For three and a half years, I didn’t do anything but work and if I did something that wasn’t work, it was an activity I had stolen from time I was supposed to be working.
While managing change in different areas of her life, Shea recognized that she needed a sabbatical.
Shea had always been a purpose-oriented person, choosing a career in law to help fight for human rights. However, when Shea met her future husband and moved from Canada to the United States, she found herself limited in terms of job options.
Eventually landing in a corporate law position, Shea was miserable. She was working long hours and felt demotivated by what she was doing. When Shea and her husband Alex got married and she requested a few extra unpaid days off, her request was dismissed. All of these factors contributed to her decision to leave and take some time off.
At first, Shea’s plan was to have a sabbatical where she explored what to do next, but ultimately decided to apply for a job and request preemptive time off. If she had started right away, Shea believes she wouldn’t have been able to function.
As Shea set out on planning her sabbatical, she looked to her past experiences with internships and breaks in school, as well as a month-long trip to Mongolia that she took with Alex. This trip had helped him to determine the next steps in his career, so considering it was useful for Shea in crafting her own time off.
Her goals for the time off were primarily to heal from this intense work experience and to rediscover her interests without pressure. Shea was also focused on finding her creativity again, as well as giving herself the mental space to eventually enter the new job with a clear head and the ability to use her experiences there to chart a path forward.
At the end of three months, I wanted to be connected with myself and centered enough that I could go into my next job fully myself. But also to not have the job take over my whole personality.
The first stop on Shea’s sabbatical was New York, where she and Alex spent the entire week seeing musicals. It was a period of great joy, but also other very intense emotions that were the result of such a drastic life change.
Following this, Shea went to spend a lot of time nourishing herself and her relationships with family and friends. This break gave Shea opportunities for new adventures with her longtime friends, as opposed to the quick catch-ups she had been only able to swing while working.
“Before my sabbatical I was always putting creativity second to whatever important thing I was supposed to be doing. Those muscles took a little bit of flexing to restore.”
Another component of Shea’s sabbatical was participating in National Novel Writing Month, where she wrote 50,000 words of a book and found a supportive, creative community in the process. It was a period of doing what she felt like doing without external requirements. Shea spent time baking bread, hiking for hours each day, and traveling to Israel with Alex.
The most important part of her sabbatical, though, was the opportunity it gave her to spend time with her grandfather at the end of his life in hospice. Being fully present in this time felt like a important emotional piece dropping into place.
As Shea’s sabbatical came to an end, she was simultaneously happy and unhappy that she had a job lined up. Although the security of it was comforting, it did limit the impact of the sabbatical time on her future work direction.
We are capable of creating a society where all of these driven people don’t need to work like this in order to bring about the changes they want to see.
When her sabbatical ended, Shea felt like she had an exponentially better connection to herself, as well as to her family and friends. In particular, the ability to take more time with these loved ones was immensely impactful on her life. Shea has also found new ways to sustainably fit creativity into her everyday life, no longer putting it second to everything else. Ultimately, the sabbatical gave Shea the opportunity to make the changes she wanted and to take space to breathe and prevent a health crisis.
Want to read more on how sabbaticals help people heal from burnout? You might like Zhalisa’s story.
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