Without purpose, a sabbatical won’t make you happy. I’ve interviewed many individuals who thought all they needed to do was negotiate the time away, arrange for their work to get done, and instruct the tech department to dissolve temporary access to their email. Then, totally disconnected from work life, the grand experience of their sabbatical would happen.
It didn’t. The sabbatical – six weeks, six months, or a year – ends with the question, “Wow…where did that time go?”
The realization that you blew through your sabbatical without giving it much thought has one positive outcome: You’ll do it differently on your next sabbatical. But at the moment of realization that it’s all over, your internal happy meter will plummet. It feels lousy.
Think this doesn’t happen to smart people? A conversation over lunch last month with a sharp, successful business owner who is joining her husband, a professor, on a year-long sabbatical might change your mind and break your heart:
Me: So, when does your sabbatical begin?
Me: Wow! What are your plans?
Her: Actually, we don’t have any.
Why was this couple paying no attention to how to spend an entire year away from work? “Not even a vague plan?” I asked. “We’re just so busy,” she replied. “We haven’t even talked about it. I guess we should.” The conversation moved on to the chicken salad.
If you’re thinking that a year off with no plans is a good thing, I’ll agree … as long as that becomes a clear and articulate goal: “Our plan is to let our time unfold and do whatever we feel moved to do.” That is a plan. But, “we don’t have any plans” – aarrrrggghhh!
Structure for a sabbatical is critical but does not need to be the daunting task it may seem. How can you discover what your plan for time away might be? How do you structure a purpose-driven sabbatical? The conventional idea of pursuing dreams, achieving a professional goal, checking off a bucket list item or a life-long goal could lead you to a meaningful sabbatical experience. It works for many people.
There’s also another way.
At the forefront of keeping leaders and organizations fit for sustainable success, Dirk Baxter, Senior Consultant at Leadership Futures alerted us to this thought-provoking and outstanding Harvard Business Review blog, “To Find Happiness, Forget about Passion” by business author, Oliver Sevogia. Sevogia proposes that a focus on finding big problems to solve should be the compass for career success and happiness, not following passion. (Note: There are over 390 very interesting comments on this blog to inspire your thinking.)
Sevogia’s idea of time off to travel is accented with the admonition “don’t travel as a tourist.” Instead, structure your travel so you’ll get lost somewhere and have problems to solve because those struggles bring out the best in us and define ourselves.
I know what he’s talking about. For three months at the beginning of this year, I lived and ran my business from Granada, Nicaragua. My challenges were usual ones when living alone in a third-world country – the language, safety, loneliness, lack of water pressure, horse-carriage traffic, shopping in chaotic markets, and finding a friend. In addition to achieving the articulated purpose for this sabbatical – learn Spanish and experience another culture – each and every problem to be solved was a building block of confidence. Shouts of “I did it” bounced off decaying church bell towers.
To guide a purpose-driven sabbatical, ask yourself:
- Where can I go looking for some problems to solve?
- Where can I discover the problems others face on a daily basis?
- What future time away could I create where I would face challenges and emerge stronger and more knowledgeable about who I am?
With more and more visitors to our website successfully negotiating time away with their bosses, we couldn’t be happier – for them and their companies. We don’t worry that they don’t have a plan, because it’s an integral part of the negotiation.
But individuals who are granted a sabbatical by their company or business owners and then put no forethought into what they’ll do while away are in danger of having an unhappy and unproductive experience without a purpose-driven sabbatical.
A month has passed since the chicken salad conversation – month two into a year-long sabbatical for a professional couple that could be an extraordinary experience. Do you think they’ve talked about it yet?