From DC Politics to Personal Finance – I realized I’m a creative person and that I can lean into all the things that interest me.
My break 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.
Making tough decisions
I remember the day that I quit my job. It was a sunny spring day in late April 2015 in Washington, DC, but I couldn’t enjoy it. The pressure had been building for weeks, probably even months. I had achieved a lot in my work. I was a global media company’s expert in financial regulations that had been rolling out since the 2008 financial crisis and I was about to graduate with an MBA from the prestigious Washington, D.C. university, Georgetown. But these outward successes were hiding something more sinister in my psyche. There was too much friction in the workplace, my true talents weren’t being utilized to their fullest, and I was completely stressed out from work, from school, and from life.
I don’t even remember the exact circumstance, but I received some bad work news that was the final straw. So, I decided on a whim a day before my final project of my MBA and graduation that I would put in my resignation notice at the job I held for nearly five years and go on sabbatical. I didn’t know it then, but this sabbatical would be my “capstone,” marking the transition away from a career in government relations and public policy that lasted more than a decade.
I hadn’t planned much of anything in advance. Luckily I had savings. I just knew that the situation I was in wasn’t working, in a bad way. When something is finally untenable, I usually make a big change and it can happen with a split decision. That’s the way it happened that day.
The way it works at Bloomberg is you put your notice in and then you’re escorted out, within an hour. They pay you for two weeks, but you’re not allowed to work or help with the transition. Since it’s a news organization, they don’t want anyone to publish bogus headlines before leaving. As a result, quitting feels a lot like being fired (probably intentionally). That’s why this unplanned decision was extra scary.
I knew that putting in my notice meant that I was going to be leaving the building soon. My heart was racing from all the adrenaline and stress. But I found the courage to push through the fear and hit the “send” button on the message early in the morning so that I could get it over with. Sure enough, within a few minutes I was asked to complete a sterile exit interview with a human resources representative in New York over video call, and then escorted out. I had the chance to say goodbye to a few local colleagues, but not to my team members or bosses who were based in New York.
Since it was sunny, I met up with a friend in the park. I described to her what I was feeling: “It’s like I’m breaking up with someone. I feel so much anxiety, letting people down, but yet I know it’s the right decision.” She nodded that she understood. There’s grief associated with a loss like this even if it’s a good thing.
On this first day of my sabbatical I sat in the sunshine with my friend and we jokingly planned to open a snow cone truck to beat the heat that summer in Washington, DC. We even started work on a cost estimate spreadsheet. Even if it was a daydream, I started to feel better knowing I had options in front of me, or at least could spin up ideas quickly.
For the next week, at least, things were a whirlwind. I was still winding down my final days of my MBA program with a group presentation due, and then graduation. My brain could focus on that. But as soon as I graduated, I no longer had the familiarity I had grown used to: working 40 to 50 hours a week, not counting the twice monthly travel back and forth to New York. Then, evenings and weekends were for school projects, events and social engagements. I always had a packed-to-the-brim schedule.
Suddenly, I had free time and it was joyous. It also came with a little sorrow as well. Many of my Georgetown colleagues could commiserate. We were all exhausted from two years of packing in both work and school. But at the same time we all missed the camaraderie, the people, and the projects. For me, this grief was compounded since I no longer had anywhere to be during the day. It was a real challenge because I’m not comfortable without a purpose or a plan.
I had some ideas for what I wanted to do next. But I would slowly let those ideas percolate. My first order of business was to rest and recharge and schedule absolutely nothing. One of the things I had to unlearn was that achievement meant I was worth something.
It wasn’t until weeks into my sabbatical that true boredom would sink in, in a good way. I loved that the hardest decision of my day was whether or not to go to yoga. In a matter of about two months, I had changed over from the corporate-style frenetic energy trying to get stuff done to someone trying to let go of those well-worn tools.
A lifelong planner, it was difficult to allow myself to not make significant plans or put detailed timetables into action. So I took things slowly. I started to take things month-by-month rather than how I planned my time before — hour-by-hour. I prioritized personal development and health. But I resisted the urge to fill up my days completely. It was hard.
But it paid dividends. My break 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.
Wrapping up the sabbatical
After some travels and reconnection time with friends and family, I spent the final part of my sabbatical figuring out what came next. When I decided to start my business, North Financial Advisors, I focused on intentionality rather than speed. I focused on finding the right clients, versus finding any clients. And I focused on time off, balance, and variability in my days and weeks. I realized I’m a whole person that doesn’t just do one thing. I have tons of hobbies (currently pottery and pickleball) and I like to switch them up from time to time. I love writing and it’s a fantastic way for me to both process information and teach others. I can’t do all the things I love if I’m married to a job. And I can’t bring my best self to my clients and my writing if I overwork myself in any particular area.
My business is now eight years old and thriving. Since then, I’ve made the time to write two books including The Resiliency Effect (available on Amazon) and The Art of the Sabbatical (publishing spring 2024) which tackles the mindset and financial skills to plan a transformational work break.
Activities you engaged in during your sabbatical:
– I reluctantly learned how to “just be” without needing to achieve all the time
– Rested and recharged
– Experienced time freedom and unstructured days
– Traveled to visit friends around the U.S. and connected with friends locally
– Visited Prince Edward Island, Canada and the mountains and beaches of Panama
– Attended my MBA graduation
– Learned to bake bagels
– Cooked up a storm: from coconut curries to goat cheese stuffed meatballs and quinoa pizza bites
– Attended my sister’s wedding as maid of honor
– Did lots of Yoga and exercised
– Planned local wilderness hikes during all seasons, picking berries in the summer and witnessing the fall foliage and bare winter trees.
– Visited local art museums and attended concerts
– Wrote and journaled
– Studied for the Certified Financial Planner designation
– Experiment with the idea of starting a business in a sandbox environment
– Talked to other people who started their own financial planning firms and started a networking group
- How long was your sabbatical (in weeks)?
- Describe any changes you made in your life post-sabbatical:
I decided to start a financial planning business that now eight years in, is successful and thriving.
- How did your sabbatical experience change the way you thought about your employer?
I realized that I (and most people) bind up too much of our identity and self esteem in unrealistic corporate working norms
- Why do you think others should (or shouldn’t) take sabbaticals? Are there occasions in life where it’s particularly helpful?
So long as you don’t “busy” your way through them, sabbaticals teach us to be quiet and listen, to soak in, learn, and be creative. They can help safely bring about shifts and are a perfect way to celebrate or settle into a new normal during, before or after a transition. They are also great for testing the waters or learning a new skill, or in my case, making a major career pivot into entrepreneurship.
You can connect with Cady North here.
If you’d like to read more stories on career-change sabbaticals, you might like Rainer’s sabbatical story.