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Life’s Challenges in Sabbatical Planning

Life’s Challenges in Sabbatical Planning

by Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical on November 7, 2011

Sabbatical Planning

It’s been over a month since my last post and you may be wondering what’s been going on.  Is something wrong?  Why the lack of updates?  Did we make the move to Indonesia?  Are we living the good life in a tropical paradise?  This post will answer those questions and more.


One of the things that I’ve learned along this sabbatical journey is that adaptability is a good skill to develop.  Like those goofy commercials for Nationwide Insurance so blatantly point out; “Life Comes At You Fast”.  Life does happen fast and one needs to be prepared to adapt, innovate and act on varying circumstances.  Without the ability to do this it’s so easy to become trapped in circumstance which is what happens to so many of us.

People often hint that there are “circumstances beyond their control” but I’m not sure I believe that.  Sure things happen that we have limited control over but we always have control over how we react to them.  We always have control over what actions we take to overcome those circumstances.

We’ve had a ton of “circumstances” present themselves over the course of the past 2 months.  Many of these have had the potential to derail our sabbatical train and we’ve had to scramble and brainstorm a bit to figure out how to navigate the stormy waters.  As a result our sabbatical plans have evolved and our path seems clearer, although still littered with challenges and uncertainty.

Life Comes At You Fast

The circumstances I referred to above were all medical related.  September was not a kind month to our medical needs.  First, I had to endure both an endoscopy and colonoscopy (hopefully they changed scopes between the two) which themselves were not unbearable (it was the prep beforehand that was the worst).  Drinking that nasty prep solution and enduring a bad case of McGurggles and explosive backfires was much worse than a tube being snaked into every orifice.  But thankfully the results showed nothing of concern although in a year I will need a follow-up endoscopy.  Still it was a big hit to the financial aspect of our sabbatical planning.

Next it was recommended that one of my kids get an echo-cardiogram.  These tests are not inexpensive and with our co-pay and deductibles it is once again a huge hit to our sabbatical budget.  But there is nothing more important than the health of your kids.

My wife had some minor surgery which will better diagnose a condition that was recently discovered during an annual checkup.  Anytime a medical procedure includes the word surgery you better tighten your grip on your wallet or purse because it gets expensive really fast even when you have decent medical insurance.  But again, if you are able to potentially diagnose a serious medical condition early then money isn’t really a factor to dwell on.  Still the financial sting isn’t easily ignored.

So with all of these health related concerns we’ve really had to take a good hard look at our sabbatical planning and come up with solutions for dealing with it all.  Right now the biggest obstacle is the financial burden of paying for expensive medical tests and still have the money to travel like we had anticipated.

The Sabbatical Path is lined with Good Intentions

OK, maybe this isn’t the best proverb or euphemism to describe our situation but I think it’s important to realize that when faced with challenges we must not forget the good intentions and goals that we originally set out to fulfill.  In our case this was to take a sabbatical and experience the life and culture of Indonesia.

Admittedly I have never been good at dealing with difficult situations that challenge me in the arena of uncertainty.  I’ll typically fold rather than go all in.  But I think we all know deep inside of us that you never experience the excitement of playing the game when you fold all the time.  So we decided to go all in and purchased tickets to Indonesia for January 11th.  It’s been a tough transition to make from “We’re doing this?” to “WE’RE DOING THIS!!!!

The Challenges of Evolved Planning

Our original intent was to stay in Indonesia for a year, hence the domain name 1 Year Sabbatical.  We eventually expanded on that to entertain the idea of living there more permanently and explored different ways to generate a sustainable and supportable income.  But with the recent setbacks in medical issues and the resulting financial burden we have decided to just spend the 4 months offered up by my employer.

This doesn’t mean that we’ve given up on the larger dream.  We’re still intent on making changes in our lives and will be looking for opportunities to create those changes, but my wife and I also realize and acknowledge that while as individuals we have dreams and aspirations, we also have a responsibility to provide for and support our kids and to that respect we are not fully willing to take the same risks we might have when there was just the two of us.

Part of the problem and challenge here is that we haven’t done a good job at defining and outlining our own personal goals.  Sure, I’ve made it known that I am passionate about photography but I haven’t defined and described what that looks like from a revenue generating perspective.  It would be foolish for me at this point in time to jump in feet first without a clearer picture of what my life as a photographer would look like and how replacement income would be generated.  The same goes for my wife and her dream bakery.  Without knowing who we are in the spotlight of our desired professional endeavors, how can we know where we are going?  And if we don’t know where we are going it’s difficult to know what direction to travel.


In photography I often frame up an image in my mind but then find that the application of my mind’s eye on scene doesn’t quite work the way I originally imagined so I re-frame it and see what that looks like.  I often re-frame numerous times until I see what I like.  Even a bad photo can often be interesting and compelling when re-framed.

Life is like that as well.  Often we need to re-frame ideas we started with but that over time have evolved into something less appealing or something that no longer lines up with our original intent.  This is called life and it’s a constantly evolving process of learning and growing opportunities that lead us down paths of misadventure.

Any circumstance that life throws at you never looks bad when you apply re-framing to it.  Take our current situation as an example.  Sure we have some medical issues to deal with and the financial aspect of all that is problematic.  But if we re-frame it to realize that we have the resources to deal with such things and catch potential health issues early it doesn’t seem as bad as it first did.  Sure we have increasing financial obligations that cut deep into our sabbatical budget but we have tickets to Indonesia and a date set.  Re-framing in life is nothing more than highlighting the positive rather than the negative.

