The end of my first year-long sabbatical

Drawn by Duncan Wulf Hines

This past year was one of the most challenging periods of my life; a year I committed to taking a sabbatical from working. I left the most rewarding step of my career, to try to determine myself what to focus on in life and next.

I was originally inspired by Stefan Sagmeister’s vision of how the working vs. retiring periods of our lives are typically and poorly dispersed. Our banking of time for an end in which we’re far less capable physically and mentally.

I had never learned to rest or even vacation properly. Since my teen years, I had been focused on making and building and doing. But the idea of taking a year long break made me uncomfortable in the right ways.

I had also hit a point of burnout while at Shopify, one that I realize in retrospect had four primary causes…

  1. I had moved out of city, which resulted in a 2+ hour commute each way via train
  2. I was rushing to and from work for the commute, which left me not spending enough time with my son, wife, or self
  3. I was bored of the direction my career was headed, becoming an even more senior manager, and the similarly-veined projects I had worked on for over 3 years
  4. Being in an environment that chanted the value of entrepreneurship made me constantly miss building my own ideas and businesses

So I set out in January 2017 with a lengthy (too lengthy, in retrospect) list of things and projects, small and large, that I wanted to attempt at some point in the year.

This list was overdue life tasks, new habits for health and well-being, products that I wanted to exist, skills I wanted to further develop, and tasks that seemed easy to squeeze into an entire year.

Well, it turns out a sabbatical for a 30-something westerner with a spouse, child, and mortgage, doesn’t quite allow for the artistic and fearless freedom one might imagine.

What I had were time-boxed days, working around my son’s school and awake schedule, to try to focus and progress.

It took me a month or so to realize:

  • I was still exhausted (physically and emotionally) from my previous job,
  • I was in too familiar a place (home, and not on vacation or elsewhere),
  • and not genuinely ecstatic about “working” on many of the things in my list (too many, and too usual in nature).

To find momentum, I started with the necessary life tasks.

I had personal challenges to work through, annoying and painful investments to make in parts of my body (as well as my house), and a few overdue guilt-ridden things to see through.

These tasks stretched the length of the year, but resulted in feelings of reward far greater than any website or application I’ve produced. An immense weight off of my shoulders, and long-term investment in my health, pride, and happiness.

I did complete over two dozen of my projects, all of which contributed to my learning of how to develop a creative practice that addresses my individual weaknesses and needs.

Most of the value I took from this year was in understanding.

When you have all the time in the world to listen to yourself (and your lovingly patient spouse that sits next to you) you hear truths that are missable in passing while busy.

  • I understood how significant fear and lack of confidence really were in my life. The two go hand-in-hand for stalling decisiveness and progress. I’m building confidence physically and mentally through healthy habits, and dealing with fear through coaching and meditation.
  • I understood and confirmed a physical deficiency I have with my memory, that unfortunately will continue to affect my short-term recollection until the end of my time. This is something I’ve only recently realized has greatly contributed to a constant feeling of overwhelm I’ve had for many years, as well as physical exhaustion I get from trying to recall what and where something is with a project or task. Lists, reminders, and processes have helped.
  • I understood and progressed with chronic back pain from over a decade of poor posture desk jockeying, and nearly four years of kiddo carrying. The Oristand was a good cheap standing desk for most of the year (albeit an eyesore). BetterBack’s contraption does help force good posture while sitting. CrossFit is now helping develop the core strength I never had.

I feel I now far better understand who I am, what I most and least enjoy in life, and what I need to focus on to make the most of my time ahead.


“Romantic quote about the value of a partner that supports you through difficult times and decisions.” — Travis Hines

This year would not have been possible without the support of my incredible wife, Rachel. We’ve learned to be better partners and parents throughout the year, and fallen deeper in love as a result of the intentional time we made for the things that matter most in life.

Moving forward, my son, my wife, our family, health, and happiness come before absolutely every opportunity, commitment, and project.


I’m not sure how a sabbatical should end, but I won’t be returning to a job, and my life will carry on much the same. I quite enjoy this, and a new year seems like a good way to transition to officially working on a couple self-determined projects, that I hope some day in 2018 will grow into things that many others can find value in.

I’d love for you to follow along in my post-sabbatical journey — https://twitter.com/travishines.