Today is the start of my first sabbatical week this year. I wanted to revisit what I mean when I say a sabbatical, for those that are new here (welcome again!) and as a reminder for veterans.
Growing up, a sabbatical seemed like a luxury that only professors took. My dad never had that luxury; he didn’t even take vacation days because he was working 70 hours, six days a week. I grew up thinking I had to work that much in order to provide, like my dad did for our family.
Even with the opportunities and freedom I have in my work, that sense of obligation is constantly there. Compound that with the logic that the most loving and best thing I can do as a man is provide for my family, work is not only an obligation, but an identity.
It’s why Sean McCabe’s idea of a seventh week sabbatical was so counterintuitive to me:
The purpose of the sabbatical is freedom from obligation. When you go into a sabbatical, you should have NO prior commitments, so that you can say “Yes” to anything in the moment.
For six weeks, work to do and fulfill your responsibilities, but on your seventh week you free yourself from all obligations. You could do nothing and stay in bed to binge on Netflix, start a newsletter (like I did beginning of last year), or take a trip somewhere. The point is you have the agency to do what you want to do. For that week, you take control of your actions, not in the hands of others.
The first few sabbaticals I did were complete failures. I couldn’t shake the reflex of finding things I had to do. I couldn’t answer what it is I wanted to do. I slowly started to listen to myself and realizes there are things I would love to do if I had the time.
Just like those professors, sabbaticals have become a time for me to pursue something I was interested in without any distractions of obligation. Some sabbaticals, I ended up doing more work than other weeks, but it was so restorative. I came out of those week, looking forward to getting back into work.
In starting these sabbaticals, I felt like I didn’t know if I would have enough time to do all the work I needed to do and still take a seven to eight sabbatical weeks a year. But it’s not about doing less, but being more focused and intentional of how you spend your time. If you create six week projects with a clear goal and track your time you can get a lot more done than you thought.
For those who have a job that requires your physical presence to be there during the weekdays, a great way for you to implement these sabbaticals is to take the last weekend of every month (or any other weekend, but remember the monthly cadence is important) and make that your sabbatical. Same rules apply: freedom from obligation on Saturday and Sunday and decide what you want to do.
At the end of the day, I don’t think it’s about the length of time that matters but folding the practice into your lifestyle. Once you realize how important it is to rest and pursue your curiosity, you will be able to manage your time and obligations to create that space for yourself.