The Case for the Personal Sabbatical

The Case for the Personal Sabbatical.jpg

When I was 20 years old I traveled with my then-boyfriend to the U.S. Virgin Islands, where we planned to get jobs and settle for a while. In St. John, we found jobs within a week, and then promptly left those jobs within another week. That's how long it took to figure out island life was not for us.

Satisfied that we had come, conquered, and rejected the tropical lifestyle, we decided to check out a remote campsite we'd heard was the least touristy spot on the islands. We traveled by ferry and Jeep to a strip of beach with basic campsites and a communal outdoor shower.

There we met a scraggly haired lawyer from Vancouver who had been camping with his family for two months.

"It takes a month just to relax."

This guy, who's been sleeping on the ground and showering in a tree for 60 days, was the image of relaxed, to be sure. But my boyfriend said to me later, "How stressed out do you have to be that it takes a month to relax? I never want to be that stressed out."

Ah, youth.

Our sweet baby 20-year-old minds could not comprehend what adult life truly held. Never mind that this man was from Vancouver. As if Canada is stressful. And this was pre-Facebook, cell phones and email. What was there to unplug from?

I never forgot that guy.

My life is not very stressful. But I get it now. I've come to appreciate the value of a personal sabbatical.

For the past three weeks I've broken my routines, sometimes spending an entire day (never more than one, let's not be ridiculous) with no plan or list. Unlike a traditional sabbatical, where one might accomplish something out of the ordinary like write a book or travel extensively, mine was an attempt to resist the urge to be productive at all.

Type A, meet Time Off. Deal with it.

Tomorrow I start a new job, with dozens of new people to know, a foreign vocabulary, and all the other challenges navigating something new. Somehow I managed a three-week break in between jobs. On the front end, the expanse of days seemed luxurious and decadent, but also a little frightening. What would I do without the tyranny of a Very Important To-Do List? Who would I be without the incessant influx of urgent emails? How did one spend "free time" anyway?

I saw my new boss last week. She asked if I had written much during the break.


No, actually, I didn't write much. Because I didn't feel like it.


I didn't travel, because I like to be at home.

I didn't finish much of anything.

I piddled, I shopped, I snacked. I saw my friends, but didn't over-schedule. I cleaned closets, planned, schemed, dreamed, listened to the birds, made a little progress on a couple of projects, read, walked, practiced yoga, weeded my garden. I ran so many errands. I did every bit of my son's laundry and moved him into college. I painted my nails with my daughter. I made chicken soup for my husband while he limped around on fresh knee surgery.

I relaxed.

I swear it took a solid two and a half weeks to relax.

So not quite a month, and I'm not willing to live in the beachy wilderness anytime soon, but I get it now.

Apparently, traditional academic sabbaticals are taken every seven years. I've decided to make it an every-seven-year thing, too. So if I've got a solid 50 years left in me, and I do, then that's 7 more sabbaticals to look forward to.

I'm starting a new adventure tomorrow, relaxed, refreshed, ready for anything. And I'm hoping I remember the state I'm in now, and I hope I can recreate the feeling during shorter blocks of time, like a long weekend, or a long evening. I hope I'll remember to leave blank spaces on my calendar, time to do absolutely nothing at all.

Cheers to resting up and launching big.