Is your treadmill burning your candle at both ends, heading for burnout, wondering where your life’s going, or do you know where you are on your life’s intended and planned purpose? And (when) might that plan include a sabbatical?
Originating from “the Sabbath” for rest, the sabbatical serves an ancient human need to build periods of rest and rejuvenation into a lifetime or in the context of resting land in 7 year crop rotation cycles.
Traditionally sabbaticals were found in academic careers often to create space for research. Or from long term expatriations in foreign lands, for instance when missionaries were sent to all corners of the earth and returned home after decades to rest, rejuvenate and re-acquaint. Today we find people from all walks of life seeking and planning sabbaticals. Many organizations offer unpaid leave for sabbaticals in order to retain key staff. Some even offer paid sabbaticals under certain conditions. Typically they run from 6 months to a year.
However, there is a growing number of individuals just like you and me that are providing and planning for a sabbatical in their personal capacity, often to counteract impending burnout or even as part of their life plan.
What Would You Use A Sabbatical For?
Sabbaticals can be very varied. Some just want a 6 month break to build or restore a car. Others want to travel. Then some do a PhD. Some write a book. Some visit an Ashram. Some do an expedition to climb the world’s tallest mountains. There are more examples out there than you can point a stick at. None are the same. Why? Because none of us is the same. None of our destinies or our life purposes is the same. Every one of us has our own journey towards what our life’s work was intended for. And so every one of us will have a different approach.
The Burnout Treadmill
In today’s first world high pace, high income, high lifestyle-expense career environment we are more stretched than ever before. Granted we have opportunities more than ever before, but the trappings of first world success sure “take their pound of flesh”, don’t they? I can see that from the clients I work with – often very successful and striving for more growth and success, but very, very tired, usually not willing to acknowledge how close they are to suffering burnout.
And this ever present “stretch” seems to somehow be planned to keep us on that treadmill – happy little vegemites flat out working and consuming, just like the model requires us to. It seems that thinking about, let alone planning and providing for a real break to rest, reflect, rejuvenate and re-invent or re-direct is just not possible. Or could it be that it might be “pooh-poohed” by their peers? And so we continue to toil away, spending everything that we earn, often living beyond our means, “because we deserve it”.
And before we know it, we are 10 and 20 years older. Too often without much to show for it.
Maybe with guilt about the relationships we ignored or squandered.
Or looking at ourselves in a mirror, wondering who we have become.
Or find ourselves in hospital, wondering what hit us. Burned out.
Go on, have a think about it. What are you on track for, if you keep going the way you are?
Would A Personal Example Help?
I am in the closing stages of the 2nd sabbatical of my life’s work so far. My first one was 10 years ago when I took 9 months to transition out of a 30+ year corporate career before starting my own business.
And by the way, can I share one significant fact with you that is different in my life since that first sabbatical?
The absence of stress and the prevalence of choices. Please think about your life right now. Can you honestly say that about yours?
In the last 9 months I have had to reinvent my business and hence myself once again.
Recognizing the reality of my old business model no longer sustainably supporting my expected growth, I needed to make some changes. To enable that, I needed make financial provision for a prolonged period of income stagnation, which I did. This was largely possible because I have personally practiced what I preached in its not what you make, it’s what you keep. And then I set about creating the personal space in which I could very strongly work on myself.
That allowed the right people (professionals, mentors, coaches and friends), tools (books, MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses), courses and research), processes (meditation and other spiritual techniques), and ideas to materialize, which I followed. I read copiously and created much space for reflection, chatting, listening and writing. The book list I share on my website at “Books I Am Reading Now” will bear that out.
My networking took on a very different form too in that I sought the exposure to sources of many new ideas and options, particularly around the emerging technologies and compelling new business models. Endless walks and conversations and seemingly endless bike rides created the time to think and reflect and mull over when not reading and just being.
What Was My Biggest Challenge In This Time?
My biggest challenge was to not feel guilty that I wasn’t chasing goals. Maintaining my belief, trusting self, patience and sticking to what needed to be developmentally done at an internal level.
We are so programmed for ongoing evidence of growth and success, aren’t we? In this context, my need for significance, feeling obliged to prove my self-worth through the finding and winning new client assignments was ever present as a distracting force.
My wife has my greatest admiration for her undying faith and support through these challenges. The same applies to my select friends and coaches in that period. Please never underestimate the value or more importantly never to take such support for granted.
