Five Reasons To Take A Sabbatical

Last week, I shared five reasons not to take a sabbatical. I also shared how you might want to counter these reasons. (Check out that post here)

This week, I want to talk about why taking time for sabbaticals, career breaks, or extended time off is so important. Important for us as individuals, yes, and also important for organisational performance and societal thriving (more to come on the organisational side of things next week).

First up: I ran a poll on LinkedIn last week, asking a simple question: Have you ever taken a career break or sabbatical?

Here are the results:

It’s an interesting spread. Close to two-thirds of respondents have taken significant time out from their career, and another quarter haven’t but are thinking about it. It’s on (or been on) the radar of over 80% of respondents. The idea of taking a break appears to have some currency. 

That’s not that surprising to me given the research on the knock-on effects from Covid on how people think and feel about where work fits into their lives. One possible interpretation of the results above is that, in a post-Covid world, many people are yearning for time out to review and re-evaluate their priorities.

I’m yet to analyse the results of the survey in detail, but for now, a scan of the comments prove pretty insightful. Here’s one comment that grabbed my attention in particular:

I've had two sabbaticals in my career, one 3-month and one 6-month. One mid-40s and the next at 50ish. I reckon these breaks have extended my life span (pending any disasters).

Life-extending? That’s got to be a good reason to invest in some time out.

Here’s another one:

I do recognise the value of a break in what you do, and the chance to step away and re-evaluate. I experienced this when I withdrew from my PhD, in an effort to find clarity at a time when my research and personal life was in a whirlpool. As a result, I left academia and branched out into a totally new area of work, which was incredibly refreshing and energising! This enabled me to return to my PhD as the break had given me things I didn't know I needed. So yes, I am a fan!

And this one:

Looking back now, I believe this is one of the best things I have ever done in my life! It gave me time and space to break away from unhealthy habits and patterns; rest, recover and rejuvenate; befriend boredom to get clarity on my purpose, values, needs and priorities; learn and try new ways of being and doing things. Taking a career break may have set me back a bit financially, but I have gained so much that cannot be measured by money.

And this one:

I just finished my second work paid sabbatical. Two months paid time off each time. What I found is clarity for the things that matter. And in my case, I’m not going back to work this time - at least where I was. It’s time to use that clarity to find work that matters.

Some compelling reasons, right?

For me, the biggest benefit from taking my sabbatical was a reconnection with my sense of purpose. Before I took the time out, I knew what was important for me in my work and broader life, but I wasn’t feeling the fire in my belly like I used to. Through slowing down and allowing the dust to settle, that old feeling has come back. I’ve got a clearer long-view of what matters, and I’m bringing more conviction and energy to everything that I do

A few weeks ago, I went into the studio with three colleagues who have also recently taken career breaks. We recorded a rich conversation about why we took time out, how we approached it, and what we got from it. Soon I’ll be sharing the recording with you - stay tuned!

For now, here are five reasons you could consider taking a sabbatical:

Retreat: sometimes life gets too hot to handle. A planned retreat (before you burn out) if a wise way to create a circuit breaker. It gives you the opportunity to get a renewed perspective on the situation before you jump back in.

Renew: when you give your all, all the time, it’s smart to allow deliberate time to lie fallow for a while. As one survey respondent mentioned “I’ve got a lot more to give, and a sabbatical helped me to renew myself so I can dive into the next chapter sustainably.”

Reconnect: reconnect with what matters. See comments above 🙂

Redirect: from time to time, you’ve got to step back, take stock and explore different paths. If you do this deliberately, you’re more likely to be a greater contributor to your organisation, community and society at large.

Relish: often, a career break is a time to relish opportunities to learn something new. Expand your mind to expand your wellbeing.

This is all very personal stuff and each of us will have different reasons for taking time out. But what does it mean for organisations? It turns out that there’s a significant benefit to organisational performance by enabling career breaks. More on that next week.

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