Why everyone needs a Sabbatical.

Wild camping, Scotland.

“Time out of mind.” Why everyone needs a Sabbatical.

Three months have gone in the blink of an eye. I’m surprised how quickly time has passed, as all I have done is sleep and cycle. From being beaten and battered, it’s amazing how good I feel now without the pressures of a work life. For the first time, I’m beginning to appreciate the time off. The apprehension and fear have not quite materialised in the way that I thought.

It’s quite easy to be free, yet the callings of my old life keep reappearing. 
There is still contact with work colleagues, or now, more precisely, ex-work colleagues. It’s funny how their comments and advice are totally polarised. It’s either to jump back in immediately or to take a year off. I don’t recall the length of my non-compete (the time I cannot work for a competitor) but I remember my solicitor’s advice that six months is the norm and to start looking for a new job after three months. This is the plan that’s in the back of my mind. As I mull on this, I realise that ‘non-compete’ is a strange phrase. No wonder I’m exhausted if I’ve spent my whole corporate career competing. Actually, this is exactly how it has felt; each day a constant battle and certainly true for the last few years, both at work and at home. Right now, in my laissez-faire state, I never want to fight for anything again.

The recruitment agencies and LinkedIn opportunities are a click of a mouse away but, consciously and subconsciously, I resist. I have stopped caring and it feels good. I’m not ready to get back on the treadmill at all. What else is out there that I have missed whilst being trapped in the corporate world? What have other people been doing whilst I was in the rat race?

It’s time to experiment a little.

First call is a trip to the US with my youngest daughter. For two weeks, we travel by Amtrak train and Greyhound bus between New York and Washington DC and all points in between, as far north as Cleveland and as far east as Atlantic City. Next I take motorcycling lessons in Scotland, which is a great experience, until the winter weather kicks in after the four days of the Scottish summer end and the joy of biking in the sunshine turns into being cold, wet and miserable in the wind and rain. Motorcycling adjourned, I take in the sights of the west coast of Scotland by car, experiencing four seasons in one day as I visit Culzean Castle and the weirdness of the Electric Brae, a phenomenon whereby the road’s slope is an optical illusion that allows my car to bizarrely roll uphill from a stationary position. I detour south also, to spend a few days and nights at the Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery and Tibetan Centre in the wilds of southern Scotland. Mein Engel (my wife) joins me too and we take the train further north and spend a long weekend wild camping in the Highlands with the aid of an old VW camper van that we rent.

It’s a great start to my sabbatical.

Finding a job has been pushed to the back of my mind. What is noticeable is how my energy is flowing back when I’m having fun. August and early September have progressed quickly now too and the mindless cycling and convivial travelling have been so revitalising, but it’s time to feed my brain too. Behind this experimentation, there is some confusion as to what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. Is there something more here than a deflection in being normal again? Is there something real in my actions or is it just a postponing V-sign? What do I really want from this time off?

Mein Engel (my wife) stumbled upon NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) earlier this year when she struggled with her confusion in changing careers and so she suggests I try it too. I sign up for a week’s course in Dublin. The couple of nights in the Tibetan retreat in Scotland had been a wonderful diversion from the guilty pleasures of travelling and the trial and error of my other pursuits and it certainly woke my mind from its slumber. The need for the nothingness of cycling alone was clear after the hustle and bustle of my old life. From the enormous daily intake of email, dizzying buzzword-lead PowerPoint presentations, dreadfully run projects and utterly perplexing corporate processes, to solicitors and the court demands of a divorce, the caring of and worrying about my daughters and finally the to and fro of discussions to get out of my job were all reason enough to find the off button somewhere. It is said that when you have lost your mind, you have to go somewhere to find it. The simplicity of the retreat, the respectful nature of its way of life, was a joy to witness. Yet I am not quite in the space to pull out of the world completely and sign up for a full Tibetan retreat.

I attend the NLP course. There are hundreds of different definitions of NLP out there as there are books and courses on it. However, the best description that resonates for me is that it’s an attitude and a philosophy for running one’s brain. I discover that, for me, it’s about taking back control of my thoughts, finding a way out of my confusion and taking the responsibility for myself seriously (as nobody else will do it for me). Knowing how I deal with things, the patterns I have and the patterns in the world at large, of having clarity on what I think and then on what I say, of being totally clear, are fundamentals for me right now; more than ever before. In many ways, the NLP comes between the bookends of my old life and my new life, whatever that may be. My confusion is fine, as long as I know that I am confused.

It seems I will have a mission to find my big dream, my life purpose, but it also seems that I have to experience this time-out, this sabbatical, before I can find the map that will take me there.

I meet some old friends in my hometown of Liverpool on my way back from Dublin. During a very pleasant dinner, I continue to find it very amusing to observe how they deal differently with my new resistance to work. One of my friends, a very professional work colleague, insists I am on a sabbatical and she considers that the time off is solely to recharge before once again contributing to the corporate world. My other friend, with his wonderful Scouse humour, tells me I am ‘dossing’ [*1].

The word sabbatical has stuck with me. Of course, the term is now commonly used for a career break of an undetermined timeframe, but the origin comes from the biblical Sabbath, when God rested after creating the universe, and it was subsequently applied to all mankind to cease working on the Sabbath. The concept of the sabbatical, however, more specifically refers to a year in time and was introduced in the Book of Leviticus with the commandment to refrain from working the land in the seventh year — the sabbatical year. During the shmita (the release), the time of Sabbath rest, the land lies fallow and all tending of the land is forbidden by halakha (Jewish law). Bountiful harvests are promised to those who observe the shmita.

Well it’s true that I have never felt better than I do now. Perhaps everyone needs to take a sabbatical.

[*1] “doss” — British slang; 1. to sleep, esp. in a dosshouse (a cheap lodging, one used by tramps); 2. to pass the time aimlessly.