Was taking a sabbatical worth it?

For most of the last three years, I’ve been on, what I call a practical sabbatical. I didn’t close down my business completely (I couldn’t afford to!) but I did shift down some gears. People take sabbaticals for different reasons. For me, I simply needed a rest. I’d begun to resent my work, work that I’d always loved, which is a sure sign of exhaustion. After a few very challenging years with health issues, bereavement and not to mention a pandemic, I was sliding towards burnout. I needed time to rest, heal and contemplate the next chapter of my life.

One of my most popular blog posts ‘Why I’m pressing pause’ details how I was feeling on the cusp of my sabbatical.

With work no longer absorbing all my attention, I found myself grappling with some of life’s big questions. Who am I? What’s my purpose? However, what surprised me was that without the distractions of a busy schedule, I encountered a new variant of a familiar foe – imposter syndrome. Not feeling good enough, worthy enough, or being concerned about being found out, are familiar sentiments for most of us. Those of us who battle imposter syndrome have an underdeveloped internal reference point for feeling success or achievement. During my sabbatical, without feedback from audiences and clients I had no find a new way of calibrating my value.

 The hidden cause of my exhaustion

A cocktail of beliefs around work and professionalism surfaced too. If I’m not working hard, am I lazy? If I’m not engaging with clients, will they stop engaging with me? If I’m not using my skills and talents will I lose them? Like so many people, I suffer because of the high expectations I place on myself. Without the usual routines and deadlines of work to distract me, I had an opportunity to upgrade these limiting assumptions, reassess my expectations and try to break my habit of overthinking, which I came to realise was the root cause of my exhaustion.

Having the time to work on myself and on my business, not just in my business, also made me realise that over the last few years I’d drifted down the continuum from proactive to reactive, from creating to coping. I was responding to requests rather than instigating initiatives myself. This got me thinking about goal-focus. I’ve been blessed that any goals I set for myself have been ticked off over the years. Whilst I assist clients establish goals for themselves all the time, it had been quite some time since I undertook a goal-setting exercise myself. I can see now that this had contributed to my sense of drift, drift to the point of feeling lost. I needed to give myself permission to dream again. 

Reconnecting with what I love

I pondered the question – when was the last time I did something for the first time? Apart from starting yoga over five years ago, I had little by way of an answer. I know our souls don’t like stagnation, so it was time to push the walls of my comfort zone. Rather than focusing on traditional goal-setting frameworks, I contemplated new questions such as, what does my heart crave? what does my soul yearn for? what am I committing to? These questions require time and being on sabbatical I had the time. They also require us to listen to what our lives are trying to teach us.

I look back over the last few years as a time of renewal, an opportunity to reset my priorities. What I found so interesting was that after a few weeks of unwinding, I found myself writing again. Out of that writing came a new book ‘Words to Inspire,’ over sixty-five short essays on a range of topics from ‘finding my purpose’, ‘coping with change’ and ‘motivation,’ challenges I was grappling with myself. On one hand, it’s somewhat ironic that in taking time-out I somehow still managed to write a book, but on the other hand, it was a natural bi-product of reacquainting myself with something that has always given me pleasure.

I also embarked on an MA in Creative Writing in DCU in 2022. This pushed my comfort zone, but I loved it. As a (very) mature student, my focus was on the pure enjoyment of learning and creativity, both high values of mine. My time-out created the space for me to reconnect with what makes my soul sing. One of the plays I wrote as part of the course was staged in the Wexford Arts Centre in April this year. Seeing the actors on stage and hearing my words come from their mouths was a new and thrilling experience. The MA ignited my love of playwriting and I know it is something I will continue to pursue.

My practical sabbatical reminded me that life can easily be measured quantitatively, age, income, number of social media followers and so on, but the true measures are qualitative. Quality of life, quality of experiences, quality of emotions, quality of relationships. Was taking a sabbatical worth it? Practically, there was the loss of income which required planning and extra budgeting, but I certainly feel more rested. Is it a panacea? No, but I do have deeper insight, a broader perspective and renewed energy reserves. I feel that I’ve reconnected with different parts of me, body, mind and spirit, and reacquainted myself with dreams, ambitions and aspects of my personality that I’d left behind in the general busyness of life.

If you enjoyed this post, in episode 128 of my podcast ‘Your Time with James Sweetman’ I go into more detail about what I learned from taking a sabbatical.

Best wishes






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