Sabbatical year 101

So maybe you have been thinking for a while about taking a sabbatical. It’s something I highly recommend to anyone. I think time away from your routine is great to reassess what is important to you and what your goals are going forward. Apart from the typical “going around the world” or “traveling South-East Asia” sabbatical, there are also a lot of people who take sabbaticals to work on a particular project, such as starting a company, focusing on their artistic activity, taking care of their kids, going back to school, etc.
Before leaving on mine I had some preconceived ideas about how it would be like that proved to be wrong. I’ve listed 10 points that I have noticed from my own experience:

1. It will change your perspective on life.
Depending on what you do, you might not be able to go back to your “previous” life after. Be warned! Even if you were planning to get back to your previous position/company, you might change you mind.

2. Your family won’t necessarily be happy.
Watch out when you announce the big news to your family. Depending on your age, they might expect you to announce your engagement/pregnancy. Don’t expect everyone to be happy and/or supportive. People’s opinion will improve when they see how happy/awesome it makes you after a while.

3. People will ask how you can afford it.img_5868
You will get a lot of questions on how you can afford such a thing and some others just won’t understand how it’s possible. The basic principle of “spending less than you earn” is not known to everyone. The principle of “spending A LOT less than you earn” is even more difficult to grasp. To help you, I wrote an article on saving for your sabbatical.

4. When you get back, you won’t know what to answer when people ask “how your trip was”.
People usually have the best intentions when asking this question. But how can you summarize this awesome period in your life in just a couple sentences? You can’t, really. I usually just smile and say it was great. Then if people want more details, I’ll happily give some. This question is usually followed by question #5.

5. You will hate the question about your favorite part.
This is another question that annoys me slightly, although I totally understand why people ask it, and I am probably guilty of having asked it to some people coming back from sabbaticals too. Once again people have the best intentions when asking this, and they are often genuinely interested to hear about your trip/period-off. They might also be trying to see if it would be something for them, and since you’ve been through it already they would like to know what the best parts are.

6. It will go by fast.
I bet this one is not a big surprise. When you are dedicated to what you are doing, time flies by. But you will also get to enjoy every single minute of it. I’m not saying it will always be fun. Depending on what you are doing sometimes you will wonder why you got yourself into this. But it will all be worth it in the end. At least, it was for me!

7. People won’t be that interested in what you have done. Their life goes on.
Most people around you will lose track very quickly of what you are doing and how long you have been gone, if you are traveling. This is normal, their life goes on while you are on that special project of yours.

8. You might have to battle against the feeling that you don’t deserve it.
As I am starting to think about taking a second sabbatical period, I have to fight the feeling that I don’t deserve it really hard. Most of us have been raised up with the expectation that we would some day find a job, try to do our best at it and work our way up the ladder with our hard work during 40 years, period after which it would be “acceptable” for us to rest. Getting away from this scheme is good news but can be difficult.

9. Sometimes, you will feel like you are missing out on some stuff.
This one applies mostly to sabbatical periods where people travel around. Everything in life has a trade off. While you are having this awesome time, you might start to feel that you are not up-to-date anymore in your current field (unless your sabbatical is career-related). You might also see people around you getting promoted. You will start to wonder if you should be working harder on your career instead of enjoying life. You will miss events with your friends and family. You might lose some friends.

10. Don’t expect all the answers you are looking for to come to you.
Taking a sabbatical does not guarantee that you will have an “enlightening” moment where you will find your life purpose and the answers to all your questions. Chances are you will keep wondering what you will do after throughout the period and not have a clear answer once it’s over. A lot of people I met have no clue what they will do after and worry about it from time to time, especially if they quit their career to pursue their project. Don’t worry, eventually you will be able to identify what you have learned in the process. We are not always able to see how an experience changed us right away.