The Sabbatical Basics Series
This post is part of the ‘sabbatical basics’ series in which I explore the big questions relating to sabbaticals.
This is the cornerstone of the content on this site, and I come back regularly to update it.
In part one I answered the key ‘what’ questions relating to sabbaticals:
- What is a sabbatical?
- What does the law say about sabbaticals?
- What is the difference between a career break and a sabbatical?
- What does sabbatical actually mean?
Here in part two I will be tackling the ‘why’ of sabbaticals:
- Why take a sabbatical? (including popular reasons people go on sabbatical)
- Why have sabbaticals become popular?
- Why are sabbaticals important?
Part 3: How to Take a Sabbatical
In part three (not yet released) I will be talking about the ‘how’ of sabbaticals:
- How to approach your employer
- How to plan in your time
- You to start preparing for your time away
Why Take a Sabbatical?
There are lots of reasons why people take a sabbatical. From wanting to see the world, to learning new skills, the options are almost endless.
People use them to travel the world, pursue a passion, volunteer in a developing country, or even just to avoid the burnout of a busy life at work.
For me, the reasons were varied. Travel has long been a passion of mine, and a career break was always something on the horizon, but it took a couple of big events in my life to make me realise the time was now. Having been passed over for a promotion at work, and then seeing my dad suffer a nasty road accident, I realised that we’d put it off for long enough. Within six months we’d had a sabbatical signed off and were on a plane to Southeast Asia.
I speak to alot of people about their reasons for taking a sabbatical and one thing is a constant throughout all the answers though ………. change.
It’s unlikely you’re going to take a sabbatical to maintain the status quo. You are searching for something, looking for a new perspective on life, or trying to learn something new. You will replace your normal routine with something fresh, exciting and maybe even a little uncomfortable. Something that will burn off the haze surrounding everyday life, and let you see the bright lights of a new world.
A sabbatical is a precious and purposeful time, which should give you space and time that you just don’t get amongst the hectic nature of modern-day life.
If that sounds exciting then let’s explore some popular reasons why people take sabbaticals.
Popular Reasons for Taking a Sabbatical
1) To travel
Travel is one of the most popular reason people give for taking a sabbatical. The world is a hard place to see in vacations and weekends, so to taking an extended period of time off can be a great way to see the distant corners of the blog that feel inaccessible on a short break.
Travel is one of the most rewarding things in life. It breaks up the normal pattern of life, freeing you up from the constraints of home and allows you to experiences new cultures and new perspectives.
Long term travel is very different from taking a vacation, giving you the time to go slow and experience the world around your rather than seeing it go rushing by in an aeroplane. Don’t feel the need to pack in too much, loose plans that allow you to adapt on the move are the best, giving you space for spontaneity, or just to stop for a while if you want to.
- If you are looking for travel inspiration then check out the ‘Sabbatical Ideas‘ section of the site.
- For travel tips, then check out my article ‘31 Travel Tips from Experienced Travellers‘.
2) To make a difference
Take a sabbatical to make a difference is rooted in the very origin of the word. Sabbaticals and gap years have long been used to volunteer, and use your skills in other parts of the world.
So if you feel the same, how would you choose what to do?
Well here’s a list of things that might get your brain juices flowing:
- What are you passionate about?
- What makes you most angry in the world?
- What are you worried might not be there for the next generation?
- What skills do you have that might be useful in other parts of the world?
- What are the biggest ecological challenges facing the planet right now, how could you help?
Whether it be conservation surveys in Namibia, teaching English in Bolivia, or buildings schools in Indonesia there are volunteering options to suit whatever you’re passionate about.
Check out ‘Gap Year Volunteering Projects‘ for more inspiration, and to get an idea of cost and timings.
3) To stop you quitting
If you’re in a job that has driven you to the point you want to quit, then it might be time to consider a sabbatical.
If you had no job lined up to go into then why not?
It will give you some time away to consider your options, whilst also having a job to fall back on if it doesn’t work out.
Or you may come to realise that it was just overwork, tiredness or other issues that were causing you to want to quit, and the sabbatical gives you a new sense of perspective.
4) To learn a new skill (or refresh an old one)
Taking a sabbatical can be the perfect way to pursue your passions outside the workplace.
And you never know, your new-found skill may open up doors to other career paths, that get you out of your stuffy office cubicle and enjoying a different course to your life.
And they don’t have to be non-work related passions either.
Many people take sabbaticals to learn skills that will help them further their career. Taking some time to complete a programming course, or do additional studies towards a masters degree, working on an archaeological dig, or completing an internship. All of these are great ways to enhance your CV and grow your skill set.
5) To spend some time together
This was one of the main reasons for taking our first sabbatical.
Becca and I met at quite a young age, and since then life had mostly revolved around work. In this time we had both been promoted a few times, and also relocated with work to secure better opportunities.
To be clear, this was a fantastic time for us. It set us up for life, allowing us to own our own house with a short mortgage, gave us the skills to be respected within our chosen careers, and allowing us to save alot of money so we could travel whenever we wanted.
The main thing this hadn’t given us was time. Regular six or seven-day weeks coupled with long hours, meant time as a couple was infrequent and generally saved for holidays.
After ten years of this pattern we decided a change was needed. A change in jobs allowed us more time together, but we decided we wanted one big break before we had a family, and a sabbatical was the perfect way to do this.
If this sounds like you, then maybe a sabbatical is the perfect way to spend some quality time with a loved one.
