Is a sabbatical a good idea for your career? I think and hope yes, because I am just about to embark on one. Recently I logged off for a minimum of three months, from the job that had been given me a large portion of my identity over five years.. I have a good employer and an understanding partner which has made this possible. The flipside is I am not 28 any more, I am 50.
When I picture someone on sabbatical I see Andean treks or a Masters
For me, it’s less“exciting” (adjective most bandied around by encouraging colleagues). I am simply going to peel off layers of busyness and spend time with my family before my eldest starts secondary school. It is good to have time out from the pressure of working and parenting and recoil a little from the difficulties and stresses of the pandemic lifestyle.
So. I will go on my break and have no email, no Teams meetings, no instant messages, project deadlines.. I will enjoy that the pressure is only coming from deciding on the daily itinerary on a sprawling summer break. Stop checking my work phone like one of Pavlov’s dogs. But…
Having a career break at 50 feels a bit scary.
Upon return from sabbatical, a job in my function is “guaranteed’, but not my level, full role scope or stakeholders. My internal network who I rely on formally and informally: sponsors and mentors, colleagues who brought humour and a virtual “team” to my remote office of 2020/21 may not be there.
My job has nurtured me during work hours and out of work hours
I am excited and scared. My employer is private equity backed innovation consultancy; so by its very nature it will not stand still whilst I take a break. In a discussion group for several maternity leavers in our function that I chaired recently all spoke of the need to build back confidence. In addition they sensed assumptions they were less ambitious, to familiarise with tech upgrades and find a new rhythm after the break. None of which happened overnight.
How will it feel to be on sabbatical?
I’ll need to surrender my identity as a “career person” Clifton Strengths tells me I’m a Relationship Building and Relator- perfect for a recruiter. Crucially I like feeling part of and positively influencing a team focused on a shared goal. Conversely if I am not doing these things my light fades a little bit. So how is it going to feel when that outlet that I normally get nine hours a day at work is not there?
Sabbatical means Surrendering the Work Identity
This iRelaunch podcast features a PR exec who found her search for work so soul-destroying that she stopped looking. Her comment on how she strongly identified with herself as a career person resonated. She speaks of the sense of self-worth that she gets from her job. The challenge for me is going to be; can I fill the void of work constructively, fruitfully, nurturing and without doing “things for things’ sake?”
Poet David Whyte in his book “Crossing the Unknown Sea” observes “The antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest but wholeheartedness”. I ask myself: what wholehearted pursuits shall I fill my time with?
Is a sabbatical a good idea for your career?
I was jaded. As a result, I lacked creative edge, even getting physical stress symptoms. Some transactions were terse and lacked my characteristic empathy. I want to return refreshed, committed and with new fresh angles to attack my job and our market. In his TED talk Stefan Segmaister describes the difference sabbaticals make to the bottom line of his design company.
What are the downsides of a sabbatical?
As I’ve referred to above, you’re unlikely to be able to fix your spot in the company. For instance you may, as I will, have a new boss to play catch-up with. This Timetastic article clearly outlines the pros and the cons for you and your employer.
How To Apply For a Sabbatical (Spotting the Opportunity)
Its important to follow due process and be honouring of your employer as you’ll likely give your team extra work. Review your employer’s policy: some sabbaticals are paid and they vary in length of time allowed. Do give as much notice as possible.
Try to pre-empt the objections that might come up in your application
I spotted an opportunity to put in a request when we had additional resource for our team. It was clear we were likely to shoot through our forecast. My stakeholders were informed at the last possible minute, when I had assigned trusted delegates and all the solutions were in place. Timing is key to a good return.
Is sabbatical a good idea for your career?
I will keep you posted, especially from my own personal lens of coming at this opportunity at the age of 50. Additionally here are the resources I am finding useful.
Squiggly Careers Podcast and Book.
Additude resources for children with ADHD and their families
Mindfulness: Headspace app or on Netflix and a chapter in Glennon Doyle’s book, Untamed where she describes her own practice of tapping into her “knowing”.
Davidwhyte.com and book Crossing the Great Divide on work as a pilgrimage of identity.