My Sabbatical Story

As with so many things in life, running a blog like this is a position of trust.

As a reader, you need to be able to trust in my writing. Trust that it is rooted in fact, trust that my experience gives me credibility in this niche, trust that the reason I cover this topic is that it’s one close to my heart, and trust that I add value to the subjects I cover.

This post is written to sit alongside my ‘about me‘ page, so you can understand who I am, the journey I’ve been on, and why the subject of sabbaticals means so much to me.


The ‘Sabbatical Guide’ Mindset

Go Exploring!
Go Exploring!

Before we start, let’s discuss what a sabbatical means to me.

It’s more than time off work – it’s a lifestyle, a framework for life.

The tagline for this website is ‘Go Exploring’, but why?

Well here is a brief definition of the word explore:

  1. to investigate, study, or analyse
  2. to become familiar with by testing or experimenting
  3. to travel over (new territory) for adventure or discovery

As you can see it’s more than just travel – it’s about investigating, learning and improving – a fantastic growth mindset for life.

My twenties disappeared. I worked hard, earned money, got married, bought a house – all the things you’re meant to do growing up. Life was going on around me, but I didn’t experience much of it. I turned down most of the parties, stag dos and nights out in order to get my job done. I was serious, professional and hard-working. That was my brand.

For me, the ‘Sabbatical Guide’ mindset, has been about getting myself to a position where I can experience the world around me again. Yes, I’ve had three periods of extended time away from work since I was 30, but there are also other things that I think make up a sabbatical lifestyle:

  1. Being financially stable enough to make choices
  2. Having a job that offers flexibility to work from home or abroad
  3. Building ‘mini-retirements’ into a career to allow you to follow your passions – whether that be travel, side hustles, spending time with family, it doesn’t matter – whatever means the most to you
  4. Using the time you do have to follow your goals – weekends, days off, annual leave

So it’s more than just ‘I’m going to take three months off every few years’. It’s about being in a position to make choices, to have passions that you can pursue and to grow as an individual without being tied to a job.

So let’s ‘Go Exploring….


My Sabbatical Story: Early Career

My crazy life running one of the busiest supermarkets in the UK

Retail has been a blessing for me. If I hadn’t started with Tesco at the age of 16 I wouldn’t be where I am now. Retail has given me the money to own a house and car, the opportunity to work the other side of the planet and, most importantly, is where I met my wife, Rebecca.

I have been a retailer my entire career. I started off doing nine hours on a Saturday scanning goods through a checkout, then worked in a cash office, filled shelves, unloaded lorries, pushed trollies. All the important but largely unnoticed jobs that happen in every shop you’ve ever visited.

At around 19 I became a manager. This was a big choice, as it also meant deciding not to go to university. I ran my own little fruit and veg dept with a team of 10 people. I spent a few years doing different versions of this job before getting promoted.

Promotion in retail generally means leading a group of people in the role you were doing before. As a senior manager I had a 3-10 departmental managers working for me, and I moved around a number of stores to do this.

At 25 I became a store manager. This was where I felt like I hit the big time. The money started to roll in at the point, and I was running shops that took nearly £80 million a week with a team of 400+ and nearly 50,000 customers. Its was big responsibility. We relocated so I could do one job, taking us away from friends and family, and I ended up running the highest turnover store in the biggest food retailer in the UK.

My salary by this point was £70,000+ which at 28 was more money than we could ever have needed. I had made a decision from about 25 that we earned enough money to live, so from that point onwards had syphoned off every pay rise I ever had in to savings. A simple process, but if I got a £2k a year pay rise, I’d work out what that was in each pay packet and just set up a direct debit into a savings account. I didn’t know it at the time, but this would be the base for everything I did in the future.

Things started to take their toll on me after a while though. In a flash I’d been nearly 15 years with the same company, and was working a minimum of 11 hours a day with a two hour commute. The pay was good, but life was non-existent. On work days I really had no evening, we rarely travelled as I’d often skip my annual leave to work. When I did take time off it would take me most of the first week to wind down, and then I’d lose the last few days before I went back to worrying about the pressures of work.

Something had to give.


Sabbatical 1: Side Hustle

Cape of Good Hope
Spending time in Cape Town at the end of our first sabbatical

So I quit.

15 years service, a great salary and I quit.

Not in a stupid, reckless way though. I quit with another job to go to, I was leaving to join another retailer

I took a big pay cut, but the compromise was work-life balance. I was moving out of the store environment and in to an area role. One that would hopefully give me more freedom to move around, choose my working hours and work from home.

Between jobs I had a sabbatical. It was partly enforced as my company put me on gardening leave for confidentiality, but we added some unpaid weeks to the end. I had three months off in total.

The classic view is that sabbaticals are used to travel, but this isn’t always the case. I used the time off to do so many things I’d dreamed of for years. I read alot, did work on our house, got fit again and started a side-hustle.

I’d been messing around with a cycling website for a few years, but whilst on sabbatical I re-doubled my efforts in to a blog I felt real passion for. It was going to be dedicated to travel, and I was determined to see more of the world. I set up a website in my own name, that would later become the one you are on now.

