Sabbatical Stories

Xiu Ling


A Singaporean consultant seeks recovery and self-knowledge.

“It enabled me to be a stronger person, both mentally and experientially.”

 

Recognizing Burnout

A native Singaporean, Xiu Ling was not a stranger to going against the grain of the standard education and career norms in the country.  Despite having gone a more “traditional” route through undergrad and her early career, she diverged by going abroad for business school.

She ended up taking a consulting job after her business school degree, and it was there that she started feeling the need to break from tradition yet again – taking a sabbatical from work and taking time to start a journey of introspection.

It didn’t start as such a big journey – recognizing some initial feelings of burnout, she first wanted to take an extended break to take care of her health and emotional well-being.

Time To Heal

Armed with a lofty three-part goal for her time off, Xiu Ling set off on a two month sojourn to South and North America. There, she planned to get her health back on track and to see friends at a number of the stops along the way.  She intended to spend several months re-evaluating the past ten years of her career and identifying the kinds of jobs that she wanted to pursue.

Finding permission to take time for herself

While she had initially allocated 2 months for her trip, she was conflicted.  The trip was healing for her body and mind, but she also was taking time off from her career, which was waiting for her back in Singapore.

During the trek, though, she was able to make friends along the way that started to shape the way that she was thinking about taking a longer period of time off.  In Latin America, for example, she met an older Chinese man in his 70s, who was traveling solo traveling with very little.  “It was a difficult trek, right? He had a lot of medicated patches on him and you know the whole cabin. We were staying in the same cabin and he was- it was filled with medicated patches.  But when I spoke to him, you know, I was just amazed how much determination he has inside him.”

“He said to me that, you know, if he doesn’t do it now, he never knew when he could do it again in his lifetime. Maybe this is his last time, right?.

“Hey, it’s actually okay to take this break, you know. It is going to be very meaningful at the end of the day when you look back at it.  Don’t be too harsh on yourself, and, you know, you totally deserve this break.”

As she traveled, she started to make friends who were on similar journeys – searching for themselves and for their own healing.  The conversations she shared with people on the road helped her realize that everybody has their own journey.  And over time, Xiu Ling started to realize some of that guilt that was starting to mount to get a job.

With newfound confidence in hand, two months evolved into one year.

A New Canvas

This experience – not only of traveling to new places – but also of connecting with friends, helped give her energy along the way.  Beyond this, she also had the opportunity to engage in some of her favorite activities, like trekking and oil painting.

Each activity and seemed to bring a different lesson: whilst spending hours in the art studio, she was able to enjoy the experience of being creative and not bounded by anything.  “It was just me and my canvass and my brushes.  And I really enjoyed that. Every time when I got down to that mode of painting, it was where I felt so good about it. I liked the whole process of being able to create something out of nothing.”

Her entire sabbatical helped her come to several realizations that continue to stick with her to today.  She learned not to rush into things, and she found a way to find peace and patience when things didn’t necessarily go the way she wanted.  She also defined for herself the importance of taking a longer period of time off:  “A vacation is never enough…because it’s always with an objective of achieving something through that vacation.  Having a much extended break from that routine life would be a lot more helpful in trying- in giving that space to yourself to think about things.

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