6) To avoid burn out
Burn out is real. Working too hard, not getting enough sleep, and compromising on food and lifestyle can lead to long-term mental and physical problems.
No-where is this described better than in Jeffrey Jung’s book ‘The Career Break Traveller’s Handbook‘.
In it, Jung compare’s a normal working life to that of a pro athlete.
“Pro athletes are finely tuned physical machines. They are expected to give 110% on the field. One mistake could cost them or their team the game. But off the field, they relax! They get physical therapy. Yes, they train and maintain themselves to keep up with the high level of intensity on the field. But they also rest and rejuvenate so as not to over-stress their bodies. Finally, pro athletes get an off-season to prepare for the next one. The stress put on pro athletes is physically evident. The stress created in our jobs is not. Yet stress is there nonetheless. Let’s learn from the pros and take care of ourselves when not at work. We have to make time to rejuvenate and create our own off-season.”
So why not use a sabbatical to create your own off-season?
7) To escape and re-evaluate
There are lots of big milestones in life that can make us want to escape: a big birthday, the death of a family member or the kids moving out.
All of these are moments in time that might make you want to escape your current life, and re-evaluate where you are.
It was certainly the case for me. After missing out on a promotion at work, and then seeing my dad involved in a major road accident that could have easily been a lot worse than it was, I re-evaluated.
The answer I came up with was a sabbatical, giving me the opportunity to spend more time with my wife, and to get out and see parts of the world I wouldn’t get to otherwise.
Escaping is pointless without a re-evaluation. If you escape for three months, with no plan, your troubles will still be there when you return.
If you are going to use a sabbatical for this purpose, then be clear what you are looking to achieve. You might just need some time to think, or spend some more time with family. You might go to an extreme and join a meditation retreat.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure you sabbatical is not going to compound the problem, have a clear idea for how this extended break will help you.
8) To enjoy time off whilst you are still young
The traditional way to view a career, was to work hard for 50 years followed by retiring.
But what if you built some of that retirement time into your career itself?
This would give you the chance to travel and have time off when you are still young, still brave enough to travel and still fit enough to make the most of it.
I am not trying to say for one moment that 70 year olds can’t travel, but it’s a fact of life that the older we get the harder some things become.
And not just that.
Working flat-out for 50 years is a tough mental slog. Your brain and body gets used to the routine, so switching off after all that time can be a hard thing to do.
So why wait?
Why not build some down-time into your career, so when you do get the chance to retire fully, you will have a much better idea of how to handle it.
Why have Sabbaticals Become so Popular?
As the world of work has moved away from the 9-5 and closer to the 24/7, there has been a backlash. Employees are no longer staying in career long jobs, and more are now willing to take risks as they move through their life. Gone are the days where loyalty was the biggest impact on your promotion, and with regular structure changes and streamlining in big business leading to more frequent redundancies, people are getting more used to moving between different companies.
Alongside this we have also seen the rise in remote working. As the internet age has dawned, the ability to work away from a typical office environment has given workers more freedom and autonomy. With a rise in population making commutes ever more difficult, employers have allowed people to work from home on a more regular basis. This taste of freedom has given people time and space to think, and also allowed them to realise that work doesn’t always have to mean a workplace.
This is far from being a global experience, there are some industries that will always need people in traditional roles, such as bobbies on the beat, and nurses at the bedside. It would be pretty hard to justify working from home as a fire officer! But if you are in an industry where there is more freedom, then your possibilities are increasing by the day.
In April 2007 Tim Ferriss released ‘The 4 Hour Work Week‘. Given it spent more than four years on the New York Times bestseller list, it clearly captured the imagination of a generation of people keen to try something different, and rebel against the ever-increasing demands of modern-day corporate life. The book talks at length about ‘mini-retirements’ and building travel into your career rather than waiting until the end of it. For many people this book was an inspiration, and kick-started a different way of thinking about work-life balance.
There are no clearly statistics that clearly define the rise in sabbaticals, but anecdotally the information is there. Most of us now have stories of people who’ve taken extended leave, and sit back in quiet admiration for their bravery. Some of us have been bold enough to take the step ourselves, and will speak openly about the benefits to others.
Regardless of your views, our time only happens once, and it is our choice what to do with it. If you are happy and content in your current world then crack on, but you’re probably on the wrong website! If you long for something different, then embrace change, make the difficult decisions, and take choices that will help you build lasting memories rather than endless bland days. It’s not easy, there are practical challenges, not least of which are the financial implications, but if you want anything enough then there are ways to bring it to life.
Why is a Sabbatical Important?
This will very much depend on your situation.
A sabbatical might be important to allow you to go off and learn a new skill that will further your career.
It might give you the opportunity to travel to parts of the world, embrace different cultures and meet people who will stick long in the memory.
It might allow you to make a small difference in the world by completing conservation work, teaching a language or helping build a school.
It might give you space and time to think about a big event that’s happened in your life and how to tackle it. A perspective you couldn’t have gained if you hadn’t taken the time to break from the norm.
It might allow you to spend more time with a loved one, traveling the world and making up for lost time.
More than anything though it’s important because it’s a break away from everyday life. From the second you step into your new world, things will be different. If you travel even the basics such as ordering lunch and getting your washing done can be a challenge. If you head off to learn a new skill, you’ll be away from the daily rat race and punishing commute.
Whatever you decide to do, make the most of it, don’t waste this precious time, and give yourself something to look back on with pride.
Have you Taken a Sabbatical?
If so why not share your story with others in the comments below.
Answer this question:
Why did you take a sabbatical, and what advice would you offer to others?