Sabbatical Stories

Sarah Sails into a Sabbatical

Taking a two and a half year sabbatical can be a life-changing experience, and it is something that more people should consider, regardless of how daunting it may seem.

Sailing Into a Sabbatical: How Taking Two and a Half Years to Explore the World Transformed My Life

My sabbatical deeply impacted me by fostering a stronger connection to nature, inspiring me to lead a more sustainable and purposeful life centered around meaningful experiences and personal growth.

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the British sailor who completed the first solo non-stop circumnavigation of the globe, once said, “To be successful in life, you need to have a clear vision of what you want to achieve, and the determination to make it happen.” He embodied this mindset when he completed his journey and arrived in Falmouth in 1969 after spending 312 days at sea. He believed the sea teaches valuable lessons of self-reliance, resilience, and preparation, which can be applied to various aspects of life.

Taking a two and a half year sabbatical can be a life-changing experience, and it is something that more people should consider, regardless of how daunting it may seem. It offers a chance to step away from the daily routine, explore the world, and learn more about oneself. However, many of us tend to prioritize stability and security over adventure and uncertainty, conforming to societal expectations of owning a big house with a white picket fence and new electric cars. While I acknowledge that taking a sabbatical is a privilege, I believe this decision can be made at any age if done properly. For my fiancé Andrew and I, taking risks is a part of who we are, and we acknowledge how differently we allocate our time and money. Our journey was a pivotal moment in our lives, leaving a lasting impact on who we are today.

Before diving into our story, I want to address a few things. First, I don’t believe that chasing after money and wealth is a healthy pursuit. I’m not impressed by the size of your house or the model year of your brand new truck. While having a place to live and a vehicle to get around is essential, my argument is not centered around that. Rather, it is about the American obsession with wealth and becoming robots in society. We take excessive pride in our jobs, which eventually become our sole identity. I despise being asked when I will start job hunting and when my “trip” will end, as if working a corporate job for thirty years is the only way to achieve success in life.

Adam Grant once said, “Your work does not define your worth. A career is what you do — it doesn’t have to reflect who you are. Making a job part of your identity is an option, but not an obligation.”

I am not my career, it’s what I do to make a living.

The idea of owning a fancy house on a lake or a powerboat will bring happiness is a common misconception for most people. If you ask an average American what they consider the top three life priorities, chances are they will say health, economic stability and education. I’m sure these answers will vary depending on individual values, demographics, and other factors but nowhere in the list above does it say culture or curiosity. Although having assets can make one’s life more comfortable, I believe that true wealth lies in experiences.

Preparing for the sabbatical

In the midst of the pandemic, Andrew and I found ourselves feeling burnt out and craving a new perspective on life. The allure of exploring the world and discovering new things was undeniable, but we also craved this opportunity to engage in some deep introspection and reflect on who we truly are as individuals and as a couple. We craved a sense of liberation and sought to cut all strings that could potentially hold us back – no student loans, no recurring debts, and a significant reduction of our possessions. Sailing seemed like the perfect choice, offering us a truly unique and immersive way to experience the world, to be one with nature, and to embrace the joys of self-sufficiency in a way we had never before experienced.

This enormous sailing adventure required more than just an intrepid spirit and a sturdy vessel. It demanded the guidance and expertise of seasoned mentors who could provide us with sound knowledge and skills to navigate the uncharted waters ahead. In the words of Sharon Sites Adams, the first woman to sail solo across the Pacific Ocean, “I was determined to learn how to sail, and nothing was going to stop me.” Thus, we began by seeking knowledge of wise guides, starting small and immersing ourselves in this novel way of life. This approach allowed us to open up our schedules to the opportunities for freedom that lay ahead without breaking the bank.

We dedicated ourselves to building our sailing skills and learning the language we had only read about in books, mastering the art of navigation with rudimentary tools at our disposal. After years of preparation, we were both eager and ready to take on the high seas. We quickly secured a vessel as crew and set sail down the Pacific coast towards Mexico, brimming with excitement and a sense of limitless possibility.

