We need sabbaticals because the nature of work is changing. We’re far removed from a time when you work for the same organization for 35 or 40 years and then retire. It’s now common to have almost 5 jobs before the age of 35 according to Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2021.
Today we seek meaning in our work, we want to see the outcomes of our labor, and we desire to explore different types of work or industries which interest us. We can even reinvent ourselves multiple times during our life. Longer life expectancies make this even more likely.
The COVID-19 health crisis crystalized what is most important for a lot of people—and working 60 hour weeks for a company that might lay us off next year isn’t it. More and more of us are exploring alternative work arrangements, additional time off, remote work, and seeking flexibility than ever before. Companies are also starting to notice. In a 2019 survey, the Society for Human Resource Management found more than 400 companies who say they offer a sabbatical benefit to employees with some even offering the time off as paid.
In a world with access to free or cheap educational resources, a new career could be as close as studying for a new credential or certification. So, why not reinvent yourself a few times during your working years as your priorities and interests change? For too long, we’ve been pressed to participate in “hustle culture” which says if we’re not moving, growing, and achieving, we must be stagnant and therefore worthless.
Yet sometimes, the only way to release ourselves from hustle culture, is to do the complete opposite: stop working. In fact, there’s room to grow and develop more during a work break than through continued work.
Sabbaticals provide the time and space for a reset or a shake-up that can give us a tremendous amount of energy to launch something new, adjust our priorities, or re-discover things we’ve loved before. First, we must rest and support our mental health and self care that’s been neglected before we can begin with a growth cycle again.
This is not just a romantic idea for independently wealthy people. With a little planning (or access to a work benefit)—work breaks can be something anyone can experience. In this book, I will give you actionable steps to do the kind of planning and preparation that will give you the best chance for success.
The problem is most people don’t know what a sabbatical is. The two most searched phrases on the internet related to the word “sabbatical” are: “What does sabbatical mean?” and “How to take a sabbatical” according to internet search tool Answerthepublic.com.
In my view, a sabbatical is just a weeks or months long break from any paid work. It’s more than just a vacation, but beyond that, there are no rules. It’s a blank canvas waiting for you.
People I’ve spoken with have used their time off for all kinds of things:
- Finishing up a dissertation/writing a book,
- Taking stock of what they want in their career,
- Te-connecting with family,
- Evaluating a job transition,
- Supporting a loved one through an illness,
- Researching starting a business,
- A way to “practice” retirement lifestyle before you actually retire,
- A way to cross train / learn a new skill / learn a new hobby.
Know that even when you’re certain you want to take an extended work break or sabbatical, major fears will likely come up that I’m sure you’re already asking yourself, “What will my family or colleagues think of me?,” “How do I communicate this to future employers when I go back to work?” or “How will I afford this?”
These fears are all very valid, and fortunately there are many who have come before you who had the courage to take an extended work break, were forced to take an extended work break, or who utilized an employee benefit to take time off that you can learn from. We’ll explore their stories in this book. They had these fears too and you’ll get to see exactly how they overcame them.
The Emotional Journey
In my work as a financial planner I’ve coached dozens of people one-on-one to help them take an extended work break. And I can tell you from experience, it’s never the finances that are the MOST fear inducing. It’s often the intrusive, emotional thoughts that can be the most challenging. It’s very easy for us to craft an identity around the work that we do, and it takes effort to let go of that career identity, even temporarily.
I know because before starting my financial planning firm in 2015, burned out and overworked, I left my corporate job without a real plan or timeline, just a loose idea that I wanted to pivot to working in personal finance. I liked telling people I was taking a sabbatical because for me it meant the work break was somehow “sanctioned” or serving as a bridge to whatever came next. The reality was I had just left a high paying media job and didn’t know when or where my next real paycheck would come from. I also didn’t know when or how I would get to my next thing. That’s a scary thought for anyone.
I surmise, nearly everyone thinks taking an extended break from work will be detrimental to their career, family, or financial lives. American’s don’t even take enough vacations. A Pew Research study found that only about half of workers take all the paid vacation days offered by their employers. But based on my experience and research, extended work breaks (not just vacations) are the best catalyst to discover, learn and grow professionally and personally.
I saw this in my own life. Soon after embarking on my sabbatical, I reluctantly learned how to “just be” without needing to achieve all the time. The experience gave me the time and space to evaluate options for starting my own successful financial planning company. But it also gave me time to envision a way of working that wasn’t so hustle-focused. It changed my life forever and I carry many of the lessons I learned along the way with me today.
A Sabbatical for You
Sabbaticals always bring about life changes and shifts, but they don’t always mean an all-out career change. Until sabbaticals become more commonplace, the most likely reason you’re looking into an extended work break is to cure or fix your burnout.
You’re not the only one—more than half of American workers are experiencing moderate to high levels of burnout according to the latest Aflac WorkForces Report from 2022. Unfortunately a vacation won’t do. You need to shift your priorities and perspectives. Ready to dive in?
I wrote a book about the mindset and money shifts you need to make to have a transformative work break. And it’s available for pre-order now.
- If you’re burned out but don’t think a break is possible, this book will help you figure out where to begin planning.
- If you’re thinking about a mid-career change, this book will help you use your sabbatical to explore possibilities.
- If you’re dreaming of retirement, a sabbatical could be a way to “test the waters” to see what eventual retirement might be like.
- If you want ideas to “practice” taking a sabbatical or get the feeling of taking a sabbatical without actually leaving your job—this book will have tips for you as well.
When I took my sabbatical, it gave me unstructured space to slowly explore building a business, that now eight years in, is successful and thriving. But beyond that, my sabbatical taught me to tolerate a different way of working, one that isn’t filled with daily emergencies and mini crises. One that includes balance, days off, and time to explore creative hobbies and interests.
I want that for you too.
A sabbatical can take many shapes, forms or colors. In The Art of the Sabbatical we will examine success catalysts gleaned from others’ stories. Hint: it’s more “art” than science. First, we’ll explore why sabbaticals are so important and what current offerings exist to be able to take one, either paid or unpaid, with support from your place of work, or on your own.
The fears you may have about taking an extended work break (whether related to the future, family, or finances) can be petrifying. So we’ll tackle those head on and share ways of overcoming them. Then we’ll look at some key success factors and explore ways of synthesizing what you’ll learn during your time away from work. It’ll be important to incorporate those learnings into your life and work moving forward.
Finally, no matter where you are in your decision making or planning, we’ll give you some actionable insights, stories and even journal prompts you can use to color your own sabbatical journey.