My sabbatical allowed me to slow down and explore how I want to be in this next chapter of life
“So if you’re feeling like you’re just working all the time, just doing and taking care of things, disconnected from your own sense of magic, and needing to slow down, a sabbatical could be an incredible gift to yourself, to those around you, and to the world.”
From the outside, it might look like taking a sabbatical is a perfect-planned, long-awaited milestone that fits seamlessly within someone’s career trajectory. Sometimes it is.
In my case, it surely wasn’t. I never even thought of myself as someone who would take a sabbatical—I was always too proud of being such an achiever.
For me, the decision and opportunity to take a sabbatical came suddenly. And it led me to the place that I sort of intuitively knew—but wasn’t 100% sure—I needed: being able to slow down, disconnect from productivity, and clarify the impact I wanted to have on the world.
A Sudden Decision
In 2022, I was working as a Senior Director at a tech company in Los Angeles. I was feeling stuck, uninspired, and honestly overwhelmed not only by my work responsibilities, but also by my personal life—family health issues, disintegrating friendships, my evolving marriage and parenthood, my personal desires, and of course everything pandemic.
One night in July 2022, my boss called me and offered me the opportunity to lay myself off. I had 24 hours to decide whether to do it.
The first person I consulted was my husband. He was sitting on the couch in our living room, and I came in smiling. He knew I had been on the phone with my boss.
“You look happy…did you get promoted?” he asked.
“No. I have the chance to leave,” I told him. He knew I had been looking to leave.
The next person I called was our financial planner—a friend who we’ve worked with for the past 7 years.
“If I leave, am I ready for the worst case scenario?” I asked him.
“Well,” he said calmly. “The worst case scenario is that you die.”
I laughed. It actually put things in a much needed perspective.
“OK,” I said. “Given a severance and our emergency savings, could I go a year without working?”
“Yes,” he said.
Of course, I recognize that most people wouldn’t be able to be in my position, but I want to be honest about what it took for me to take a leap like this. I figured a year was enough time for me to take a good month off completely, to survive the slow winter of hiring, and to navigate finding a job given the economy and the seniority level I was looking to fill.
“Anything can happen in a year,” I thought to myself. And so I laid myself off.
First Weeks of Slowing Down
A month later, I was on sabbatical. I only started telling people it was a sabbatical when I couldn’t figure out any other way to phrase it. I was like, “I’m leaving my job…but I’m not coming back…but I’m not going into a new job…and I have no idea what’s next. What is this called?!”
I started referring to it as a “sabbatical”, even though I thought sabbaticals had to have a clear purpose and timeline. The only plan I had was to slow things down in my life, and I had no idea how long I’d take before I started working again.
For better or worse, I was just figuring it out as I went along.
To guide me, I established just a few principles I wanted to embrace:
- I couldn’t have any work-related conversations for one month (which turned into two months). That’s the time and space I needed to start bringing more “being” and less “doing” into my life without distractions.
- I could keep notes of things I wanted to do during my sabbatical, but I couldn’t use it as my to-do list. I didn’t want to use my sabbatical as a time to “achieve” things and check things off a list, even if they were for my personal life.
- I gave myself permission to decide what to do on a day-by-day basis. I wanted to follow my intuition more and distance myself from having to ruthlessly plan and optimize everything.
These principles helped me reconnect to what I wanted for myself now. Without this break, there’s absolutely no way I would’ve gotten myself to a place to abandon the comforts of a tech job and start my own venture like this.
Being on sabbatical was a weird adjustment for an achiever like me. The first week I filled my days with home projects. I wasn’t ready to not do anything, and so I was productive domestically.
The second week, I spent the first few days on home projects and then ran out of things to do.
The third week, I was going on hikes with my dog, exploring local gardens, going swimming, hanging at the pool with my husband, watching mindless television, and sometimes falling asleep on the couch in the middle of the day.
People often asked me if I planned to travel. I think most people consider some kind of travel during a sabbatical, but I still had my dad duties and wanted to be present for my son as he began kindergarten.
My husband referred to it as a “Stay-battical”.
Also, the goal for me wasn’t to find some kind of new inspiration—which can often be found in travel—it was just to slow myself down and find ways to reconnect to myself in my day-to-day life.
An Aha Moment
As I slowed things down for myself, I tried meditating.
I downloaded the free, Healthy Minds app, and would listen to modules when I walked my dog.
