Primed by his wife Allison’s desire to visit all of the National Parks, Justin makes space from work for a summer sabbatical with family.
“I’ve never seen my wife so consistently happy. Bear in mind, we were in a box with four kids for two straight months. No babysitter. No date nights.”
Entrepreneurship was always second nature to Justin, who grew up in a family of business owners. Justin knew he didn’t want to be in the family’s food business after college, and pursued a career in technology. After a few years working as a developer for a large telecommunications company, he quickly realized he’d be happier in a work environment where he had more direct control and influence.
Justin pitched the idea of spinning off a side business catering school lunches from his family’s small business into a food-tech startup, and eventually became the CEO as the operation expanded.
Sixteen years later, Justin’s wife Allison expressed a desire to take a trip to see the national parks, inspired by a magazine feature about an author who did the same thing. Though he’d never considered taking extended leave, Justin began planning time in his work schedule for a two month summer sabbatical the following year. As the time off rapidly approached, Justin felt stress and burnout he had previously been unaware of starting to catch up with him.
A Summer Sabbatical
“I think one of the things important about the disconnection is you have to just be with yourself and the people around you. You don’t get to hide in the identity of what you do.”
When the trip first started, Justin had difficulty disconnecting; work matters kept pulling him back. He initially uninstalled his email and other work platforms from his phone, but later reinstalled Facebook for the purpose of documenting their trip. This created an obstacle to Justin’s goal of remaining present, which he mitigated by setting reminders to be intentional. He was able to shift out of work mode after about a week and a half, a transition that was aided by the lack of connectivity in the parks themselves.
“The hope was that we were just gonna get out and open the kids’ eyes to some of the most beautiful places in our country.”
During this time away, Justin and Allison found that parenting on the road was largely similar to parenting at home, minus the complexity of extracurricular logistics and diverging social calendars. With the whole family on the same schedule and enjoying shared experiences during summer sabbatical, the time gave both Justin and Allison the chance to be fully present with their kids as they created shared memories.
“Having this much time together further crystallized how amazing my wife is, not only as a partner, but as someone I aspire to be like.”
Additionally, this trip was the longest consecutive time period Justin and Allison had spent together since their three week honeymoon. Their relationship blossomed, as Justin got to be fully present for the active role Allison took in managing the family’s logistics. It also led to some important realizations for Justin; in particular, helping him become aware of his moodiness. Real-time feedback from living in close quarters helped Justin to see the patterns in his behavior that he thought he left at work, and gave him an opportunity to focus more on intentionally bringing positivity to the family on a daily basis.
“A sabbatical may not be a once in a lifetime trip, but maybe only twice in a lifetime! It is important to take advantage of the opportunity while you can.”
When he returned to work after his summer sabbatical, Justin found himself approaching it with a new mindset. Previously, he had prioritized his ability to maintain control and the financial security offered by his position. However, Justin returned to work more cognizant of the parts of the job that brought him joy, in particular his friendships at the office. He was able to use this thinking to cultivate a sense of gratitude and bring a bit of levity to his coworkers.
Along with this, Justin’s sabbatical helped him grow in his position as CEO, resetting his thinking on bigger priorities and helping him figure out how to address the over-reliance on his leadership to make decisions within the organization. This gave Justin the chance to recognize which of his own behaviors were creating this environment of dependence and enabled him to determine how to address the issue.
Justin and Allison’s summer sabbatical turned into a family tradition – follow their adventures on their blog here!
Interested in more family sabbatical stories? Check out Ryan’s trip with his teenage sons here.