Sabbatical

Sometimes you are very aware of your envy. You see a stranger who seems to have effortless personal style, and a thought bubble appears above your head: “Man, I wish I could look interesting like that.” A new friend shares their home-made venison chili jerky and smoked plum salsa, then makes you a creamy, soul-warming cup of caffeine with their pristine, stainless steel milk creamer and drip-coffee machine, and a thought bubble appears over your head: “My life would be so much better if I was interested in being a foodie, enthusiastic and proficient in homegrown and homemade gourmet cooking – and if I was interested in chic appliances!” You stumble onto a blog where a Norwegian shares gorgeous photographs of their house, their town, their life, and the photos capture an intriguing, pleasing aesthetic, so different to yours, and a thought bubble appears beside your head: “I bet life is somehow more lovely, friendly, interesting and wonderful in Norway! Oh, if only I could take amazing photos like that!”

And then you pluck these thought bubbles from the air, and turn them about in your hands, and inspect them. I don’t enjoy shopping for clothes. I don’t enjoy shopping at all, really. I don’t enjoy cooking. Life in Australia is probably just as intriguing to a Norwegian. I can practice photography and see if I get better. Pop!

Sometimes, you are envious, but the situation is so far-fetched that you don’t have an obvious thought bubble. You read about an incredibly smart engineer or scientist or CEO, who works for two years, then goes on a sabbatical* every third year. Wow. Imagine just taking time out, like that. Imagine, if you were the engineer, taking a break from working for Apple, and going camping and reading 100 books and spending two months in Spain, where you get involved with a local poetry slam, then you come back and help some friends on their startup, and build a new small internet service that solves a problem. Then, refreshed, you return to Apple and join a new product team, and you have so much more of the world in you.

But it could never happen, not in a million years, so you don’t consider it for yourself. You don’t devise an action plan: “If I earned more, spent less, and saved $X, I could do that.”

I didn’t get my break by planning. I got here by:

  • learning a skill to get into an industry (web development)
  • learning a new skill to get better opportunities (information architecture and user experience)
  • quitting and moving to a new company to get better opportunities and a salary jump
  • learning new skills (basically, offering to do whatever needed to be done – project management, operations, sales) to get better opportunities and salary raises
  • housesitting to pay no rent or low rent
  • having a higher-interest internet-only savings account
  • not spending big (except for travel)
  • being in a relationship (costs for rent, etc., are lower when you’re not alone)
  • not having a mortgage or kids
  • having generous and going-out-of-their-way helpful parents (set me up with the housesitting)
  • having a brother who led by example, by living off his savings for three years, and exploring new interests in a disciplined and driven way
  • accident – I quit my last job because I was too unhappy to continue, and assumed that I would get another full-time job, but then it didn’t quite happen like that!

That’s a lot of good fortune. However, I would say, I think that months of doing morning pages and writing about my hopes, dreams, concerns, job unhappiness really helped. If I hadn’t done that, I’m not sure I would have quit and tried something else; or maybe I would have gone to another job that wasn’t right for me.

I’m now in my fourth month of time-out. It is, I think, the best thing I’ve ever done.

I don’t want my savings to get too low, so I’m thinking about taking on project management work, and ideally working remotely, and/or part-time.


*”Sabbatical” is actually defined as paid leave, so I’m taking some liberties with language here.

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