I remember one day when the guy on the module said, “There is nothing that needs to get done right now.” It was right in my AirPods, directly into my skull. I had been a few weeks into my sabbatical, and it was literally true: there was nothing that I needed to get done.
This was a radical idea for me, like something atomic changed in me in that moment. Of course, I still had my responsibilities to myself and my husband and my son and my parents, sure. But all the pressures I had created or imagined for myself—at home, professionally, personally—seemed to melt away.
As it turns out, I liked living from this new place. All the space I had previously filled with things that I had to accomplish got replaced by a sense of new possibility.
And I came to cherish my ability to have a more flexible schedule, to take a midday break, to explore, to connect with others during the day…to co-create with life rather than try to control it all the time.
I made the executive decision to extend my one month of not looking for a job to two months. And in that second month, it became very clear I would not be opening up a job application any time soon.
The Way Forward
A couple months had gone by, and I was ready to find a new direction to point myself in professionally.
There were two ideas that I was holding:
- I didn’t want to have a full-time corporate job again. I had gotten too attached to the gift of being able to shape my own days.
- I wanted to do work that helped people’s wellbeing and development. This was such a passion for me as a leader, and I wondered what would happen if I could make it my full-time job rather than part of my job. My employer had provided a coach during the pandemic, and they were transformational for me.
That’s what led me to explore coaching as a profession.
I talked to other coaches I knew, researched coach training programs, and signed up for my first course. And over the next couple months of my sabbatical, I trained for 100 hours as a coach, celebrated my 40th birthday, hosted the holidays for my family, and started planning to launch my business.
The training program helped me connect to my purpose of bringing more Courage into the world, and gave me the skills to feel confident stepping into coaching. And so my sabbatical wound down at the end of 2022, and I stepped into my new profession—and a new way of being—at the start of 2023.
Activities you engaged in during your sabbatical:
- Took hikes in my area
- Took my dog on longer walks in the neighborhood
- Enjoyed pool days at local hotels with my husband
- Met up with my cousins for lunch
- Fell asleep on the couch in the middle of the day
- Watched bad TV when I wanted to
- Performed small home projects
- Grew a beard for the first time
- Volunteered in my son’s kindergarten class
- Went to coffee shops and read
- Enrolled in a coaching training program
- Traveled to Mexico for my 40th birthday
- Hosted Thanksgiving and winter holidays for my family
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?!
Responsibilities – how can I afford the mortgage/take care of my family?
Describe any changes you made in your life post-sabbatical:
I connected to my purpose of bringing more Courage into the world. I left my corporate job behind, and started my own business, where I coach, write, and teach. As a result, I’m exploring a new way of showing up in the world—redefining my relationship to work, productivity, security, and money.
Why do you think others should (or shouldn’t) take sabbaticals? Are there occasions in life where it’s particularly helpful?
Most people think of a sabbatical as a time to “recharge” and fill up your battery level. The assumption is that you just need to unplug, get more energy, and then plug back in again. I think that’s an okay use of a sabbatical, but not the optimal use.
The optimal use is as a time to rewire the battery so it becomes super-powered, capable of making a more direct, outsized impact in the world no matter what comes after it.
The root of “sabbatical” comes from “sabbath”, which refers to time set aside for rest and worship. Given this origin, there are two ideas that feel important:
There is value in seeing who you are when you’re not working, when you are at rest. So many of us have crafted our lives around the ideas of working, labor, and productivity. But we are human beings, after all, not human doings. So a sabbatical is a perfect time to remove all the doing and busyness from your life so you can reconnect to your own humanity. As you emerge from your sabbatical, your task is then to carry that aliveness—rather than abandon it—as you step back into working life.
There is a ton of value in connecting to a higher purpose. I’m not advocating for anyone to use their sabbatical to become religious or spiritual (though sometimes that happens). Rather, I think a sabbatical is an amazing opportunity to take a step back and define your life purpose. I believe everyone has a life purpose, and I’ve become a huge advocate for people using it as a tool to clarify what fulfills them.
When folks can use a sabbatical to reconnect to who they are and the contribution they’re meant to give others, that’s a powerful sabbatical.
So if you’re feeling like you’re just working all the time, just doing and taking care of things, disconnected from your own sense of magic, and needing to slow down, a sabbatical could be an incredible gift to yourself, to those around you, and to the world.
If you’d like to read more parents’ sabbatical stories, you might like Monisha’s story.