SABBATICAL || The Life Plan

Chapter- 6

 SABBATICAL

Taking a pause is exciting, invigorating, life changing and possible. Taking time out to see life from a different perspective or country can give us the energy and creativity to live life optimally.


Taking a ‘pause’ in life was something I had heard of, but didn’t think was possible. You can only do it when you are young and responsibility-free, right? When I was twenty-one years old, I travelled the world with a backpack for two years and I think that was the probably the time I learnt the most in life – a sense of freedom that came hand-in-hand with fear, excitement, opportunity, fun, loneliness, self-acceptance and incredible experiences, both good and bad, which I have always treasured.


New York graphic designer and TED speaker Stefan Sagmeister takes a year off every seven years, saying he will retire five years later to balance it all out. Listen to his talk (www.ted.com/talks/stefan_sagmeister_the_power_of_time_off) and you will see that, with the right planning, a sabbatical can be one of the smartest career moves you can make. Why wait until retirement; why not have these incredible experiences along the way to gain clarity and energy? Taking these breaks when we are fit enough to challenge ourselves, do what we want and experience the world in new ways really makes sense.


Before you say a sabbatical is not for you, let’s debunk a few myths.



Mapping out a plan

When our children were born, my husband and I went through our twenty-year plan, basically covering when our children would start school, when they would start secondary school and when they would finish. We asked ourselves a few simple questions: When would we like to take a ‘pause’ in life? When would it be possible? What ages would work best for us? What would be the optimal time for our children to travel and experience the world with us? What would we regret not doing? How could we make it happen?


We pencilled in two years where we thought it would be possible, when our kids wouldn’t need to do homework and could just be kids. We also had other criteria – our son and daughter had to be old enough to bike, walk and experience the world. We named our sabbatical ‘The Pause’ and we called all the steps required to get there ‘Operation Too Easy’. I have to say that it is the best thing I have done in my life: a beautiful, incredibly special and inspiring trip that I will treasure forever. Of course, I am already planning the next one.

A SABBATICAL OR A CAREER BREAK?

What is the difference between the two? Well, a sabbatical is when you take your time out and return to your job with the blessing of your employer. It is a time where many employers assist employees to take a business course, do volunteer work or travel. (I know of an enlightened company that supported a senior employee to do yoga teacher training.) The idea is always to return to the company and continue with the organisation that has supported the sabbatical. In Australia, long service leave is the vehicle for many people to take a sabbatical without losing their income stream.


A career break is when you resign and consciously take a break. Many people do this before setting up their own business. They take time to breathe, plan, learn languages, write that script they’ve always wanted to, spend some time at home with their family or simply take stock of life. Many people take one before changing their career path.

QUESTIONS TO HELP YOU GAIN CLARITY

  •    Do I want a break?
  •    Do I need time to rest, recharge, recommit?
  •    What would make my working life shine?
  •    What do I want to learn?
  •    How much will it cost?
  •    Will my current employer be open to it?
  •    Will my business suffer?
  •    What will it do for my health?
  •    Where do I dream of going?
  •    Who else has done this and what was their experience?
  •  *The only way to take a break in life, or press the ‘pause’ button, is to make the decision that you want to take it.

How do you take a break in life?

Taking a break is part of your plan if you want it to be. Remember that you know your values, your vision, your goals, your structures and your passion projects or hobbies. And in the same way that our cars need refuelling, our technical tools need recharging and our soil needs fertilising, our minds need space to be able to think and our bodies need to move, stretch and breathe to be able to function optimally.


To press the ‘pause’ button, the first step is to make the decision that you want to do this. Make the decision and tell someone. When we decided, we wrote it down in our planner and looked at it. It looked great, but then our emotions ran crazy. Can we really do that? What would people think? What would happen to our jobs? How could we afford it? Wow, how bold would we be if we did that? This turned quite quickly into: we can do it! Wouldn’t it be great; how adventurous and how glorious would it be to have freedom and a blank slate each day? Imagine seeing the world through the eyes of our children; imagine leaving the phone behind.


  • *A pause can provide gifts and abundance that money can’t buy.
  • *I left my phone in Melbourne and got on the plane. I did not make a phone call for twenty weeks. And I lived!

Our big pause – five months

WHERE: United States, British Virgin Islands, Mexico

WHEN: 2013

WHO: Me and my husband, our two children, and a visiting aunty and grandparent along the way

HOW LONG: Twenty weeks

ESSENTIALS: A great attitude, courage, fear, a plan and my camera

CONTRABAND ITEMS: Smartphone, watch, make-up, clients, high heels, suits and fancy clothes

GOAL: To explore, to connect, to bond, to experience, to learn, to secure meaning and to recharge body and mind

THE OUTCOME: Freedom, energy, fun, adventures of a lifetime, new skills, stories and a feeling of great abundance in life. A sense that we are in charge of our own destiny, so keep planning for greatness and depth in life. Oh, and we all liked each other!