The Sabbatical

The initial weeks were a challenge as we adjusted to the confined space, unpredictable weather, and the need to learn navigation skills on the fly. To add more complication and joy, we brought along our 10 week old golden retriever puppy, Coho. You can read how she managed liveaboard life here. We quickly absorbed how much electricity and water we consumed on a daily basis and conserved as best we could. Then, out in the elements and with the nearest grocery store 300 nautical miles away, one can’t help but ration precious fresh vegetables and fresh water.

In Michael Easter’s book “The Comfort Crisis,” he says, “The key to building resilience is to intentionally put ourselves in uncomfortable situations.” Nevertheless, over time, we grew more comfortable with the lifestyle and discovered a newfound appreciation for the sense of liberation it afforded us. Our days were spent exploring new ports and meeting fellow sailors, while our nights were filled with breathtaking starry skies and the lull of the ocean’s gentle waves. It’s hard to put into words how deeply we felt the connection to the water and the natural world around us.

Our adventure offered us a unique gift: time — an abundance of it, in fact to reflect, to think, to simply be.

By escaping the usual noise and commotion of our everyday existence, we were able to hit the pause button and delve into the innermost workings of our individual selves. Our conversations were endless, deep dives into what really mattered to us and how we envisioned our futures unfolding. We found ourselves dedicated to personal projects we had long put on hold, enjoying books and photography we had never seemed to find the time for before. At night we would stop talking to listen to the grey whales calling in the distance.

While our sabbatical was a life-changing experience, not everyone was supportive of our decision. Some family members and friends could not understand how we could afford to take such a long break from work and were fixated on the costs and financial implications of the journey. They saw it as an unnecessary expense and were worried about how we would support ourselves during this time. However, we knew that this was an investment in ourselves, and we were willing to make the necessary sacrifices to make it happen. We were also fortunate enough to have a bit of savings that we could use to fund it all.

There is also another component of this lifestyle that worked very well for us. When sailing, we don’t spend money. There is no Uber Eats or modern conveniences we take for granted on land. I can’t Amazon Prime myself an avocado if I needed one for a recipe. This dramatically reduced our monthly expenses just by extracting ourselves from land.

We quickly recognized it was important to follow our passions and take risks, even if others don’t understand or support our decisions.

Despite the initial skepticism from friends and family, we were determined to make our life on the water work. We planned and saved independently for years, making sacrifices along the way to ensure that we could make our dream a reality. However, we also realized that we were privileged to be able to do so, as not everyone has the same opportunity. I recognize the ability to take a sabbatical is often dependent on one’s financial situation, job stability, and other factors that may be out of one’s control.

This new way of life is more than just traveling the world; it’s about finding time for oneself, gaining fresh perspectives, and recharging one’s batteries. In Annika Rautiola’s Liveaboard Sailing Podcast, Behan and Jamie from SV Totem once asked, “Why wait? Leaving the land life for a sailing sabbatical turned our retirement dream into a reality, because life is unpredictable. Our lives were so hectic, and we had the opportunity to slow down time, which was incredibly fulfilling for us while providing our children with an experience they can draw on for the rest of their lives.” They go on to discuss how living a repetitive life can make it difficult to distinguish one year from the next. However, living on a sailboat they were able to choose a specific year and month and remember precisely where they were and what they were doing. Their life is enriched by the fact that they do not follow the same patterns day in and day out, and they prefer it that way.

In today’s fast-paced society, we often forget to take a step back and reflect on our lives. What brings you joy and do you do it often enough?

In Braiding Sweetgrass, author Robin Wall Kimmerer explains, “We are born into a story that has forgotten that we are a part of the natural world. We pretend that our fences and buildings keep us separate, but it’s a false divide.” We are so focused on our careers and accumulating material possessions that we forget to enjoy the simple things in life. Taking a sabbatical provided us with the opportunity to disconnect from the noise and distractions of everyday life and focus on what truly matters. It allows us to gain a new perspective, to develop new skills, and to form new connections with people from different cultures and backgrounds.

During our journey, living in Mexico was undoubtedly one of the highlights. Not only did we have the chance to immerse ourselves in the local culture, but we also had the opportunity to participate in the annual longboard surf competition known as Mexilog. We captured some fantastic photographs of the event and even managed to learn the sport of longboarding ourselves in the picturesque town of Sayulita.

