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 🙂