When we decided to take our pause, it was important that we had clarity on the purpose. I wanted to recharge my body and mind. I wanted to have the time to learn photography and capture the moments that would help me be mindful, present and enjoy the moment. My husband, Michael, had been a CEO for ten years and was really in need of a break and recharge. Our ten years of marriage had been incredible so far, with two booming careers, the births of two children who were now in school, marathons run, house renovated and full commitment to being who we wanted to be. It was time to take a breath, to enjoy, to savour, to celebrate, to stop.

OUR PLAN

  •    Altitude living
    Eight weeks in Colorado, at 2103 metres above sea level in Steamboat Springs. Hiking, biking, fishing, reading, photography, yoga, exercise, breathing, decompressing from the world.
  •    The Road Bear RV
    Six weeks on the road, covering 6000 kilometres across Utah, Colorado, Nevada and California, experiencing people, cities, nature, animals and roadhouses, taking photographs and renewing our wedding vows in Las Vegas.
  •    A change of season
    Back to Colorado for three weeks to see the leaves begin to turn in autumn, visit the rodeos, ride horses and recalibrate our bodies and minds, do yoga, read and see the first snowfall of the season.
  •    A Caribbean calypso
    Two weeks in the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. Charter and drive our own boat. Swim, snorkel, live on the boat, meet people and experience ocean, sand, navigation, photography, fishing, heat and the Caribbean way of life.
  •    Signing off from Cancun
    One week in Cancun, Mexico. Rest and prepare to re-enter our lives of career, work, school, family, activities, learning, sports and so on.
  • *A ‘pause’ is taking time to breathe, to enjoy, to savour, to celebrate, to stop.

A peek in our writing journals

Before you begin your sabbatical, or ‘pause’, is a great time to journal, as it’s a useful way to explore your thoughts, fears and expectations about the changes ahead.

{ Shannah }

There are so many emotions now that I have stopped working. I am an achievement junkie, so it is exciting to have the opportunity to think about achievement in new ways. I am excited to experience new things and, being a beach person, to see what it is like to be a mountain person. I am excited to have time; time to explore, feel, learn, grow, be in the moment and master more of myself, work on being the best version of me I can be in life. And I’m excited to get out of Melbourne in winter; I really struggle with the cold.

 

I’m also feeling fear about leaving my beloved routines and structures, and anxiety that I may not actually like being in a pause. That sounds quite bizarre, but I love my job, my home, my existence here in Melbourne. The ‘what ifs?’ are there in my mind. What if I don’t like it? What if I don’t get the space I need as a person who likes calm in her life? What if I don’t like being with the kids round the clock? I have to challenge myself to have no expectations of the family or the places, and to enjoy everything for what it is.

 

I am filled with determination to learn. To learn more about photography, about life, about computers and IT, as I am falling behind. Michael is our IT department and I have let him be that, but I need to learn how it all works so I can help myself. I want to think about the next stage of our lives and what I need to do to capture and enjoy every moment.

 

I am feeling gratitude, bucketloads of it. Firstly, that we are fortunate enough to be able to do this trip. I am grateful that Michael and I are both adventurous and courageous enough to make the bold decisions and make things happen for ourselves. Neither of us wait for opportunities, we both go out and make them. I am grateful I have the courage to leave my business for a while and let it breathe, to be authentic and live the life I have chosen. I have incredible gratitude for my marriage, and that we operate as a team; that we have had the best ten years and that each year seems to get better, faster and more exciting than the last.

 

But mostly, I am deeply happy. With my life, with my marriage, with my beautiful children. We are all healthy, physically and mentally. And this is why I want to take a pause – to deeply experience this.

{ Michael }

Well, here I am. Sitting in Dubai, after a work trip, about to jump on a plane and spend 14 hours flying home before packing up and heading off on another 30-hour journey in six days’ time. Normally, this would be something to dread, however this time I can’t wait to jump into row 59 with my family and begin a trip we’ll remember for the rest of our lives.

 

I’ve always had a strong motivation to take time out and spend five months overseas as a family unit. Firstly, because of my vivid, fond childhood memories of an extended road trip with my family, and secondly, because I believe we owe it to ourselves to stop, think and work out how the hell we got to where we are today and how we can continue to make our lives awesome in the future.

 

I am proud we take risks. I am proud we act, rather than talk, and I am most proud that we have done it all by ourselves with no help from anyone. There is little doubt life will throw curve balls at us from time to time, but this trip will be a bonding experience that will be ours and ours alone.

