Sabbatical Stories

Natasha

A one year sabbatical together to learn, and to live intentionally.

The sabbatical didn’t change my mind on what I wanted to spend my time doing. It gave me clarity and courage to move in the direction I always was trying to move in.

How did you think about work throughout your life? 

When I was growing up, there were certain paths that were acceptable. I don’t remember anyone ever saying that, it just sort of felt implicit. Those paths were doctor, lawyer, and businessperson. After trying premed in college and grad school for architecture, I ended up in consulting, which taught me how to think strategically about what I was doing and why.

Leading up to my sabbatical, I don’t think I realized it at the time, but I was absolutely burned out. My mode of operating was: you get up early, you work, you eat while you work, you work some more, you workout in the afternoon or in the evening to wake yourself up to work until midnight. I had fun on the weekends and I had relationships and a fun life — my life was fine. But I kind of treated myself like a machine.

I had this lightbulb moment one day where I had this long list of things I was going to do after going to dinner with some colleagues. The whole meal, I felt guilty because I thought I should really be working. I got back to my hotel room at ten and was very tired and was having a hard time getting motivated to start on my to-do list. It’s so funny, I looked in the mirror, and I had this moment of clarity where I was said out loud: ‘You are not machine. You’re tired, you can just go to bed and it’s probably going to be okay.’ And I was 28 years old – isn’t this a little late to realize this?

What catalyzed your sabbatical?

For us, there was less of that feeling of wanting to leave something that isn’t working. I was doing work that I found meaningful and could have done it for longer, but my husband and I knew that we wanted to do this and you can’t perfectly align two people’s careers. We didn’t trust this mode of life where you work for 40 years and you hopefully live long enough in good enough health to enjoy the next phase. I’ve seen it not work out for several people, including my parents. Around the time they were going to retire, my Dad got quite sick, so their retirement plans changed drastically.

What did you do during your sabbatical?

One of the things that was really important to us was that we didn’t have a fixed plan. We talked about things that were important to us – Kevin wanted to live somewhere Spanish-speaking, and I’d always wanted to spend time in France. We were pretty content to live in a place, and spend our time making new friends, learning the language, and occasionally exploring.

We also spent some time trekking in New Zealand and Hawaii, we sat a silent meditation retreat, and travelled another six weeks in India. We did a road trip around the western United States and Canada to visit friends and family, which was nice. But, those two places we lived – small cities in Ecuador and the south of France – continue to stick out as the most meaningful and fulfilling of our trip.

How have you changed as a result of your sabbatical?

I think a lot more about how much I work, what a good life looks like, and what success looks like. You know, I think our world sees success as associated with money and status and prestige and it’s really hard to fight that. I think that’s around us all the time. But now, having thought through, and having lived out these questions of what makes a good day, what is a good life, what are the metrics of success I care about… this impacts how I spend my day, and how I spend my life.

I don’t think that the sabbatical changed my mind on what I wanted to spend my time doing. I think it gave me clarity and courage to move in the direction I always was trying to move in. The more you make decisions like that—to do things that are important and meaningful to you, but hard to make because the world tells you not to—the easier it gets to make those decisions in the future.

How will you use the practice of sabbaticals going forward?

We see the sabbatical as something we want to do every 7 to 10 years, as a forcing mechanism to reevaluate our lives. Not necessarily in the same form as our year abroad. But as a reminder to make sure we’re living intentionally and in ways that are aligned with our values. This can be hard to really, truly assess and easy to lose track of when you’re in routine life.

We are more than the sum of what we achieve and accomplish in this world, and we are more than our productivity. If you don’t have a good sense of who you are and what your value is to the world, I think you’re missing out on some core part of yourself. That limits you from actually being the best version of yourself and therefore accomplishing more great things in the world.

Other parting thoughts:

What will you tell future employers? 

If I encounter an employer who looks down our sabbatical, I probably don’t want to work there.

What’s the difference between a sabbatical and a vacation?

A sabbatical is long enough that you can’t already be committed to things that are gonna happen when you get back. Most of the time when you go on vacation, you’re just sort of pushing things off to happen when you get back, or pausing things and then you’re gonna have to catch up to this backlog. A sabbatical is long enough that people at work just have to plan as if you’re not there, and you then come back and restart without this long list of obligations.

Why did you call it a sabbatical?

Part of it was that it is a thing that people do — academics take sabbaticals, so people understand it. We would joke around with some people that it was like our temporary retirement, because, for us, we do think of it also as spreading our retirement over the course of our lives.

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