I just returned home after a 17 week family RV trip across Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest with my wife, Tovah, our two kids, Nina and London, and our two dogs, Stella and Chai. Read about the trip on Tovah’s Blog. It’s odd to be back and tough to get back into a “normal” routine. But, I’m ready to jump back in the game, my mind is clearer, I’m healthier, I’m more connected with my family, and my career options have only gotten better since I unplugged.
In the US, taking a sabbatical of this length is unusual and both Tovah and I have been lucky enough to take the time off and break from our careers/life. Actually, this is the second time I’ve taken a Sabbatical (took 4 months off in 2009 to travel the world with Tovah pre-kids) and it (hopefully) won’t be the last. In Europe, doing something like this would be common place and highly encouraged. 34 of the top 100 companies in Europe offer a paid sabbatical, 37% of UK companies provide Sabbaticals, and in Japan its 25%.
Luckily, the concept of taking a Sabbatical and the benefits are starting to take off with US companies. In fact, 24% of small businesses and 14% of large businesses allow their employees to take sabbaticals (paid or unpaid of six months or more). Technology (Google, IBM, eBay, etc) and consultancy (Accenture, Bain & Company, etc.) companies have been leading the change in the US. However, even if companies in the US are offering these types of benefits, the average professional in the US still has a hard time committing to taking this amount of time off (paid or un-paid) for various reasons (cost, break in career, etc.). It’s not our cultural-norm to do something like this in the US, but I can tell you first hard it’s absolutely the right thing to do for your life, your health, your family, and surprisingly yes, your career.
Your mind will be focused
Taking a break from routine, un-plugging from work, devices, and constant multi-tasking can be liberating and scary at the same time. For me, it takes about two to three weeks for my mind to fully relax and slow down. In that time, my mind often craves the fast pace of work, the routine of meetings/ideation, feeling needed/important to the organization, etc. There is a moment when you realize life will carry on just fine without you (in the city you live in and the job you might have left/taken a break from). You are replaceable, AND… that’s OK… I promise.
Your mind will start to slow down and you’ll think about things deeply, have meaningful conversations about life and start dreaming of new ideas and alternate life choices that will enrich your future (and your family’s). It’s an odd thing, but once you get back to “normal life”, you’ll find that you can focus on an idea or a problem with clarity, your mind with burst with ideas and solutions, and you might even sound smarter to friends and colleagues;-) The biggest reason for this is that you are not thinking of 10 different things at the same time, or trying to multi-task, or thinking of the next 4 meetings you have to attend. You’ll provide more value to colleagues and your organization in this state of mind than you did before. The only downside I’ve experienced is that you feel exhausted after a few hours, as your mind hasn’t moved at that pace in a while and you are no longer used to thinking about multiple things at the same time. But man does it feel good to have clarity as you think about new problems/opportunities.
Your Life and family will be stronger
We often don’t realize how much of our lives and our family’s lives we miss. When we get into routines we often don’t make any memories worth recalling. We can go through several weeks without remembering anything impactful. Ever hear people say “I don’t know where the year has gone”? It’s so true. We get caught up in work, life and family routines and we often watch life go by without a thought and sometimes drift apart from our loved ones.
I’m one of those people who goes “all- in” on anything I do. I’m a borderline work-a-holic, and it’s hard to reflect on, but this often impacts how much I see my wife, children, and friends. It’s the environment and routine I create for myself, but I’ve found that breaking the routine and creating new and unique experiences on a Sabbatical or just in normal life will enrich my life. I suggest you take the time and commit to something like a Sabbatical where you can break free from your routines, laugh more, and see life happen in-front of you by creating unique memories you’ll want to recall. On this trip alone, I spent more time with my wife and kids than I have in the past 4 years and experienced more things I’ll remember with them. We are a stronger family as a result of this Sabbatical.
Invest in your life
Taking this amount of time off isn’t always easy or cheap, and most people worry about taking a break from their career. First-off, don’t worry about your career, you’ll be stronger and smarter once you re-join your organization or find a new one to join. You’ll provide more value than if you stayed on without a break. You might feel like there is never a good time to take a Sabbatical, but trust me, your organization will do fine without you and/or you’ll have more opportunities than you might have considered before. I’ve found that new doors have opened for me that I’d have never considered, and you’ll discover that the world hasn’t changed that much once you return. You can easily pick up your career where you left off, but most likely you’ll be presented with even better opportunities and/or you’ll want new challenges that were never before within reach. Obviously getting a paid Sabbatical makes things a lot easier to bear, but even if you need to dig into savings, it’s very much worth it for your well being and the growth and strength you’ll build with your family.
So live in the now and don’t let life pass you by.