The Perks and Challenges of Taking a Sabbatical

Disconnecting is difficult. Coming back could be, too. In between, there is this amazing opportunity to take a closer look at everything: yourself, people around you, the city you live in and all the tiny details that could make a difference in your life if you care to acknowledge them.

Picture this. After my sabbatical year, I am interviewing with a well-known digital advertising agency in Bucharest. Here we go.

Them: Looks like we have an older version of your resume. What have you been doing for the last year?

Me: I took a sabbatical.

Them: Oh. Did you travel to Asia?

Me: No.

Them: What then?

Me: I read books, traveled to London to see operas, helped my family renovate a house. Spent time with myself. Wandered the streets of Bucharest with a coffee in my hand. I met a lot of interesting people.

 

There Aren’t Two Sabbaticals Alike. Do Your Own Thing

Don’t fall for what is fashionable. The trend back when I took my sabbatical was traveling somewhere far away. Hence the Asia question from the recruiter. I knew I wanted to disconnect and live one day at the time. Whatever that meant. I did question my choice, yes. But in the end, I stuck with my plan. Don’t get me wrong, I devoured “Eat Pray Love”. As a matter of fact, I have it in several languages (easy read to exercise my Spanish). I just didn’t need to leave the premises. Perhaps on the next one: now I am a PRO.

Disconnecting Is One of the Most Challenging Things I Did

Happy and carefree as I was within the first weeks, I soon started to peek at job opportunities out there. Just in case. A couple of months later I received a call from a renowned global technology company – would I be interested to discuss a digital advertising position in Bucharest?

Before I knew I got on their short list. I almost shortened my sabbatical out of fear that I may not get such an opportunity anytime soon. I withdrew from the process right before the final test. I will never know if they would have chosen me over the other candidate but starting the next day I ceased putting any kind of pressure on myself. Just woke up and asked myself: what do I want to do today? That’s when my sabbatical truly started. It took me a few months to get there.

Let’s Talk About Money. Dos and Don’ts

Financially I couldn’t have asked for a better moment to take time off. A well-established professional with 15+ years of work experience can go down this road with some good planning ahead. Reality check: as sound as you plan your expenses, don’t ignore the fact that life may throw completely unexpected events at you. That will reclaim some of your savings. In my case, it was major damage to my parents’ house and, later, some health problems I had to take care of. All my life experience considered I couldn’t foresee these events that cut off a good chunk of my money.

If you can bear with me for one more piece of advice: spend the money on experiences rather than…things. If you pay attention, you’ll soon learn that you have (almost) everything you need.

In my first month I took on a de-cluttering project: with all my clothes, shoes and bags on the living room floor, I realized I didn’t need to buy one single thing for the next…five years. Let alone my book collection (over 1,000 volumes). Life is challenging enough that we are constantly rewarding ourselves with things that make us feel good. I had no idea I owned so much stuff.

Hold on, this requires a PS: do indulge! Don’t cut off the few things that keep you sane and happy. I reconsidered my spending habits, but I never gave up going to London to see operas. We all need to feed our soul. That’s my therapy.

You’ll Find Your Tribe

Unless you’re planning something that will keep you on the road, you’ll soon look around and notice that pretty much everyone that you used to hang out with is busy doing something else (read: their job). That may hit you sooner than you expect. You cannot get a hold on anyone for a cup of coffee downtown, a movie, a walk in the park. Not within business hours, anyway. That’s a fair observation and a legitimate concern. Going to the movies at noon is a privilege but where’s the fun if you don’t have anyone to join you?

Here comes the great revelation: you’d be surprised how many people don’t have a full-time job or a job at all.How else would you explain the almost full house at my favorite vintage cinema hall at…noon? I’ve met and befriended people who were working on a Ph.D. or took a break themselves. People who found themselves between jobs or on the verge of shifting careers for a change. I soon had my steady group for all city adventures I took at times that were not accessible while having a job. Mind you, my group was not small at all.

Of course, I was happy when one of my best friends called me one day to let me know he took a sabbatical himself. Now, that’s a privilege.

Getting Back in Business. Eventually

This can go either way. Tricky if you didn’t plan anything ahead. Smoothly if the market looks good and is looking to absorb highly qualified professionals. I’ve been on a couple of shortlists and a bit disheartened about one particular opportunity that I was not offered. This may sound a bit New Age, but sometimes you can trust that all happens for a reason and the best is yet to come. In my current position, I am lucky enough to work with cutting-edge marketing programs and with very talented people. True story.

A CONCLUSION

Disconnecting is difficult. Coming back could be, too. In between, there is this amazing opportunity to take a closer look at everything:yourself, people around you, the city you live in and all the tiny details that could make a difference in your life if you care to acknowledge them.

Has this sabbatical impacted my life? Immensely. It changed the way I manage my time, my finances and my relationships.

Do you have a similar experience? A different one? Curious about other details I didn’t cover? Drop me a note. I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

 

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