4 Reasons Why You Need A Sabbatical

by Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical on October 12, 2010

Sabbatical Traveling

When I first heard the word sabbatical I used to envision some gray haired and bearded professor taking a year or two to work on a manuscript, publish a book or dig up artifacts in some desert in Egypt.  I never envisioned the recent graduate taking a year to travel the world, or the burnt out executive spending extended time with their family or the entrepreneur taking time to develop their passion with a new business.  I think maybe we need to un-cage our view of what a sabbatical is and why a person would need to take one.

Over the weekend I started to think about why we want to take this 1 year sabbatical and realized that there are some core ideas or areas behind taking a sabbatical.  I’ve broken them down into 4 broad areas:

1)      Find Your Purpose

2)      Health and Rejuvenation

3)      Family Time

4)      Travel & Experience the World

Obviously there are many reasons a person might want to take an extended break but I thought that these 4 broad categories covered the vast majority of reasons.

Find Your Purpose

Ever feel that you were meant for great things but just are not sure what they are or what it all means?  I think we all reach a point where we question what our purpose on this big hunk of rock is.  Am I doing what I love and am passionate about and what is that exactly?  Am I living my life in a way that is making a difference? Taking a sabbatical can allow you the time away from everything to explore what it is you are here for.

The problem is that we get into a routine that is hard to adjust and break out of.  When I look at my life the way it is right now I often feel trapped.  My routine is to get up in the morning and go to work, work all day, come home and spend a few hours with the family, go to sleep so I can wake up rested and do it all over again.  I hate the whole “living for the weekend” thing.  The whole routine doesn’t leave much time to explore what it is I really want to be doing.

Part of the reason I want to take this sabbatical is to break free of this routine, question what my priorities are and take back control of my life.  I mean seriously, is working all the time in an almost factory-like setting really worth it?

Taking a sabbatical may give you the time you need to re-evaluate your priorities and take a long hard look at your relationship with work.  Are you living to work or working to live?  Remember we are not our jobs.

It also grants us the time to reassess the direction we are heading.  Not happy with your career?  Maybe spending time away from it will give you better clarity on what it is you really want.  Sometimes we need to step away from it all, take a broader “up in the sky” view and get a different perspective on our life.  It may be that after your sabbatical you find that you really love your job but just needed the time away to reflect and view it from a different perspective and a renewed outlook.  Time away can allow you to take control of your career and the direction you are going.

Maybe you need time to explore starting your own business.  I know for me I am striving to make photography my full time gig but it’s difficult (not impossible) to do when I’m putting in 40+ hours a week at the office.  I plan on spending significant time pursuing this dream and set up a business that I not only love working at but that I control.  Imagine a life where you are in control of your own destiny rather than relying on the company you work for.

Remember you are the one in control of your life.  If you need a break to avoid burnout then take it. No one is going to give it to you.

Martabak ManisHealth & Rejuvenation

I think this is probably one of the most important reasons why you should take a sabbatical.  There is nothing more important than your health.  I mean seriously, what can you really do if you are sick and suffering?  Here’s the thing, I don’t believe that we were created to live our lives in cages but that is what so many of us are doing and our health is suffering because of it.

Maybe you are a few pounds overweight.  Maybe you just got your lab results back and your cholesterol and lipids are high.  How long have you been telling yourself you’re going to workout more?  So when are you going to start? 

If you are anything like me you find that your motivation is low because you’ve been working all day long; the kids want to hang out with you; you’re tired; there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day.  Believe me; I’ve got excuses for my excuses.  But we have to do this.  We have to workout, eat healthy, maintain and serve not only our physical health needs but maybe even more importantly our mental health needs.

Taking a sabbatical to address these needs is a time for self-rejuvenation.  It’s a time when we can actually feel present in our own lives rather than mindlessly plowing through the day like robots.  It’s a chance to take back your life and maybe even reinvent yourself into the person you really want to be, the healthy person that actually enjoys granola and rice cakes.

Over the past several years I worked a job that was very stressful.  In fact it was so stressful it made me physically ill.  I remember one morning waking up and vomiting a blood spot into the bathroom sink.  I knew that I couldn’t continue this way for much longer without some serious implications.  When you reach this point you know that something needs to change.  Taking a sabbatical may be just what you need in order to save your life.  I know that may seem a bit dramatic but it’s true.  Stress kills.

Take the time to take care of yourself if not for you for your family.  Explore your mental well-being.  Become more spiritual.  Do some soul-searching.  Discover your true being.  Don’t wait too long because tomorrow may never come.

