Antelope Canyon near the Grand Canyon. A place I visited while on sabbatical.

The importance of a work sabbatical.

I’m for figuring out what you want to do… and letting the rest fall into place.

I took a year-long, unplanned work sabbatical. Here’s what made me realize I needed it:

In six months, I got married. Moved to a new state. Started working remotely at my job. At the same time my father was very, very ill. I discovered I was scheduled to be the primary caregiver of a family member with Alzheimer’s. My father was the primary caregiver, while he was very ill, because he didn’t want me to worry about caregiving responsibilities.

Then my father died.

My heart was broken.

I was juggling a lot. I was overwhelmed. I was really sad. I had too much on my plate.

Something had to change. So I decided to leave my job.

In essence, I was choosing to spend more time with my family. I had a little bit of insecurity about leaving a good job. I loved it. I had great clients. I was at a growing agency. I was on the leadership team.

Everyone looked at me with soft, sympathetic eyes when I discussed why I was leaving. I could see there was a little bit of pity in their eyes. People thought it was unusual that I was leaving without something else lined up. People thought I was making the right decision for me, but secretly felt smug that they were able to handle their “problems” without leaving their jobs. A friend who really wanted to make sure I was doing the right thing told me about a friend of his who left his job after his mother died. He said it was the biggest mistake of his life.

Luckily, I shared an office with a dear friend who was in the middle of packing up her family, her dog and everything she owned to move to South Africa. She understood why I needed to take the sabbatical. And it was beyond what was happening with my family.

Two weeks after my last day I was a basket case. I was used to hard work, but all of a sudden I was on a completely different schedule. There was no reason for me to get right up and take a shower in the morning. I had plenty to do, in fact, too much to do, but I was feeling a bit directionless. Without a job, I felt like I was stripped of my identity.

I was now a caregiver. That’s it, right? That was my new identity?

Wrong. I was determined that I wasn’t going to let Alzheimer’s take over my life and I was going to give my family member as much control as possible when we started making tough decisions.

The tough decisions started pretty quickly. Every couple of weeks there was an emergency that had to be dealt with and each emergency meant time. And since I was the family member that wasn’t working… it meant my time.

I was never going to be able to get her life more organized under these conditions.And is this what I wanted? Did I just trade a paying job for a non-paying job?

Her needs were more than I could provide, and I needed help. And I had family members to help me. So we figured it out. I’ve spoken about this a good bit in the past (you can read more here). We got things organized pretty quickly. About two months into my work sabbatical.

This meant I was ready to go back to work, right? Wrong again, friend.

Once I got things situated I realized I wasn’t quite ready to go back to work. I wasn’t excited about my where my career was going. There were things about the way I worked that didn’t totally work for me.

I could keep plugging away at the career I’d spent 15 years establishing, or I could be bold, ask for I want. And take time to better myself along the way.

HECK YEAH! That was the way to go.

I picked things from a dream list and I went for it. I validated things I knew I wanted to pursue and found I was right. I spent just as much time bettering myself as I spent helping others with their life.

So what did I do in a year?

I bettered my Spanish-speaking skills and spent time with my husband’s family in Costa Rica. I refined my digital strategy skills by formally learning more about account planning. I found ways to capitalize on my skills that excited me. I reminded myself of the things I love in life that are outside of my work. I took great trips. I spent a lot of time with my family. I spent time with my friends. I had a lot of conversations. I met a lot of people along the way who taught me things about money, science, culture, bettering yourself and helping others.

And I found there were a lot of people in the same boat as me. People who had the courage to stop what they were doing, regroup and redesign their life.

I never would have figured this out if I hadn’t taken a sabbatical.

If you have a feeling in your gut that you aren’t currently living up to your fullest potential, I say to you:

You don’t have to take the safe, expected career path.
If you decide to take a break to pursue new things you can validate what you really want to do; not what you should do.
If you really want to do something, you’ll figure out a way to make it happen.

After a year of exploration I was happy to make tweaks to my life that have made me happier and healthier. I’m continuing and evolving caregiver conversations. I’m consulting at new places. I’m writing more. I’m starting other, new conversations that are important to me.

I wouldn’t have made changes if I hadn’t had the sabbatical.

The shifts I have made in my career, and my outlook on life, have made me a happier, healthier person.

I invite you to do the same.

I’d love to continue the conversation with you if you’re interested in a sabbatical.

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