If you’ve been at the work grind for a while, it may be hard to take a step back from the glare of the computer and avoid the evil eye of disapproval if you want to take time off. It’s hard to recognize that your body or mind may be telling you that you need time away from work. It’s also challenging to put aside the appropriate amount of money or convince your loved ones that it’s a good idea to put the breaks on when your career feels like it’s just taking off. Whatever the barriers may be, I want to share a couple of lessons from my recent 3-month sabbatical and suggest a couple of rules if you’re considering taking a leave from work.
Rule #1. There’s no good time to take a sabbatical/leave of absence
A number of companies offer formal (and informal) policies and I decided to take advantage of a program called “future leave” at my company, which allows employees who have been with the company for at least three years to take 3-months off (with health benefits and the guarantee of a job upon return)! Even though I had just been promoted to Manager, I felt discomfort in my life, much like wet socks, when you know that something is off and you have to change as soon as possible. Despite the (mostly self) pressure to step up to my new Manager role and dive into my career, I recognized that it was as ideal of a time as it ever would be to hit the “pause” button on my life and re-evaluate.
I do believe that there is some seasonal correlation to what’s going on in your life, and you might want to think about what timing makes most sense for you. For instance, if you know that you want a break from social obligations and have an urge to “hibernate,” fall/winter could be a good time to take a break, especially if you live somewhere cold. However, if you’re going through a transition/make-over, spring might be more advisable (and you can avoid the holiday season if you’re looking to avoid any criticism or questions from your friends and family. On the other hand, if what you need is a good dose of socialization and activeness, I would suggest considering a summer break and give yourself the much needed time to hitch up your skirt and go for a night on the town!
Whatever you decide, it’s yours for the taking. And no one is going to stop you except for yourself.
Rule #2: Set Your Own Agenda
When I started talking about my sabbatical with others, the first question I got was “Where are you going?” Although I did have some travel plans, I wanted to use my sabbatical to take a much needed relaxation break and not become a full-time backpacker. In fact, I became committed to the following: feeling revitalized and passionate about my direction, clearly defining priorities of personal and professional life, and creating a nourished inner spirit/self image. I had books to read and goals to accomplish on my sabbatical and some of this involved traveling to other countries for inspiration, while another part was remaining still for at least a week in the same city.
In the beginning of my sabbatical, I found it extremely useful to write a list of qualifiers to help maximize my time off. When a friend asked me to travel or invited me to join in on a joint-business opportunity, I asked myself the following questions:
- Do you want to do it?
- Will it enrich you?
- Will it help you in the future?
- Are you excited about it?
- Is it on your terms or someone else’s?
I was able to come back to this list over and over again to make sure that I was in control of my time off. That’s not to say I avoided all offers for fun, spontaneous activities!
Find your own groove and don’t let other people convince you otherwise.
Rule #3. Find a coach/therapist.
There’s probably a reason that you feel the desire to take a sabbatical/leave of absence. Maybe it’s that you need a break from the work that you love; the long hours and strenuous work have taken their toll and you’re ready to take a breather. Or maybe you feel that your life is getting ahead of you and you want to take the time to figure out what’s important to you. Or perhaps you already know what’s important to you such as your family or a new passion and you simply need to take the time and space to nurture these relationships and activities; whatever the reason may be, it’s often helpful to talk to someone about this change. Workshops and seminars can be extremely helpful, but there’s nothing like working one-on-one with a licensed coach or therapist. If you’re looking for suggestions on finding a coach, I suggest that you check out the International Coach Federation (http://www.coachfederation.org/clients/hiring-tips/) to find someone who might work for you.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone to help you work it out.