Have you been feeling worn out lately? Has your work become a burden? Are you reconsidering your life values and asking yourself: what the heck am I doing with my life?…
In the book ‘The 100-Year Life’ Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott claim that an average life expectancy of a person will stretch to 100 years, retirement is going to be postponed for at least a few (dozen?) years. We will have a multi-stage life and will pivot from the old three-stage idea of education-work-retirement.
Instead, we will be choosing our own milestones, have multiple career changes and demand more flexibility in the way we work and what we allocate our time to. We will be prioritising ‘intangible assets’ such as relationships with family and friends, and overall freedom and wellbeing.
In the bestseller ‘21 Lessons for the 21st Century’ (which I have to confess, I still haven’t finished…), the author, Yuval Noah Harari claims that AI and machines are going to replace a lot of jobs, and we might have to consider a universal income for everyone. Thus it can be useful to do something that isn’t easily replaceable or make sure you’ve got a creative and an intellectual outlet so that there are more chances your brain won’t turn into mush after a few years of “furlough”.
Before deciding on taking a sabbatical, I noticed that I was already taking gaps in work, which were due to my work contracts ending and not having another gig lined up. This would usually leave me stressed out between jobs.
Finding a new contact usually took several weeks and, once I got it, I would think to myself: I could’ve spent all this time so much more wisely — learning something new, upping my skillset or generally dedicating some time to taking care of my health and wellbeing, instead of stressing out and desperately seeking a source of income.
In The New York Times Best Seller list ‘The 4-Hour Workweek’, Tim Ferriss teaches how by spreading one’s retirement throughout the working years into mini-retirements we can gain more joy, freedom and satisfaction in life. Discovering this book helped me shift my mindset, I decided I didn’t want to postpone my life for years ahead when I will no longer have as much energy or physical capabilities, instead, I wanted to do more of what I liked and approach everything I do mindfully — whether that is the work that I do or my everyday life.
I decided to write this to inspire others to give it a try. During my sabbatical I spent a lot of time on my own, I went for long walks listening to podcasts and re-evaluating my life. I signed up and attended electronic music and vocal lessons, which brought me huge amounts of joy — a breath of fresh air to my burnt-out self that helped me think clearer.
Thinking clearer helped me realise that I could work on projects in the areas I am passionate about, such as neurotech and psychology. I’m now halfway through two Coursera courses on these topics and, hopefully, I will incorporate some of the newly gained knowledge in my future blog posts.
You may think: ‘Ha! Girl! I can’t afford not working!’. But is that really true? I, myself, am no Warren Buffett, but I did a few calculations, made an agreement with my anxiety and decided to give it a try.
Define the ‘Why’
Think of what you’d like to do and why. Is this going to be useful or fun? Is there something you always wanted to do, but thought you wouldn’t be able to make a living out of? Have you been neglecting your artistic self, focusing solely on the materialistic and the practical?
And do you feel sometimes like you’re depriving yourself of the joy of living and experiencing life to the fullest, choosing to live a “normal life”?
As a kid, growing up in a post-soviet society, with parents who only got and gave praise for working hard, I often find it hard to acknowledge my achievements, which often results in such tendencies like overworking or feeling like an imposter. I know how it feels to think that you aren’t worthy of an extraordinary life and choose the safe “normal” way of living.
I have to remind myself about where I am today, what I have achieved and how much I learned by simply doing, trying, failing and succeeding. I also try to cultivate the feeling of gratitude towards all the people who helped me on the way — parents, teachers, colleagues, friends, writers, influencers… Just think of how much information and knowledge material we’ve got these days. It’s here, at our fingertips. People are awesome. And so are you. There is so much more to life than just a standard notion of work. Taking extended time off from work can help you rediscover your passions and your joie de vivre.
So… Have you made your mind up? What’s on your list for this sabbatical?
To stay calm during your “jobless period”, you’d have to make a few calculations and timeframe estimations.
Think to yourself: ok, cool, how long can I sustain my living if I don’t work? A month? Two months? Half a year?
See how much you’re spending every month: what are your living costs, food, clothes, pharmaceuticals — any other necessities? Check that in your banking app to be precise, or have a rough estimation in your head.
Rent/mortgage + food + [other must-haves] = monthly budget
Check how much savings you’ve got and how many weeks/months you can go without working. Allow yourself at least a month or two extra, as a safety buffer and a time to find a paid gig — include that into your budget.
I’d recommend cutting out or pausing all unessential subscriptions and luxuries. This way you’ll have more time and money invested into your wellbeing, obtaining knowledge and spending more time in deep state of flow and thinking, which will result in a higher overall return. Bonus point: you can also pride yourself on practising minimalism.
If you’re planning to take a course to learn something new, see how long it’s going to take. If you’re thinking of turning your hobby into a new career path, then establish a pact of no self-judgement for a certain period of time.
For example, I want to start blogging and podcasting. My self-doubt can beat me up with questions, such as: ‘Who the heck you think you are? You’re too old/young/ordinary for that.’ Instead, I can be gentle with myself and think: ok, I’m going to give myself [number of months] to try, play and experiment. I will approach it with curiosity and maybe even treat it as a hobby. If I “fail” and it doesn’t work out the way I had planned, I can course correct or I can give it up and try something else in my next sabbatical. At least, I will know that I challenged myself by getting out of my comfort zone, I trained in resilience and I keep on learning and staying true to myself.
Now that you’ve got a budget pipelined and a creativity+freedom deadline established, let’s think of the mental state.
If you’re new to taking time off work and dedicating it to yourself, you may experience spikes of anxiety and self-doubt. This is why it’s good to think of the worst-case scenario and play it through in your head.
Think: what’s the worst that can happen? Once defined, think how you’d manage to deal with the consequences and look for a silver lining.
Examples of fear management:
- ‘I will run out of money/there will be some unexpected spendings’
‘Ok, then I should plan more carefully, putting aside more money and allowing more time for a job search. In the worst-case scenario, I could crash on my parents’ or my friend’s couch for a little while and continue searching for a job or find any job.’ Maybe also consider downshifting by moving to a smaller place and subletting your current one.
- ‘I won’t be able to find a job’
Are you sure this is a rational fear? Consider how many years of experience you’ve got and what kind of skillset you possess. Have you got a good network? If you’re good at something and you’re pleasant to work with, finding a job won’t be a problem for you. Finding a permanent job can take a while though, so maybe consider fertilising the ground by starting your journey with freelancing at first
- ‘I will waste a few months and fall behind on my career’
‘Unlikely so, moreover I will gain new knowledge, feed my curiosity, experience joy doing something fun and staying in a ‘flow’ state. This will improve how my brain functions, thus this is going to help me succeed in my career development and personal fulfilment.’
Plan your ‘exit’ strategy
Once you recharge your batteries and get your creative juices flowing during your sabbatical, it’s time to get back to money makin’, baby.
Now that you know yourself better and know what fills you up with joy and passion, you can either apply your newly gained knowledge in the work you do or figure out which area sparks your interest most. Start applying for the jobs/gigs in that sector or continue working on your personal project and look for ways of monetising it.
When returning into the work mode, a good strategy is to oil the cogs before jumping to full speed — do a small work-related project where you have creative freedom and a decision-making right. For example, two years ago I took a month off to redesign my website and work on the presentation-like video of my work. This year I am going to redesign some apps and write case studies about them.
If you decide to not make a career out of your personal project, try to continue your hobby in the spare time. This way you won’t place all your attention and expectations on your work— which often results in ego wars and a status pursuit— and, instead, you’ll be living a happier, richer and more fulfilled life.
So… See you at the mountain peak?
Good luck and, most importantly, have fun.