How I learned to stop worrying and loved my sabbatical

You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are.

–Mr. Rogers

My employer gives the gift of a 3 month sabbatical for folks that have been with the company for 5 years. I reached that mark this past April, but the planning for my sabbatical started back in autumn of 2020. At that time, I debated whether it was a good idea to take a sabbatical in the midst of a pandemic. But at the gentle urging of wise friends, I decided to go ahead and go for it.

In the months leading up to it, I was approaching my sabbatical like a project, because I wanted to make the best of this generous gift of time. I kept asking myself, What could I accomplish in three months? What goals should I set? What boxes could I check off?

Initially, I was super excited to start new projects, revisit neglected ones, learn new things, and return to work as an improved version of myself.

As a planner by nature, I made lists upon lists, only to find myself overwhelmed with the seemingly endless possibilities. Whenever I have these many possibilities, I find myself paralyzed with indecision on how to proceed. It got to the point that I felt like I really needed to reel it in and get to the core of what I wanted… not just out of a sabbatical, but from myself.

My teammates are always thinking of and are very giving to others, and I really treasure that quality about them. While this is a great and admirable quality, I have found that I have a tendency to over-deliver on it and lose sight of myself.

After some thought, I decided to lower my expectations for quantifiable accomplishments during my sabbatical, and concentrate on returning to work as an improved version of myself. To improve myself, I concluded that needed:

  • To get to know myself outside the context of work, home, and various responsibilities,
  • To treat myself with kindness, and
  • To accept and like that person I was getting to know again.

Getting outside

My most frequented park

One of the most important things I taught myself was to get outside. Not just out of the house, but outside my head. I found myself going on frequent walks, usually without prior planning for a particular route or destination. I made lots of neighborhood discoveries — gazing at gardens in full bloom; finding tiny libraries, fairy doors, and yard art; greeting neighborhood dogs and cats (and even chickens and tortoises); listening to orchestra musicians practicing in their backyards. I also spent a lot of time sitting in various parks, reading, listening to podcasts, and watching dogs play.

It turned out that it was really helpful for me to get out of the house, in order to get out of the context of the place where household chores and other responsibilities are always looming. This helped clear my mind to enable me to spend intentional time with and for myself.

Taking the idea of getting outside even further, as the time progressed I wanted to get out of the context of our town to reset a bit. We took a couple of local day trips, and eventually, once we were fully vaccinated, even hopped on a plane a couple of times.

Where the heart is

Part of nourishing my heart is spending my time with loved ones. I’m grateful that I was able to reconnect more deeply with my spouse and close friends, and I’ve been grateful for having family close by again. Maintaining these kinds of connections is important to me, especially during the pandemic.

The Rest

I listened to a lot of podcasts, played video games, read books, and watched plenty of movies and television shows. Because I cannot resist making lists, I published a list of everything I consumed.

Speaking of rest, I did a lot of that. It was incredibly restorative to be able to get the sleep my body needed (despite still battling with occasional insomnia, and a recurrence of some health issues from earlier this year). I wrote in my paper journal. I kept up with my therapy sessions. I meditated. I got my hair cut by a pro for the first time in 21 months. I got a manicure and pedicure. I cooked. I supported local chefs’ pop-up businesses. I drove around without a destination. I wandered plant nurseries with no agenda. I tended to my house plants. I assembled furniture. I sketched. I went to the art museum. Inspired by one of the MasterClass courses I took, I even bought a DJ controller and started dabbling in DJing.

These were all things that contribute to who I am! Reflecting back on all I experienced, this is the most “me” sabbatical I could’ve taken.

A video composed of 1 second of each day of my sabbatical.

Bringing it all back

I feel like I really had the time and space to get to know myself again, and I hope to bring my full self back to my everyday work. I don’t want to lose sight of who that person is, so I want to be more aware of when I am losing myself in my work and not having a good balance in my life, because that is what often leads me to stress and burnout. As I returned to work last month, I wanted to be aware of setting boundaries for myself and others, getting the rest I need, not overcommit and over-work, and asking for help when I need it.

I came back to work refreshed and ready to dive back in with a new and improved perspective, so I’d call my sabbatical a success.

Bonus: Link to some photos from my sabbatical. Lots of cats, food, drink, and parks 🙂

Life Happens

Although yet another one of my personal projects has fallen by the wayside, I still intend on finishing it!

Something I didn’t account for is that life happens.

I had a lot of travel during the month of December, a family emergency, some health issues, and new additions to our household. Whew, that sounds like a lot.

Past me would’ve gotten discouraged, and I would’ve beaten myself up about not completing my project “on time”. But y’know what? No one gave me a deadline except myself. I should be more patient and kind to myself.

As a matter of fact, I see 2020 as the year where I intend on practicing more kindness towards myself.

Because life happens, and I will get myself through it.

XOXO Festival Thoughts

This weekend marks my third XOXO Festival. I’m honored and humbled to be a part of a wonderful event such as this.

So what is it, exactly? Contrary to what a current straight-to-streaming movie leads you to believe, XOXO is not an EDM festival. It’s so much more than an “arts and technology festival”, which is the short description that I hear the most. It’s even a whole lot more than what the official website describes, “an experimental festival celebrating independent artists who work on the internet”.

To me, XOXO Festival has been an inspiration, the catalyst for my creativity, and most importantly, the source of a lot of great new friends and a community that I have severely lacked in my life for a long, long time.

Ever since last year’s festival, I’ve been wanting to write something about my experiences there, since it has affected me so profoundly. But here we are a year later, well into the festival’s current iteration, and I’m only starting to write my thoughts out. Better late than never, right?

Part of my inaction has a lot to do with the strong presence of imposter syndrome amongst the attendees, as evidenced by this tweet by a fellow attendee:

Every single person I’ve chatted with during every XOXO fest I’ve ever been to says they feel like the most boring/uncool/socially awkward person there. Everyone wonders if they deserve to be at XOXO. I am definitely no exception, and I’m glad that I’m not alone.

I’ve written nary a word about my experiences because I thought that no one wanted to hear what I had to say. There are plenty of folks that have written about the festival, why would I want to add to the noise? Oh gosh, aren’t the folks who haven’t gone to XOXO so tired of hearing about it from their friends that have gone? I don’t have a cool creative project in the works right now. I don’t feel like a particularly interesting person. I don’t have a lot of faith in my writing skills. Add that all up and that equals complete blogging paralysis for me.

This community has taught me that my experiences are unique. That my friends do care about what I have to say and want to hear my perspective.

But for some reason, I still have trouble convincing myself of that. Wash, rinse, repeat.

I’m hoping to share more over the course of this year’s festival and well past the closing party. More soon.


Tonight, I randomly decided to re-categorize and tag every single entry in my blog. It started with what I initially told myself would be a “simple” conversion of categories to tags, but of course, it ends up not being all that simple. I’ve found myself also paring down and eliminating rarely-used categories/tags, and merging similar ones.

I told Robert that I was doing this and that staying up way too late on a Wednesday night working on blog taxonomy seems a bit obsessive. His response was that it’s just as obsessive as his fantasy football hobby.

I suppose he’s right. 🙂