Sabbatical Stories

Grant Tests His Retirement Idea

Senior Software Engineering Manager Takes a Much-Needed Break

Summary: As Grant approaches important milestones, he figures a sabbatical could help him test out his idea of retirement and truly enjoy his progress. His time off recharges him and encourages him to pursue early retirement.

My sabbatical proved to me that I really could slow down and enjoy smelling the roses!

I had worked in many different roles for a very successful tech company in Silicon Valley, California and enjoyed it immensely. I was approaching my 15th work anniversary, my 50th birthday and my 25th wedding anniversary. However, I was tired and wanted to enjoy each of these milestones to the fullest, wanted to re-energize, have a trial run at my idea of retirement and have the summer off in California.

I discussed with my wife about taking a sabbatical together, but since she’d recently started a new career and had some extended time off work while getting her Masters it wasn’t the priority for her that it was for me. She said “This is your sabbatical, don’t wait for me, take it for you.” So that’s what I did, but we did travel together.

I would say that the biggest hurdle to taking my sabbatical was financial. This was needing to be self-funded so we needed to make sure the money was there to keep paying the mortgage and bills with significantly reduced salary coming in and that it was the right investment to make at the time. My work was supportive of me taking the time off, but on my return after 16 weeks there would be no guarantee that I would have the same position or work in the same group.

Living in the US, one of the biggest costs to plan for was continued healthcare which is offered via COBRA. You can plan to take a short sabbatical and if you stay healthy you don’t have to pay anything, but if you start having to pay you need to pay from the start of when your company healthcare runs out.

I decided that I wanted to travel at the beginning of the sabbatical (July) and near the end (mid-September/early October) and spend the rest of the time locally at home enjoying the California summer weather to the max.

Grant’s Sabbatical and Retirement Tryout

So in July we headed to Europe starting in Glasgow, where we’re both from, for a week to see family & friends. Followed by 4 days in Paris which we’d visited a few times before when we lived in the UK including our honeymoon (Paris, Florence & Rome), 3 days in Budapest and 2 days in London. In Paris we unexpectedly got to see the finish to the 100th Tour de France!

In mid-September we spent 3 weeks in New Zealand with a weekend trip to see family in Melbourne. We visited Auckland, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch & Queenstown.

After returning from vacation in Europe I wanted to give back and I volunteered with the ‘Monday Maniacs’ at Second Harvest on Monday afternoons to help sort food donations for later distribution. I also became a Road to Recovery volunteer driver for the American Cancer Society one day a week and drove patients to/from their cancer treatments.

Waking up with no alarm and on most days with no plan was very liberating and what I found out was that each day would pass quickly and I wouldn’t be bored even if I didn’t do very much.

Since I took my sabbatical during the summer (July – mid-October) the weather was great so it was easy to be outside either walking to the post office, gardening, reading or relaxing in the back garden. If I spotted something interesting happening that day jumping in the car and going up to the city and joining in spontaneously. Or just planned a day trip to a museum.

Since my wife was working part-time we had a few one or two days trips mid-week to the likes of Carmel & Yosemite.

When I returned to work I felt completely re-energized and ready for anything that was going to be thrown at me!

List of activities you engaged in during your sabbatical:

  • Travel – Europe (Glasgow, Paris, Budapest, London), Melbourne and New Zealand (both islands). Visits to Carmel and Yosemite
  • Reading/Relaxing – Spent a lot more time relaxing in the back garden reading and just chilling out
  • Charity – I joined the ‘Monday Maniacs’ at Second Harvest on Monday afternoons to help sort food donations for later distribution. I also became a Road to Recovery volunteer driver for the American Cancer Society one day a week and drove patients to/from their cancer treatments
  • Cooking – My wife was still working so I made dinner as well as my own lunch
  • Gardening – This was a surprise to me, but although I don’t have a green thumb, I really like pottering about in the garden – weeding, pruning, picking up leaves
  • Events – Checking the paper or online daytime events in San Francisco and the surrounding bay area and just spontaneously going like seeing Pretty Lights DJ at Amoeba Music in the Haight or watching teams practice for the America’s Cup in the San Francisco Bay
  • Football – Continued playing indoor soccer (once a week), but was also available for some local lunchtime pickup games
  • Visited Asian Art Museum, MOMA, Japanese Tea Gardens both in Golden Gate Park and San Mateo Park

How long was your sabbatical (in weeks)?

What kind of work did you return to?
Same company, same role

Describe any changes you made in your life post-sabbatical:
Focused on achieving an early retirement!

How did your sabbatical experience change the way you thought about your employer?
I had a fantastic employer and although I was recharged when I returned to work, it really was not as important to me as it was prior to taking the sabbatical.

Why do you think others should (or shouldn’t) take sabbaticals? Are there occasions in life where it’s particularly helpful?

I highly recommend anyone who can to take a sabbatical for as ever long as they can.

I think sabbaticals are useful in many situations, such as, helping with family situations (sickness or spending more time with your kids), planning a career change, burnout, re-energizing, creativity (trying something new), travel, etc.

You can connect with Grant Melvin here.

If you’d like to hear more about travel sabbaticals, Carol-Ann’s story is perfect for you.

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