I’ve just finished watching the Beckham documentary on Netflix, and found it addictive viewing.
I enjoyed being taken back to my childhood, a time when I was absolutely in love with Manchester United – I can still name every player in the ’95 team, the first shirt my dad got me.
Whilst the football fired up my nostalgia, I actually found the stories from behind the scenes far more interesting.
The replaying of how David dealt with the fall out of the ’98 World Cup, having a child, and winning the treble in less than a year is beyond me, that man has resilience on a scale I’ll never comprehend.
But, as the name suggested, this wasn’t the David show, it was the Beckham show. Victoria came across as outspoken, gutsy and determined, and it was obvious that she was the driving force behind most of what they achieved together. Whilst this show wasn’t about her own incredible career and skills, her ability to deal with colossal stress and complexity, and her clarity of thought on how to protect what’s important to them shone through.
The documentary also got me thinking about the parallels between the scenes Beckhams and sabbaticals (I know, a potentially tenuous link, but go with me on this, I do run a sabbatical site!).
So, what lessons can we learn about sabbaticals from the Beckham documentary?
Making Brave Decisions
One thing that came up throughout the Beckham documentary was brave decision making.
The example that stood out the most, was David choosing to leave Real Madrid to join to LA Galaxy in the MLS, a league which didn’t have much global credibility at the time. This was despite criticism and ridicule from all quarters, including his former boss Alex Ferguson.
Whilst not on the same scale, making a brave decision is something you’ll need to do when committing to a sabbatical
Leaving the workplace behind for a period of time, is not the commonly trodden path in most businesses. Making the decision to do it means potentially missing out on promotions, and having to deal with criticism and questioning from people who don’t have a similar philosophy on life to you.
But the benefits also draw parallels.
Getting to see new parts of the world, opening your eyes to new possibilities (David is now club president and part owner of Inter Miami) and spending more time with your family, were all things the Beckhams got from their USA move, and are some of the biggest benefits of taking a sabbatical.
Being a Strong Couple
The unity and resilience of the Beckhams as a couple was not something I’d realised before seeing the documentary. The pressure from being constantly in the spotlight and bringing up a family, whilst regularly switching countries, clearly took its toll.
And they weren’t always happy. They pushed each other, challenged their thinking, and had huge disagreements. But, they stuck at it, and seem better for it.
If you take a sabbatical as a couple, you need a similar strength.
The boldness to make the decision in the first place, the hardiness to stay the course despite others questioning what you want to do and the energy to pull it all together into one big plan.
Oh, and the ability to put up with each other 24/7 in all the confined spaces travel throws out (from hostels to trains), not kill each other, and somehow come out the other end stronger for it.
When Fabio Capello was in charge at Real Madrid and found out David had been in talks with LA Galaxy, he took him to one side and said,
“You’ll never play for this club again”.
He then made him train by himself at the end of the pitch, with the rest of the squad watching on.
So what did the England captain do?
No, he kept coming in on time, training his arse off and, eventually, earned his place back in the squad. He finished his final season at the club as a La Liga winner.
Coming back from sabbatical you may need to do the same.
Your boss may have changed whilst you were away.
You many have new colleagues who have no idea what you’re about.
Even if they haven’t, many people will be wondering if the sabbatical has turned your head so much, that you won’t be the same contributor your were before.
Time to show some of the Beckham steel.
Dig in, go hard, show the world that the sabbatical has refreshed you.
Regain your credibility in the workplace.
It’s important, not just for your career, but for any future chance that you (or anyone else in the office for that matter) have of taking a sabbatical.
Going Against Those You Respect Most
It was clear from the documentary that Sir Alex Ferguson was a father figure to David.
But that doesn’t mean he did what he was told all the time.
He had a rebellious streak – sneaking off to see the love of his life, creating a brand in a team where tall poppy syndrome was the status quo and not always accepting the manager’s criticism.
This may not be the best parallel in this article (let’s not forget that Beckham was unceremoniously dumped from the club without even a conversation), but if you’re serious about taking a sabbatical, your probably going to have to go against people you really respect.
I have NEVER taken a sabbatical because I wasn’t enjoying work.
I’ve been lucky enough to have some fantastic bosses.
I genuinely get satisfaction from what I do.
But I also feel I have more things to achieve in my life than stripes on my sleeve in the workplace…
…not everyone agrees with that perspective.
“What do you want to do that for?”
Just one example I got from a senior leader I really respected after I’d asked for three-months off work.
Some people who’ve dedicated their entire lives to a business or their career just can’t get their heads around wanting to stop.
It doesn’t mean they’re right though.
Taking a sabbatical will likely put you in this position. You will have to explain your reasoning clearly to people you respect deeply, but also have a different view to you.
Doing so is a fine art, especially if (like me) you want to come back after the sabbatical and pick up where you left off.
If all else fails, just do a Beckham and get booted out!
Falling In Love With Home Again
How stunning was Beckhingham Palace in the misty English countryside?
The final scenes of the documentary showed a content mum and dad, surrounded by their family in the country they grew up in.
One of the biggest things I wrote about in my reflections on our second sabbatical, was how much travel made me fall back in love with being in the UK (I am trying to say that without too irony much given we then picked up and moved to Australia three years later).
Often in life we fall into a routine bubble.
Can you remember your drive to work this morning?
Can you describe the person who serves you your morning coffee?
These things are so habitual we don’t even notice them anymore.
When we land back home after taking a long-term trip, everything seems new again. We feel lucky for the warm home we have, being able to tell stories to the friends we usually take for granted, and that strange feeling that we’re tourists in our own town.
The Beckhams realised that no matter where they tried living there was simply no place like home.
A sabbatical might well do the same, and quench your travel thirst, whilst giving you a newfound appreciation for where you are.
Making the Most of Unexpected Opportunities
The chance for a sabbatical might come when you least expect it.
Traditionally a sabbatical is unpaid time off requested from your current workplace, but that’s not the only way to do it.
Building time between jobs is also another way to build a mini-retirement into your career.
And these moments often come up when you’re not expecting them.
Three days after resigning from a job I’d done for fifteen years, and expecting to work out my three-month notice period, my boss turned up unannounced, and asked me to leave at immediate notice, putting me on gardening leave (it’s a long story).
I suddenly had twelve weeks in front of me with nothing to do. I wasn’t allowed to work, so we built a plan to get away from it all for a while, renting an Airbnb on the Cape Town coast, and enjoying the wine, wildlife and hospitality of South Africa.
Beckham had to make the most of a similar opportunity.
He found out via the newspaper that he was being sold to Barcelona, but, despite being angry with the way he’d been handled (I feel your pain David!) he turned it on its head and engineered a move to play for the Galacticos of Real Madrid.
Sometimes opportunities come with no notice, and can often be wrapped up as a problem.
Seize them whenever you get the chance.
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