Why I took a three week sabbatical and why I am doing it again this year!

Do you feel exhausted all of the time?  Do you feel you are always on the go, always having some commitment either work, family or personal?  When is the last time you scheduled time for you to relax and take care of yourself?  Time for you to BE?  I bet it’s been quite awhile.  I was at that point about two years.  My job is exciting, always challenging and always busy.  But after several bouts of exhaustion, pneumonia and bronchitis I knew I needed to make a change.  I needed to take time for me.  I was struggling with what direction I wanted to take my career and needed to step back and evaluate what is most important to me and how I go about doing those things. So last May I did my first sabbatical.  I spent three weeks at a cottage on a lake about three hours from my home.  And it was the best thing I have ever done.

My cottage

My cottage

For me to take three weeks away from the office requires a fair amount of advance planning.  I met with my companies owner about seven months prior to when I had planned for my time off.  I needed him to understand what I was doing, why I was doing it and how it would ultimately benefit the company.  While I’m not sure he completely understand the “why” behind my request (he’s a former Army Ranger – being still is just not in his DNA!) he was supportive of my request and in a small way realized that I would come back a much healthier, productive part of our team. From there I worked out a plan for who would take over certain responsibilities while I was out.  Then I started on my plan for how I wanted to spend those three weeks.
So what is a sabbatical anyway?  According to the dictionary it is any extended period of leave from one’s customary work, especially for rest or to acquire new skills or training; bringing a period of rest.  My goal for the three weeks was to rest, recharge, reconnect and refocus.  This was not a vacation.  How many times have you come home from vacation saying you need a vacation after your vacation?  We Americans like our vacations to be completely scheduled and full of things to do.  This was to be very different.  I needed to focus on being not doing.
Sunset at the cottage

Sunset at the cottage

  • Rest – This was probably my top priority going into my sabbatical.  I was exhausted.  I had been burning the candle at both ends for months.  I had very little left in my tank….running on empty was a way of life that desperately needed to change.  At the cottage  I went to bed when I was tired and got up when my body was ready.  I took naps in the sun in the afternoon.  The first 10 days or so I was sleeping at least 12 hours a day.  My body needed the rest and I let myself just BE.  No schedule, no appointments.  And it was delicious.
  • Recharge – I needed to feed my body, my mind and my soul.  All three were in desperate need of some help.  I had taken along a very large selection of books to read.  Everything from a trashy romance novel to an autobiography to self-help/leadership books.  So I read daily.  Out on the lounge chair in the sunshine.  Or by the lake watching the boats go by.  And I got back to exercising each day.  Many mornings I would walk to an old lighthouse about a mile from the cottage.  Or I would do an exercise video while the warm breeze would come through the windows.  By the second week I was looking forward to my morning walks.  The peace and quiet that comes from the water is the best medicine for me.  But like anything it takes time to work…..those first few days by myself the quiet was almost unbearable.  With all the quiet you are forced to listen to yourself.  To hear the quiet, soft voice inside of you.  It’s always there but how often do we drown it out with all the noise of our busy lives?  I started listening.  And writing.  One of the most surprising aspects of my sabbatical was how beneficial it was for me to take time in the afternoon to sit and write.  In fact, last night I took some time to reread what I wrote during those three weeks as preparation for this years time away.  I was able to capture in words the struggles and fears I was dealing with and can see how my perception changed over those three weeks.
  • Reconnect – One of the blessings for me was to invite a few others to join me during different parts of my time away.  As various friends and family each joined me for a few days I was able to watch them have the same experience that I was having there.  I was able to see their faces relax, the tensions and stress of life slip away.  Many wonderful, heartfelt conversations happened.  What a wonderful blessing to have no interruptions and to be able to get into these deep conversations and then to also be able to laugh at the craziest of things.  To just be with each other.
  • Refocus –  I spent a great deal of time primarily the last week working of what my new focus was going to be when I returned home.  Not only was I trying to figure how what role I wanted for work, I wanted to make sure that my new found habits, attitude (we refer to it as my “zen”) and rested body would be able to continue once I returned back to reality!  I needed to plan how to do my re-entry and keep my “Zen”.  I realized once you listen to the soft voice inside of me it really wasn’t that difficult.  I liked my job.  I just needed to make a few small changes on certain job responsibilities and do more delegating.  I reviewed what parts of my job give me the most satisfaction and energy.  Those where the areas I needed to focus on.  The parts that got me frustrated and drained me of energy were things that I shouldn’t be doing.  And if there was someone else who enjoyed doing those same things it was far better for our firm!  A Win – Win situation!  The other change was to take at least 30-40 minutes each day over the lunch hour to sit outside in the sunshine.  Sometimes I would read and other times I would simply sit and relax.  I was able to do this through September until it became to cold to sit outside.
I am now getting ready for this year’s three week sabbatical.  I leave in a few weeks and am working on the final preparations at work.  My goals for this year are the same as last year.  While I am not nearly as exhausted as last year these last few weeks have been far busier than normal so rest will still be an important component to my stay.  Also, I have been able to keep my “Zen” since I returned from the cottage.  But it is getting a bit rough around the edges and looking forward to my time away to help fortify that zen attitude.  The schedule for visitors is almost complete along with some great grilling ideas and new drink recipes!  This year I want to delve a bit deeper into my writing.  Along with my daily journaling I plan to work on my book.
What would you focus on during a sabbatical?  Where would you go?  I’d love to hear your ideas.
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