The weather in Mexico was a challenge for us, with intense heat being the norm. However, we learned to adapt by taking siestas during the hottest part of the day, which gave us a chance to recharge and beat the heat. Our time in Mexico allowed us to make new friends with locals and expats alike. To this day, we still keep in touch with some of the people we met during our journey in Mexico, which serves as a testament to the impact the experience had on us.

Although not everyone may have the means or opportunity to take a sabbatical, for those who do, it can truly be a life-changing experience. It offers a chance to break free from the monotony of everyday life and gain a fresh perspective. Through the process of exploring new places and meeting new people, we can develop new skills and create new memories.

I firmly believe we can play a role in shaping society by stepping away from our careers and taking the time to pursue personal growth and exploration. By doing so, we challenge the conventional norm and pave the way for a more accepting culture where taking time off work for personal reasons is not only acceptable, but also encouraged.

It can also help us become more resilient, adaptable, and self-reliant, skills that can be applied to all aspects of our lives and enable us to achieve success. All in all, taking a sabbatical is an investment in oneself, offering not only personal growth but also the potential to positively impact society as a whole. I’m not at all ashamed to list “career gap” on my LinkedIn profile under work history. In fact, I feel a sense of pride.

I am confident in the future, we will embark on many sailing expeditions to explore the world around us. Currently, there is a discussion about sailing the Inside Passage for our honeymoon. We plan to do so on a much larger vessel than Iolar, and will explore the Canadian Islands, including Desolation Sound summer of 2023. Additionally, we have also been inspired by our friends who circumnavigated Vancouver Island on their Passport 42, and we hope to follow in their footsteps. I am forever grateful for this journey and the many lessons that we learned along the way.

Activities you engaged in during your sabbatical as possible:
– Sailing across various regions and exploring new ports.
– Learning and mastering sailing skills and navigation.
– Taking part in longboard surf competitions.
– Immersing myself in local cultures and making new friends.
– Capturing photographs and honing photography skills.
– Reflecting on personal goals and values.
– Engaging in deep conversations with fellow sailors.
– Reading and enjoying books.
– Enjoying nature and stargazing.
– Learning about boat maintenance and repair.
– Practicing self-sufficiency and resourcefulness.
– Trying new cuisines and local dishes.
– Rationing resources like electricity and water.
– Participating in local events and festivals.
– Exploring marine life through snorkeling and diving.
– Documenting the journey through writing and journals.
– Teaching and sharing sailing knowledge with others.
– Navigating through challenging weather conditions.
– Reflecting on the impact of the journey on personal growth.
– Learning about different ecosystems and environmental awareness.
– These activities provided me with a well-rounded and enriching sabbatical experience.

How long was your sabbatical (in weeks)?

What were you most concerned about when contemplating a sabbatical?
Money – it’ll cost too much!

Did HOW you work change at all, post-sabbatical?
Went from company employed to self-employed, Committed to taking significantly more time off
(e.g. 4 day workweek, or summer’s off)

What kind of work did you return to?
Different company, different role, Totally different work

Describe any changes you made in your life post-sabbatical:

Following the sabbatical, I underwent a fundamental shift in priorities, emphasizing experiences and personal growth over material pursuits.

This new outlook has driven me to make career choices aligned with my passions and to lead a more purpose-driven, adventurous life.

How did your sabbatical experience change the way you thought about your employer?
The sabbatical experience reshaped my perspective on my life completely, prompting me to value work-life balance and personal growth more than just job security and financial stability. It led me to seek opportunities that align with my newfound priorities and appreciate employers who support a holistic approach to life and career.

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

Taking a sabbatical can provide a crucial reprieve, especially for individuals facing burnout, navigating the challenges of a chaotic housing market, and the exhausting experience of constantly proving oneself in the corporate world. This break can be particularly transformative when transitioning from building a personal business like I did as it allows time for reflection, rejuvenation, and realignment of life choices. I think a sabbatical enables individuals to intentionally address bad habits, connect with the environment, and cultivate sustainable practices, offering a chance to recenter and recalibrate life according to meaningful experiences and personal growth.

In a world that often glorifies non-stop productivity, the idea of taking a sabbatical can be met with skepticism. However, I firmly believe that the benefits of a sabbatical far outweigh any potential drawbacks. Just go do it, you’ll thank yourself later.

You can connect with Sarah Fingarson here.

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