A journey from structuring derivatives to teaching people about longevity and happiness.
My sabbatical made me realize that I could not work for a company just to make money. I needed to have an impact and find meaning through my work.
When I was at Goldman Sachs London I had a burnout. It was not simply the long hours and the type of work. It was also a personal burnout. I felt it was a type of work for people interested in making money. I was interested in learning, paying my bills….but also in having an impact.
I was feeling unhealthy (I started losing my hair and I could not sleep well). Food in London and in the office tasted like nothing. And food for me has always been a source of energy and happiness.
I also felt I did not own my time. I was working from 5am to 11pm and I had no time for my hobbies and other interests.
One day my sister (a doctor) came to visit me from Italy, I showed her the office and she told me that we all looked like chickens in a cage (I was sitting in a small box surrounded by many computers, with artificial light and no sun). I was completely demotivated and burnout. I studied Economics all my life (and I still like following the markets), but I felt I was trading my life for money. Was this the reason why I had studied and worked so much? I was ready to start everything again. But this time I wanted to choose something that had a meaning.
I did not take a “formal” sabbatical. Nobody was taking sabbaticals at the time. It was a personal and professional transformational experience.
I went back home to Southern Italy, the kingdom of the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle because I needed to recover my health and find my happiness again. I needed the sun, good healthy food, human connections and my family. While I recovered, I just realized how the transformational experience I was going through could be helpful to other people with aging or obesity related diseases (cancer, heart diseases, Alzheimer).
When I lived in Boston to study at Harvard Business School or when I worked in New York and London, I was shocked to see how many people were taking supplements, instead of focusing on prevention through real food (the one rich in good nutrients) and lifestyle. People were eating overprocessed food and then they were taking supplements. While data on cancer, depression, lack of sleep, heart diseases were increasing exponentially. It made no sense to me. Good/healthy food makes you healthy and happy! Those pills did not look very exciting.
I needed to show people that “prevention” was key to add years to our life and life to our years. Without good and healthy food and without the appropriate lifestyle (which means connections, purpose, lifestyle) people were going to miss the opportunity to be happy and live life to the fullest.
So I thought I needed to tell international people about the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle. And I love teaching. Therefore I thought of putting together educational, hands-on retreats bringing international people to Southern Italy.
At first I was such a pioneer in what I was promoting, that I had a super hard time being understood by people I was telling my idea and dream to.
Some thought that I was going to put people on a diet to lose weight (diet in ancient Greek means “lifestyle” and has nothing to do with losing weight). Others thought that I wanted to start a cooking school to teach people how to cook.
It was frustrating to explain that I was not simply selling extra virgin olive oil: I was selling longevity! I was not teaching people how to make spaghetti and tomato sauce.
We were a team of doctors and food experts teaching our own method to reach longevity and happiness through healthy food and healthy lifestyle.
Things became easier when Harvard Medical School started publishing research against over processed foods, and in favor of the Mediterranean diet, specifying that it was not simply about what you eat but also about connections, purpose and lifestyle. Today there is an article about the Mediterranean diet almost every day in the news.
After Covid, people have finally realized the importance of preventing and finding energy and happiness in a more natural way instead of taking pills! Everybody now talks about the importance of connections and lifestyle.
Today I still run my educational retreats in Italy and I target corporate people (especially over 50s) who want to restore, find their energy in a natural way and also find the inspiration on what to do next with their life. I have a very high repeat rate and people who attend my programs make life long connections.
Activities you engaged in during your sabbatical as possible:
- My sister (a cardiologist) and I did a research on the health effects of the ancient Mediterranean diet and lifestyle on longevity and happiness. At that time (2004-2012) lots of scientific research on the Mediterranean Diet started to be produced by doctors and scientists based in Italy, Europe, Australia and the US (Harvard Medical School). We wanted to understand why people who followed this diet/lifestyle lived up to 100 years or longer.
- I trained with the best Italian chefs to understand the difference in health benefits between what chefs at “restaurants” cook and what people following the Mediterranean diet cook at “home”. Home made food is much healthier.
- I took several courses on healthy foods (from herbs rich in antioxidants, to healthy grains)
- I trained to become a 3rd level wine sommelier (maximum level in Italy)
- I studied French wines at the Bordeaux University of wine in France
- I trained to become a certified extra virgin olive oil sommelier (olive oil is one of the few healthy fats, proven to foster longevity and prevent Alzheimer, heart diseases, cancer and other chronic diseases)
- I traveled to meet small sustainable food, olive oil and wine producers all over Italy (this was way before the current sustainability/small farmers trend)
- I took drums/percussions classes (I am already a maestro in classic piano and playing music has always been part of my life)
- I took theater/improv classes
- I started a Longevity and Happiness School in Southern Italy, providing educational/experiential retreats to international people who want to feel reenergized and rejuvinated by following the ancient Mediterranean diet and lifestyle (which is not simply about food, but is also about connections, purpose and lifestyle)
- I took Digital Marketing classes and started an online ecommerce business, selling a unique extra virgin olive oil, super rich in health benefits
What catalyzed your sabbatical?
Negative event – death of a loved one, health/burnout, job loss, etc.
How long was your sabbatical (in weeks)?
What were you most concerned about when contemplating a sabbatical?
Money – it’ll cost too much!
Optics – what will colleagues, friends and family think of me?
Did HOW you work change at all, post-sabbatical?
Went from company employed to self-employed
What kind of work did you return to?
Totally different work
Describe any changes you made in your life post-sabbatical:
I started focusing on meaning. I went from working in the finance sector (Fixed Income at GS) to promoting happiness and longevity through the ancient and science-based Mediterranean diet and lifestyle
How did your sabbatical experience change the way you thought about your employer?
My sabbatical experience made me realize that I could not work just to make money. I needed to make an impact through my work (this was in 2004, way before the current purpose-driven trend)
Why do you think others should (or shouldn’t) take sabbaticals? Are there occasions in life where it’s particularly helpful?
I was lucky to have a professional burnout at Goldman Sachs in my 30s which made me realize early on, that my life was more important than having an important brand on my CV or living in a super expensive city (London).
That professional burnout made me wonder about my “meaning” and I started searching for it. I see that women start searching for meaning when they turn 45-50. They are afraid of quitting their job and stay in a career that does not make them happy anymore: they are afraid of change, they lack inspiration on what to do next or they are afraid of losing social status.
I think a sabbatical is a risk free way to try and learn new things and find new meaning.
Interested in more career change sabbaticals? You might enjoy Milena’s story.