This is the eleventh 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 previous post, I shared several realizations about the value of quitting from the day I turned in my notice to when I walked out the office building, never to return. Here, I talk about my early sabbatical days and the real purpose of a sabbatical.
“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”
― John Lubbock
It was the first Monday after my last day of work. That Friday, my husband, cousin and I had gone out for a celebratory dinner and I tried my first (and likely, last) cigar. The cigar was a novelty act, more a symbol of the new chapter in my life than something I wanted to try out.
My cousin was staying with us during his internship, adding up to a household of three that summer. Every morning, he and my husband walked out the door for their jobs and left me to myself.
An introvert’s dream—or so I thought.
With no deadlines, pressing tasks, anybody to answer to, or anywhere particularly to be, I basked in the freedom. I woke up without an alarm clock and leisurely made breakfast and coffee; I read a book at the kitchen table and intermittently gazed out the window at the neighbor’s yard.
It was nice. Except for the other half of my brain that kept on yammering on all the other things I could be doing right now: household chores, insurance follow-ups, miscellaneous paperwork, unfinished and aspiring projects. Meanwhile, I noted the sun had come out from behind a cloud and that now was the perfect time to go sit outside, drink in hand.
The daily struggle of not feeling productive unless I had accomplished something practical persisted throughout the early part of my sabbatical.
And with full control of my time, I felt even more responsible or guilty if I hadn’t checked something off the list. During brief moments of sitting still and not doing much of anything, I did my best to silence the critical voice while reminding myself that rest is not idleness.
I realized I wasn’t used to having the abundance and freedom of time—something I’ve never really experienced, even as a child. It was more difficult than I expected to fully relax, and I’d inevitably wonder at some point what was the next thing I needed to be doing.
Yet there were some benefits to the restlessness.
For the first month of my sabbatical, I planned on staying in town while enjoying the summer, spending time with my husband, relaxing and focusing on my health. I started experimenting more in the kitchen, an enjoyable activity for me but hard to do when working full-time. In tending to our first-time garden, I discovered my green thumb. I experimented with making my own kombucha and some personal beauty products. I did snatches and presses that I previously thought were impossible for me during a one-month trial at a local Crossfit gym. Having explored remarkably little in our neighborhood, I went on bike rides to the lake, by the river and to local coffee shops and stores.
During these few weeks, I also planned out my travels for the next two months. They included a reunion with high school friends, a two-week visit with my parents, a couple weddings and a three-week trip to Prague. The travel was almost back-to-back some weeks.
Connecting with friends and family was fun; it was also nice to travel without the constraint of vacation days, particularly for the stay with my folks. But my weeks were packed full of activities and constant interaction. A month was spent hopping around the nation, and the first week in Prague was spent seeing my sister and the not-to-be-missed attractions.
While the variety broadened my perspective and was integral to the sabbatical experience, it naturally came to an end.
A week into my stay in Prague, I was exhausted.
The exhaustion was partially from the traveling and partially from the internal pressure I put on myself to constantly do, go, and see. At this point, all I wanted to do was to stay inside by myself and read. Circumstances worked out to my favor in providing the solitude I needed in Prague.
Originally I was to stay with my sister, who was renting a room in a large house with other girls from her teaching certification program to teach English as a foreign language. Turned out, the owner of the house didn’t allow guests, so I ended up renting a one-bedroom loft from Airbnb. My sister’s program schedule was also much busier than we had both anticipated, so on most weekdays and even weekends (due to homework and group work for the program), I was primarily left on my own. Both of these drawbacks ended up being a blessing in disguise.
I started taking each day as it came and deciding what I wanted to do based on whims. It was there that I truly wandered around aimlessly, without any hurry or agenda. It was refreshing.
The best moments were when I stopped planning, when I didn’t have an agenda.
Some days, I did little more than take a walk around a park, go to a coffee shop, and then go out for a little dinner by myself. Other days, I simply went to the farmer’s market in the morning and cooked for myself later on. It was almost like I was living a whole new life in Eastern Europe. It was then that I found true rest and relaxation, and what a sabbatical is really about.
The real purpose of a sabbatical is to slow down, change things up, and be open to the new.
While it may be difficult to sit still in the beginning, utilize the initial restless energy to your advantage in trying new things and planning some trips. It’s wonderful to schedule quality time visiting family and friends, but from my experience, a sabbatical is most instrumental with some solitary down time built in. I’d highly recommend going away to another place, either nationally or abroad, and spend some time alone—to deliberately slow down and wander for a while.
Realizations and ideas often come to us when we’re in isolation. Spending weeks in Prague by myself was when the ideas started generating and trickling into consciousness.
For next time, I’ll share more of my experience cultivating and exploring new ideas in the hopes that it will help you with your own exploration.