The Biggest Factors For Any “Successful” Sabbatical?
I found one key factor to be maintaining the time and space to reflect and think. No pressure to have to produce out of guilt. This period is an investment. It is not a cost.
I don’t believe a sabbatical needs to necessarily have a detailed plan or structure but it should have a defined purpose and a time-frame and some milestones along the way to ensure it is able to look back on some outcomes it was intended to have achieved.
I found it a curious mix in that it works best when it has an overall objective and a broad plan including the primary areas of focus across a broad milestone based timeline but that it then shouldn’t tie you down to the typical treadmill based existence you are trying to escape from in the first place. Sabbaticals work best when there is plenty of time and space to just be; to smell the roses and to have lots if untenured time to reflect; doing things you love but normally don’t make time for. Spending time with people you love and admire. Seeking time around new people and new ideas. And in doing so, allowing your right brain and your unconscious level resources to emerge to take those new ideas and to feed you new insights which your busy life would normally not enable, even block.
Planned Or Imposed?
And what I have found is that those that have taken the time to reflect on and sketch out a life plan and a career plan are the ones that will schedule a sabbatical into it at some point. Conversely, those that don’t are usually so busy tread-milling (and heading for burnout) that at best they can only rationalize (that is to tell themselves rational lies) why they can’t afford one. They are usually also the ones that don’t invest in other areas of their personal development or using a coach to help guide them and hold them accountable towards achieving what matters to them most.
If I challenged you now, honestly, which of these camps do you confess to belong to?
I have learned that great lives don’t just happen. They are planned and guided and allow them to focus on what deeply matters to them. Not on the gossip and the politics and the ego driven need for significance that thrives on daily drama and “story” to give it the feel of substance. That’s unfortunately what the masses do – drifting through life on the relentless treadmill without the time and resources (equity) to find, develop and live the life they want and their dependents look to them for. Knowing but nonetheless continuing to head for burnout.
So Where Do Coaches Fit Into This?
Having read about this a lot, and having planned, implemented and experienced two such Sabbaticals myself, I have also coached a number of clients into and through such sabbaticals.
My work in this space has been predominantly around two areas of focus:
• To assist in planning and creating the wherewithal to be able to embark on a sabbatical with the right purpose
• To challenge and hold accountable what clients wanted the sabbatical to achieve for them in the first place so that it isn’t “just a long holiday”.
I would suggest that this is a perfect area to engage your own coach to help you plan and drive your own sabbatical. Without that, isn’t it more likely that it will land on the “one day I’ll…” pile? And with that support and accountability conscience, isn’t the likelihood of you looking back on a great mix of rest, rejuvenation and re-invention coupled with the answers and the outcomes you sought, much greater?
So let me repeat the introductory question here for you: Is your treadmill burning your candle at both ends, heading for burnout, wondering where your life’s going or do you know where you are on your life’s intended and planned purpose? And (when) might that plan include a sabbatical? What will it take?
Are you unsure whether or how a sabbatical would help, or how to go about justifying or planning one? I am absolutely sure that an exploratory chat with me would help you throw some light onto this and perhaps other questions. What have you got to lose? It’s free and if we meet face to face, I’ll even throw in the coffee.
So go on, Contact Me via my website and Let’s Talk Coaching.
Nick Gole says
Love this blog Heiner. “Change is the only constant in life” and one has to continually reinvent themselves to keep adapting and changing, growing and learning. I am glad I picked up the phone and called and it has been great to have you on my team to take me higher and further in life. Sabbaticals are not for the faint hearted and neither is taking risk. These are milestones for people who are “seekers”. There are some lines I have always believed in
If your heart is restless you are still alive
If you have dreams in your eyes then you are still alive
Learn to be like the wind which moves freely
Learn to be like the waves that are always moving
Meet each of life’s moments with open arms
Live each second like it could be your last
Remember that if something still surprises and excites you then you are still alive!
David Grieve says
I like the quote “it’s not what you make it’s what you keep”. I certainly know people who are continually striving for higher salaries and profits – and in the long run they have little to show for it, whether in financial or emotional (well being terms). In my opinion we need to be ‘well rounded’ and a Sabbatical can a way of doing this……………….providing it is not ‘just a holiday’ but replenishes your energy, intellect and vigour.