Family Time

I’ve got two boys, ages 7 and 4 that are my life.  I love spending time with them, teaching them and watching them learn and experience the world around them.  But I’m scared that I am losing them because I don’t have enough time or energy in the day to give them all the attention I really want to.  I’d love to attend more school functions, take long hikes, go on bike rides, and check out museums and the zoo.

It’s the same with my wife.  We spend so much of our time taking care of the kids, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and other daily chores that we don’t have much time for us as a couple.  And I think that really shows on our relationship.

A family is not some magical thing that holds itself together by fairy dust and unicorn magic.  It takes work, sacrifice, time and love.  But we only have so much of that to give when the bulk of our day is made up of the daily routine we have strapped onto ourselves.

I’ve found that the life I have built has shortened by temper. I’m not sure why this is.  Maybe it’s that I’m not doing the things I really want to be doing so there is a level of frustration.  I feel bad when I snap at my kids.  When my kids misbehave I give them a timeout.  Well, adults need timeouts too…they are called sabbaticals.

Taking a sabbatical and being able to spend time with your family on a daily basis without the interruptions of the daily grind can be liberating.  Of course it may also drive you to kill each other.

I’m hoping that as our sabbatical progresses we grow closer as a family.  I know that the experience of living overseas, seeing and experiencing a new culture, tasting new foods, learning a new language will be the stuff that bonds us even closer together.  I hope it will be like people who go through a traumatic event together and for ever more have this close bond that no one else will ever understand.

Prambanan - YogyakartaTravel & Experience the World

I was going to say travel and “see” the world but anyone can “see” the world.  Just get yourself a subscription to National Geographic.  But what we really desire to do is “experience” the world.  This is quite different because it means that we give a part of our self to the journey.

Taking a sabbatical is a great way to get out, travel to places we only dreamed about and actually experience them.  For us we’ll be spending the bulk of our time in Indonesia but there will be plenty of opportunity to travel around inside the country and enjoy everything it has to offer.

Maybe you don’t want to travel the world.  That’s fine too!  You can take 6 months to a year and travel the roads of America.  Hike the Pacific Crest trail from one end to the other.  Visit every National Park.  International travel is not the only option.

Taking a sabbatical to travel opens up opportunities to do things that you might otherwise have never done.  Maybe under normal circumstances you wouldn’t bungee jump or whitewater raft or eat that ghost chili on a dare.  But get out on an adventure and you loosen up and become a new person.  You become the person you were meant to be.  You begin to experience life rather than just live it.

One of the aspects of travel that I am really looking forward to is sharing the adventure and the experience with my kids.  I can’t think of anything more important for their education than learning on the road by actually experiencing things rather than just reading about them in a book.

Travel also opens your eyes up to the way the world really is (hint, it’s not what you see on the nightly news).  You get to meet new people, interact with them, learn from them and become good friends.  You find that people around the world are not that much different from yourself.  This is what is important in life.

No Guilt Clause

If any of this resonates with you I encourage you to think long and hard about taking your own sabbatical.  To use a cheesy technology analogy we operate much like a Windows operating system.  Sometimes we need a good reboot and a registry flush.  We need time to de-stress, to get re-energized, to find inspiration, to get motivated.  Whatever your reason might be make sure you don’t feel guilty about taking a sabbatical.  Remember, this is your life.  You only get one shot at it.  There are no do-overs.  At the end of life nobody ever says “I wish I had worked more.”

Also, a big thanks to the hot sauce addicted Ashley Ambirge author of The Middle Finger Project for publishing my guest post today as part of her ongoing series entitled Fear Exposed.  The series runs every Tuesday and I am honored to be featured on this awesome blog that is challenging our assumptions of work and life.

If you enjoyed this article be sure to sign up for the 1 Year Sabbatical newsletter over in the sidebar, as well as take a look at the RSS Feed.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Tara October 12, 2010 at 11:34 am

Hi Matt,
I really admire what you are doing, to decide you need a change and actually do it. I think a lot of people, me included get a bit stuck and need a change of direction but are not sure quite where to go. I hope on your travels you find what your looking for and that your blog is a big success.
Tara
Tara recently posted..Weekly Idea Challenge Week 1 – Alarm Clock Ideas

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matt October 12, 2010 at 11:22 pm

Hi Tara, I think finding that direction can definitely be a challenge at times. There are plenty of moments that I wonder if I am doing the right thing, not just for me but also for my family. But the more we start to plan this sabbatical out the more I realize that even if this whole thing blows up in our faces we at least made an attempt and I think that is what is important, to at least take action. BTW…I love the squirting alarm clock idea.