 

I think the reason I have managed to be successful in my job and my life over the past ten years is mostly due to Shannah – how amazing she is at home, in business and in life. She sets standards that don’t allow me to drop my guard or accept the easy path. It has become second nature for me to take chances and follow my instincts.

 

I love my kids. I love spending quality time with them. I hope to find a new level of connection and calm in our relationship. I look forward to bonding with them both. We are a close family, but there is more work to do there.

 

I can’t wait to go home to the mountains. In some funny way I know they have been a big part of my life. I love the casualness and informality – mountain people don’t take themselves too seriously, but they really appreciate and love the environment around them.

 

I’m looking forward to learning new skills. It has been a long time since I actually started something from scratch, as a beginner. Whether it is biking, fishing or RV-ing, I am looking forward to learning again.

 

So let’s embrace the pause, open our minds, get on that plane and get the hell out of Hampton for a while! Bring it on.

Reading these pre-departure journals again after our trip really heightened what we got out of it. We had a greater appreciation for the bold steps we had taken to make sure that what we wanted most in life actually happened, and I realised that my fears about being away for so long were unfounded.


Writing journals before and after holidays or before a big deal is made, or even just writing down thoughts and emotions, can be really helpful in aiding our growth and evolution. The more we understand ourselves and take ownership of our lives, the richer they will be.

SUMMARY

Only you can dictate the path of your life and orchestrate what you want to happen. You have to make those decisions and have the courage to take an informed risk to make your dreams come true.


Our ‘pause’ strengthened our marriage and our bonds as a family, and gave us gifts that went beyond the financial cost – experiences I will treasure for the rest of my life. It did cost money, but we saved, budgeted and took the risk to have a go, and it delivered.

{ What would your pause look like? }

Here is how you can start planning:

  •    Identify why you want a pause.
  •    How much time do you want? What would the start and end date be?
  •    Do you want land, sea, mountains, oceans, lakes?
  •    What will be different from where you are now?
  •    What is on your bucket list or in your dreams that you can incorporate?
  •    How would you finance your sabbatical?
  •    How would your structure your time?
  •    How would you re-enter the workforce?
  •    What is the purpose; what do you want to learn from this valuable time?

{ Some lessons learnt }

  •    Five months is not a long time.
  •    You need to have a basic plan, but make sure you leave space for spontaneity.
  •    Your attitude needs to be in the right place.
  •    You don’t need much in life.
  •    If you want to live your dream, you need to book it and make it happen.
  •    You need an intention for your time out.
  •    Taking a break from your busy life is an exceptional way to connect and strengthen family bonds.
  •    Experiences are educational; your children will learn important life skills.
  •    Disconnecting is a great way to recharge.
  •    It’s your break, so do your research and make sure it ticks as many of your boxes as possible (rather than the well-meaning suggestions of others!).
  •    Be realistic. Plan a break that is achievable and that you know you can budget for.
  • *Remember, no matter how long you take, nothing significant will have changed when you get back; only you will have grown, evolved and experienced.

SUMMARY

Only you can dictate the path of your life and orchestrate what you want to happen. You have to make those decisions and have the courage to take an informed risk to make your dreams come true.


Our ‘pause’ strengthened our marriage and our bonds as a family, and gave us gifts that went beyond the financial cost – experiences I will treasure for the rest of my life. It did cost money, but we saved, budgeted and took the risk to have a go, and it delivered.

{ What would your pause look like? }

Here is how you can start planning:

  •    Identify why you want a pause.
  •    How much time do you want? What would the start and end date be?
  •    Do you want land, sea, mountains, oceans, lakes?
  •    What will be different from where you are now?
  •    What is on your bucket list or in your dreams that you can incorporate?
  •    How would you finance your sabbatical?
  •    How would your structure your time?
  •    How would you re-enter the workforce?
  •    What is the purpose; what do you want to learn from this valuable time?

{ Some lessons learnt }

  •    Five months is not a long time.
  •    You need to have a basic plan, but make sure you leave space for spontaneity.
  •    Your attitude needs to be in the right place.
  •    You don’t need much in life.
  •    If you want to live your dream, you need to book it and make it happen.
  •    You need an intention for your time out.
  •    Taking a break from your busy life is an exceptional way to connect and strengthen family bonds.
  •    Experiences are educational; your children will learn important life skills.
  •    Disconnecting is a great way to recharge.
  •    It’s your break, so do your research and make sure it ticks as many of your boxes as possible (rather than the well-meaning suggestions of others!).
  •    Be realistic. Plan a break that is achievable and that you know you can budget for.
  • *Remember, no matter how long you take, nothing significant will have changed when you get back; only you will have grown, evolved and experienced.








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