Out of Breath

If you made it this far then you’ll be relieved to know that I’m wrapping it up.  While it’s been a battle to deal with these unforeseen and unanticipated issues we see ourselves having two choices.  We can either throw up our hands and proceed to fall into the “woe is me” trap or we can take the high road and say, “ain’t nothin’ gonna keep me down” and re-frame things into a positive image of what is possible.

Ain’t nothin’ gonna keep us down which is why come January 11th we’ll be cruising at 40K feet on our way to Indonesia.  The rest of this story remains to be written.


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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Phil November 7, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Congrats Matt!!! Looking forward to all future updates 🙂 I hear you on the medical expenses. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, but damn, they can really take a toll. I also had an endoscopy recently, because of ongoing doxy inspired acid reflux. Mine also came out clear, but I feel better just having it done. Here’s to future travels!!
Phil recently posted..Stay Healthy on the Road by Pampering Yourself


Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical November 12, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Thanks Phil! Yeah, the medical expenses have really drained us not only financially but emotionally as well. All that not knowing stuff takes its toll. It’s definitely a big consideration to anyone considering long term or even short term travel. We’re actually still waiting to see what the financial fallout is going to be as it seems to take medical offices and insurance companies forever to figure out their billing and who pays what. Glad to hear your own endoscopy was uneventful. I was so nervous going in but once they hit you with those good drugs it’s sleepy time. 🙂


Gillian @OneGiantStep November 8, 2011 at 10:21 am

I can only imagine how hard these past few months have been as you not only try to manage with all the health issues and their related costs but also try to manage what this would all mean to your dream of moving to Indonesia. This is an excellent post showing resiliency, flexibility and how attitude can take you a long way. I know it mustn’t have been easy to evolve your plan and stay excited but you should be proud that you and your wife are showing your children how you can live your dream, even if it looks just a little different than it did originally. Congratulations on buying the tickets!! I’m excited that you will be on your way and I bet the end result will still look different than you could have ever imagined. Good luck!
Gillian @OneGiantStep recently posted..Monday Moment: Bangkok Floating Market


Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical November 12, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Hi Gillian! I think you really nailed the perspective we should have in anything that we do: adaptability. Life evolves around us at a seemingly quickening pace and if you want to stay sane one needs to be adaptable and realize that plans can change and that it’s not necessarily a bad thing. While our evolving journey doesn’t look like we originally intended it’s still an amazing journey and one that may lead into things totally unexpected and rewarding. If we can survive a 20+ hour journey on a plane with 2 kids then we can survive anything.


Ali November 10, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Matt, I’m so glad all the health concerns are working themselves out. I’m sorry your plan isn’t ending up the way you thought it would, but I admire your perseverance. Congrats on setting a date and buying tickets! I can’t wait to hear how your lives evolve in Indonesia!
Ali recently posted..Transportation Day – Seminyak, Bali to Bromo, Java


Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical November 12, 2011 at 12:28 pm

Thanks Ali! We are still up in the air on how long we will stay. That is the evolving part of the equation. I’m bummed that we are missing you in Indonesia!


Kim November 12, 2011 at 9:56 pm

Matt, you are a very wise man! I can imagine that it has been very hard to re-frame your dream but good for you, you should be proud. Many people would take the challenges you have faced as an excuse to throw in the towel. Congrats for buying those tickets!
Kim recently posted..The Waiting Is The Hardest Part


Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical November 12, 2011 at 11:28 pm

Thanks Kim! It’s been a bit of a struggle trying to deal with changing and evolving plans but I’ve just tried to always maintain a positive spin on everything. It’s so easy to just go negative and give up but what fun is there in that? Congrats to you guys as well with the purchase of your tickets to launch your big adventure!


Joanna November 16, 2011 at 9:38 am

Glad to hear you have at least a 4 month sabbatical to look forward to!! And if returning to work after Indonesia doesn’t work out, you know that Canada is hiring a lot of Americans lately (lots of different cultures, including Indonesian, in the bigger cities… and universal health care too:). I won’t talk about the winters though (sigh).


Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical November 30, 2011 at 12:01 am

Hi Joanna! Sorry, must have missed this comment. I’d definitely consider Canada. I love cold snowy winters. I’m not kidding about that. I’ve got quite a few American friends who live in Canada and absolutely love it.


Guadalupe December 3, 2011 at 4:58 pm

I understand you very well, cause right now I’m being myself in the same situation here in Panama, back to my country and trying to settling down for a while in order for me to put down my loans and expenses , and then later on start backpacking myself.. but with always something going on sometimes it could be overwhelming, although I say to myself this is not the first time it had happened and is better to happen while you are in your own country and “home” rather ” that getting worse while you are abroad..”


Tristan December 5, 2011 at 7:34 pm

Hey Matt,
Sounsd like a hairy ride indeed – I like the idea of ‘reframing’ and you’re right that adaptability is a great life skill to have. Sometimes I’m not the best at that (I’m a planner), so this post was a nice reminder, and your honesty was refreshing.

All in all, you’ll get four months off and to experience a completely new culture – still sounds like a good deal to me! Hope the prep goes well.
Tristan recently posted..Granada’s Alhambra: Video Tour (In Spanish w/subtitles) – Southern Spain


Heather Boylan December 13, 2011 at 4:38 am

Hey, Matt!

Having just moved to Indonesia after 5 months here and many back and forths – adding in medical check-ups, biopsies, and re-checks, I hear you. I am here, though, in Bali, but have also been to Sumatra, Sulawesi, Bintan, and several of the islands around Bali. Let me know if I can help with any info or a contact here.

I look forward to reading about your journey!



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