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Tara October 13, 2010 at 3:56 am

Thanks Matt – though you won’t be needing an alarm clock soon 🙂

“at least made an attempt” – I totally agree you are more likely to regret what you don’t do than what you attempt.
Tara recently posted..Weekly Idea Challenge Week 1 – Alarm Clock Ideas

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Torrie October 12, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Matt,

I read your post over on The Middle Finger Project. I love what you are doing and you are definitely on my bookmarks page now. I look forward to following your journey. I know what it means to be nearing 40 and realizing “What am I doing?” Time to reinvent ourselves! I love to see people actually going for it. I am in the early stages of this process so I’ll be watching ya 🙂

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matt October 12, 2010 at 11:44 pm

Thanks Torrie! Glad to have you onboard. I think turning 40 really opened my eyes to many things and I realized there is so much more to life than what we are fed. Lots of questions and this adventure will hopefully answer a few of them. Or maybe it’s not the answers that matter but the quest. Would love to hear about your own plans.

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Jenny October 12, 2010 at 5:46 pm

I think it’s awesome what you’re doing. Traveling the world and taking a sabbatical will change how you look at life. Good luck on your journey.
Jenny recently posted..Warning- Selling everything sometimes sucks

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matt October 12, 2010 at 11:47 pm

Thanks Jenny. I’m really looking forward to it not only for my family but for how it will change me. And maybe that’s a bit scary as well.

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Ryan October 12, 2010 at 9:35 pm

Matt- You write some good thoughts here… I really hate the whole “living for the weekend” thing, too. What I especially don’t like is the fact that the attitude is so ingrained that people surrounding us can’t think outside of that routine. They predicably say “Have a great weekend!”, but rarely do I hear a “Have a great Monday!” … As if human beings only really make decisions and live lives on the weekend…

Congrats on the guest post!
Ryan recently posted..Does Going Abroad Make You More Affectionate

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matt October 12, 2010 at 11:53 pm

Thanks Ryan! Some great thoughts here. Just this week I was talking with co-workers who were complaining about Monday (someone has a case of the Mondays) and lamenting on how many hours were left until the weekend. And this was on Monday!! How sad it is when people start the week with the mindset that they have to endure 4 more days until they can see the light of freedom. I really want to reach a point during this sabbatical where there is no start to the week. Every day becomes a day in which I have an opportunity to make a difference, to spend time working on my own dreams. I think that is a challenge we face in the workweek climate most of us live in. It’s so easy to fall into the same trap when as you say it’s “so ingrained in people that they can’t think outside of that routine.” I really hope that we are evolving beyond this mentality. It’s exciting to see so many people that are realizing there is so much more to life.

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Mary R October 13, 2010 at 2:20 am

Dear Matt,
I completely agree with you! On our death beds, we’re never going to be thinking that we should have worked more in our lives or harder. I never want to regret not taking a trip or spending family time because of work responsibilities. I’d easily compromise material possessions, etc for more time and freedom!
Mary R recently posted..World’s Largest Tug of War

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matt October 13, 2010 at 11:18 pm

I couldn’t agree more with this Mary. Spending time with friends and family should be top priority. It’s the relationships that we build and nurture that sustain us and not the material possessions that we so often feel we need. Like you I will gladly compromise material possessions to be able to experience more of the world.

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Ross October 14, 2010 at 6:23 am

Great article, I totally agree with all of your points – i think sabatticals are great ideas and experiencing different cutures and parts of the world is such an important thing to do that I think everyone should experience something like that at some point in their life.
Ross recently posted..Lightweight Backpacking

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matt October 14, 2010 at 6:24 pm

Thanks Ross. I definitely agree that everyone, at some point in their life, should experience first hand another culture. I think that alone could really change people and bring about global awareness. I found your article on lightweight backpacking very interesting. I’m always trying to find new ways to lighten the load off my aging back.

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Matt Bailey October 14, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Hey Matt.

Great post dude. It’s amazing what taking time off work does. My mom retired a couple years ago and is now just working a little part-time gig to keep her from going insane. She is 63 but probably shaved 10 years in looks off her face as well as lost around 20 pounds just from not having that constant stress. And you don’t need to convince me about seeing the world. Maybe I’ll see ya in Indonesia!

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matt October 14, 2010 at 6:27 pm

Thanks Matt! I hope I do see you in Indonesia. That would be awesome! My Dad is planning to retire this next year. We have talked about taking some significant time and visiting every National Park in the US. I’d love to do this and photograph them all. It’s high up on my list.

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