For the last four weeks of the sabbatical Becca and I rented a little place on the sea-front in Cape Town. Life slowed down, perspectives changed. I knew things had to be different in the future.


Sabbatical 2: Travel

Chai Lai Orchid in Thailand
Helping to look after elephants at an eco-lodge in Thailand on a 3 month sabbatical

My new job was everything I hoped it to be. I had more freedom, I felt more engaged, and in the background I was running my own business (did you know the most engaged employees in the world have a side-hustle as an outlet for their creativity?).

I was working hard again, but enjoying it. I loved meeting new people and proving I could find my way in a new company, which was a big step as I’d only ever had one employer prior to the switch. We started to travel alot more, using our generous leave allocation and weekends to go and see this incredible planet. In 2017 we made it abroad seven times in the year!

But I still had a nagging urge to travel for an extended period of time, and after two and a half years proving myself in the new company I made a bold step.

I requested there months of unpaid leave to travel.

My boss took it very well. My dad had been in a nasty accident the previous year, so he had seen my priorities change. I had also worked hard to ‘be so good they can’t ignore me‘, something I feel is super important. You can’t expect people to agree to things if you’re lazy or rubbish at your job. If you add value to the business and build up your credibility you become a valuable asset and they want you to keep your loyalty. At this point requesting a sabbatical is not such a bad thing, as the likelihood is an employer will agree as they want to keep hold of you in the long term. I used it as an opportunity to train two people who worked for me, split my role in two and gave them the chance to develop whilst I was away.

It was win/win.

We took three months and travelled Southeast Asia. We spent time in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. It wasn’t life-changing but it was an incredible experience, and we went back to work refreshed and happy.


Sabbatical 3: Living Abroad

Settling in to Australian life with a trip to the Grampians

I’m being very loose with my use of the word sabbatical here, but just before heading to Asia, I got approached by a headhunter to interview for a job in Australia. The interviews took place via Skype from hotel rooms whilst we were travelling, and I got offered the job. A few months after we returned I resigned, and in early 2019 we were in Australia.

Now, if my Australian employer is reading this, I want to be clear that I don’t view working for you as a sabbatical!!! But if you read my paragraph at the beginning of this post, I spoke about the sabbatical lifestyle. There is no better way to get to know a country than living there, and moving from the UK to Australia has opened up a whole new part of the world to us – New Zealand is only five hours away, the Pacific Islands a bit more.

This isn’t a sabbatical in the ‘unpaid time off work’ sense, but when you look at how you can build adventure into a career/life this is it right here. I am working very hard, but we also have loved adapting to a new life.

Oh, and of course I built six weeks in between jobs – a mini-sabbatical! We used the break to spend quality time with family before leaving, and then had two weeks in Australia before starting work. We went and saw the Yarra Valley, took trips around Melbourne and went out to the Grampians. So maybe it was a sabbatical after all!


Signing off

So what’s the point of this story.

Well I guess there’s two.

The first is to establish some credibility.

When you read information on this site, hopefully you now understand it comes from a position of experience.

Clearly there is no way I can experience every type of sabbatical, with every type of career from every angle! But I work hard to research everything I write about, add in the benefit of my experiences and talk to other people to try and ensure I cover as many views as impossible.

Alot of effort goes in to everything I put together for this site, and I do it alongside maintaining my own career. I hope having read some of the information on this page you can trust that my heart is in the right place, and I am genuinely trying to help others.

And if you do agree, why not add your views into the comments on a given post. I will happily go back and edit articles to build in the views of other people.

The second is to pass on a kind of ‘if I can you can’ mentality.

I was 30, in a high pressured and responsible job and feeling very stuck.

But I broke the mould, tried something different, and have managed to maintain my career too.

Alot of blogs are run by the ‘I quit my job and you can too’ brigade. Good on them! But I’ve always been a bit more conservative and pragmatic. I’d spend too long worrying about my pension or my children’s future!

But here you can hopefully see that it is possible to have a bit of both.

Possible to have a great career, and build in travel, a side-hustle or any other passions you have.

Possible to build in ‘mini-retirements’ whilst you’re young and can make the most of the freedom.

Good luck!

And if I can, you certainly can do. It just takes some forward planning, hard work and a bit of creativity.

Have fun exploring 🙂

Ben

PIN THIS:

4
Leave a Reply

avatar
2 Comment threads
2 Thread replies
2 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
3 Comment authors
Ben ReeveSuiyen SmithPeter Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Peter
Guest
Peter

Good for you Ben. I do think it’s important to be able to step back and have perspective in this world. To take the time to be able to view things a little differently. To Re-evaluate, make new life choices, to grow and even evolve a little. Time flys and were on on this planet once. Keep up the blog. It’s an interesting read!!

Pete.

Suiyen Smith
Guest
Suiyen Smith

Ah – all those beautiful pix are from my home country, I’ve been to all those places!!!! ENJOY!

Scroll to Top