If you’re feeling overwhelmed or burned out, and constantly daydream about running away from it all, maybe you need more than a vacation. Maybe what you need is a sabbatical.
A sabbatical is a long-term, sustained absence from work that’s designed around a specific purpose or intention. It’s not an extended vacation but rather a refocusing of attention and effort over a period of time — say, six months or a year.
The general purpose of a sabbatical is to provide a change of scenery that lets you rechannel your energy into a new activity: a creative endeavor, further education, volunteer work, research — you’re only limited by your imagination and the practicalities of your work and life.
Just about everyone can benefit from a well-planned sabbatical. Even a short time away from work to devote to what you’re passionate about can help halt burnout in its tracks and leave you refreshed.
Prepare for your sabbatical far in advance.
Leaving your work behind is essential to a sabbatical. The idea is to shift your focus entirely, not just take your daily job duties on the road with you. This isn’t a working vacation, but a new way of working, usually in a different place.
Get your duties covered.
You need to shift the focus entirely to your sabbatical purpose. So, making sure your regular job duties are covered is crucial. One solution is to hire a temporary replacement. Alternatively, you can divide your duties among coworkers for coverage. Build in enough time for some training and supervision before you leave.
Go alone or take people with you.
Another issue that frequently arises in sabbatical planning is the question of going solo versus taking along your family or significant other. Sabbaticals have a way of turning into meaningful life experiences. Sharing that experience with your loved ones can create vivid memories that will be meaningful to all of you for years to come.
On the other hand, maybe you’re at a time in your life where a solo journey sounds more appealing. If your relationships and family can thrive without your daily presence, then, by all means, explore this option. Certainly, modern technology has made it far easier for people to take midlife solo sabbaticals without jeopardizing those key personal relationships.
Make sure you can afford the sabbatical.
One of the primary concerns for anyone planning a sabbatical is the financial impact. Many people wind up taking advantage of two or more of these solutions, such as using personal savings, cashing in accumulated paid time off, creating substitute employment (i.e., freelancing or finding a part-time job somewhere else), and even in some cases applying for grants.
What can you do on your sabbatical? Any number of activities can be potentially viable but which one is right for you depends on your interests and goals. Here are some creative ideas you can use to craft a memorable and valuable experience.
1. Indulge your creative side.
A sabbatical is the perfect time to work on a creative project you’ve had in mind. Writing a novel or nonfiction book is a popular choice. Longer chunks of available time help you focus your ideas and get them on the page, or screen.
Visual and performing arts are also well-suited to a sabbatical. Perhaps you want to create a body of work sufficient to support a specific exhibit or show. You can also partner with other artists to create a multimedia event.
2. Explore other jobs through freelancing or creating a small business.
What did you want to be when you were a kid? Chances are you can name at least one or two possible careers you left by the wayside. Now’s a good time to explore them in some way.
Even seemingly childish dreams, full of fantasy and short on practicalities, might be worthy of exploration. If you dreamed of being a ballerina, but gave it up for medicine, why not spend your sabbatical exploring ways to help injured dancers heal more quickly? If you wanted to play professional baseball but became a marketing professionalinstead, why not try interning for sports agents or in a team’s front office?
3. Try on a new job for size.
Maybe your dream has nothing to do with childhood fantasies. Maybe you’ve been thinking about making a shift in your career for a few years now. A sabbatical is a convenient place to explore those potential shifts through volunteer or entry-level work.
The best way to find out if a career move is right for you is to try it on for a while and see how it “fits.” If it doesn’t work out, you have a job to go back to, and if it does, then you’ll benefit from your new connections and experience.
4. Use your sabbatical to expand your education in your field.
Continuing education is nothing new. Many professional licensing agencies require a certain number of credits to stay on top of current developments and best practices in those fields. With a sabbatical, however, you have an extended period of time available in which to pursue a course of study that lasts more than a few days or weeks.
You can pursue a formal advanced degree in your field. Alternatively, you can partner with a local university or college department to create an independent study program for your sabbatical period. Investigate online courses and local community college certification programs as well as less formal educational opportunities related to your field.
5. Learn something brand new.
In the same vein, you can look beyond your current field and study something completely new. Whether you book a semester of coursework, partner with a professor or researcher for independent learning, or begin an old-fashioned apprenticeship with an artisan, there are lots of opportunities to learn a new skill, art, craft or subject.
6. Volunteer to work for a cause you believe in during your sabbatical.
Ever wanted to make the world a better place but never really had the time to dig into long-term volunteer projects? Now’s your chance. A sabbatical is a wonderful opportunity to flex your philanthropic muscles.
Give more than money by volunteering for a local charitable organization or cause that’s near and dear to your heart. Offer your services on the front lines of your favorite cause. Work in the office to support the larger mission. You can even get involved with fundraising or lobbying efforts. Go where your talents, skills and experience can provide the most benefit for the cause.
7. Give a hand to the people behind you.
If you’ve already got a significant amount of experience in your chosen career, why not take some time to mentor the up-and-comers behind you? Younger people just entering your field can truly benefit from the guidance and expertise someone like you can offer them.
Partner with a local university or college, or even with your employer, to establish a formal mentorship program and connect with students and recent graduates. You can even pair this work with another sabbatical purpose or extended travel, thanks to modern communications technology.
Make sure you plan your sabbatical thoroughly by covering the basics of work, income, travel and purpose. However, it’s also a good idea to leave some buffer space for the magic of serendipity and plenty of downtime to recharge your batteries. The result can be nothing short of life-changing.