of income, stability and the other niceties that come with a full-time job and the regular day-to-day.
Yet the idea of a sabbatical is also exciting. It sparks dreams of exploration, adventure, and leaving the old behind. There’s a sense of intrigue that simply won’t shake itself, despite your best efforts to remain grounded.
Having taken a sabbatical myself, I know how scary it can be. I also know from retrospect that I’d absolutely recommend it.
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. – Henry David Thoreau
One thing I know for sure is that rationally thinking about the reasons to take a sabbatical will get you nowhere.
I ultimately decided to go for it—not from practicality—but from a deep, unexplainable gut feeling within my soul.
I had no idea “how” it was going to work or “what” I was going to do. The only thing I knew for sure was I didn’t want to look back on my life and feel like I didn’t live as fully as I could have. What really matters isn’t the tactical stuff anyway; it’s your mindset and willingness to take the leap and figure it out along the way.
Taking a sabbatical may be scary, but keep in mind it’s easier to see all the downsides than all the possible upsides.
From my experience, the good has far outweighed the bad—even though there were some tough experiences as a result of taking the leap. As I shared in a past series on my sabbatical experience, I had no regrets even during the moments when I wondered what the hell I was doing.
After all, most people regret what they didn’t have the gumption to do, rather than what they actually took action on.
With that, here are 7 reasons to take a sabbatical.
It creates an opening for the new.
A sabbatical is vastly different from the daily, everyday routine. So if you’re looking for a change in your life, a sabbatical can be an incredibly beneficial activator.
There’s the creation of new when you separate yourself from old identities, roles and environments.
It creates distance from the life you used to know—the one that you may want to take a break from or completely wipe out and do something different. The unfamiliarity opens up the brain and body for new ideas, connections and experiences. The experience refreshes your thinking and creativity.
Sometimes, even a week or two-week trip is enough to create white space for change—but from my experience, it takes about a month or two before you begin to understand the real purpose of a sabbatical.
It teaches you to slow down.
One of the most invaluable lessons that taking a sabbatical taught me was to slow down across all areas of my life. It taught me that life isn’t about keeping busy during each and every moment.
Moments of idleness aren’t seen in a positive light in our society. With definitions such as “doing nothing or avoiding work; lazy” and “of no real worth, importance or significance” or “frivolous and vain”—it’s not hard to imagine why. But there can be a purpose to the idleness.
The white space is the birthplace from which creativity and inspirational change spring.
It was a difficult lesson for me to learn during my sabbatical, and something I continue to need reminders on periodically.
Having less planned activities and meetings during the day led to the realization that my mind was far too active for my own good. It was constantly yammering on all the things that I should, could and would be good to do. In realizing just how exhausting that was, a sabbatical was also what taught me to slow my mind down.
It allows you to experience life.
Speaking of slowing down—when I finally did so, I was able to experience more of what life has to offer.
Beware of the barrenness of a busy life. Socrates
Experiencing life as more than just work, productivity and my to-do list was eye-opening. I used to view life as a seemingly endless series of problems to be solved, which was a rather bleak perspective to have.
Life is now more about growth, learning, gratitude and meaningful work.
It doesn’t mean that life is always rosy. There are still thorns, and sometimes they are a real pain. But there’s no concept of good without the bad, just as there’s no gain without the pain. Slowing down and opening up to the dichotomy of life—this is what allows us to more fully experience it.
It highlights what’s truly important.
Removing yourself from the old environment allows you to better see what’s truly important to you.
When you’re immersed in a certain sliver of the world, it’s hard not to absorb and internalize what’s around you. It happened years ago when I was first contemplating taking a sabbatical while in the finance field, and it happened more recently in a smaller way when I was back working full-time last year.
The disconnection and distance allows you to more clearly hear your own voice.
When you take a sabbatical, your voice is less likely to be drowned out by all the demands, expectations and obligations crowding around you. The opinions of family, friends and colleagues don’t carry as much weight. You’re more likely to realize that life is more than the job title, salary or possessions. You’re more likely to realize that life can be much simpler if you allow it to be.
It teaches you trust and patience.
This lesson learned might have been one of the most impactful reasons to take a sabbatical.
The most worthwhile changes and growth only happen with trust and patience. These things never happen overnight, nor does it happen in a few weeks, or even during the sabbatical. Getting to the point when I developed the commitment to change required a lot of patience. Building the trust that I would figure it out when I had no idea how was a process that also required patience.
A sabbatical has a way of taking things apart in your life without a ready-to-go guide on how to put it all back together. There will be moments of confusion, uncertainty, distraction, mistakes and inefficiency.
And from experiencing it all, you learn the best way through is with trust and patience.
It will help you get closer to clarity.
The sabbatical isn’t the answer to your burning question. It also may not provide the clarity you seek.
However, a sabbatical will help you see more clearly.
Taking a sabbatical usually means disconnecting and minimizing areas of your life that aren’t working for you. Having more time to ponder, explore, try new things and simply exist has a way of opening up creativity and new ideas.
It was only when I slowed down and finally relaxed on my sabbatical when small inklings, realizations and possibilities came through. Although I was secretly hoping to have an eureka moment during my sabbatical, that didn’t happen. However, the end result of the sabbatical was a better vantage point from which to figure it out.
The concept around this blog was created in the months after coming back. And some of my best writing months occurred in the year after my sabbatical after I had some time to process my experience.
It’s an opportunity of a lifetime.
There are usually only a few, key times in life when you’re able to take a sabbatical. Some people take one between school and work, others between jobs, or some are able to take one in the middle of a career. Or some—like me—quit their jobs to embark on one.
A sabbatical isn’t an opportunity that’s possible all the time, so take advantage of when you’re able to do it.
Planning for the sabbatical can often take months, and even a bit of waiting for the right time. The effort is absolutely worth it though, and I often tell people to plan the sabbatical for as long as they’re able to manage. As I discovered, a six-month sabbatical flew by before I knew it, and it took me a few months post-sabbatical to explore and assess new options.
Hopefully, these 7 reasons to take a sabbatical have convinced you to embrace the idea of a sabbatical in your life. Whether you’re planning for one or about ready to take the leap—congratulations. It will be one of the best things you do for yourself.