The answer has to be yes. People take sabbaticals for different reasons. For some, it’s to pursue an interest, for others to go travelling. For me, I simply needed a rest. I had begun to resent my work, work that I’d always loved, which is a sure sign of exhaustion. I was always someone who had loads of energy and drive, but after a few very challenging years with health issues, bereavement and not to mention a pandemic, I was sliding towards burnout. I simply needed time to rest, heal and contemplate the next chapter of my life.
With work no longer absorbing 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.
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? Without the usual routines and deadlines of work to distract me, I had an opportunity to upgrade these limiting assumptions and my habit of overthinking.
Having the time to work on myself and on my business, not just in my business, 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.
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 months 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 my new book ‘Words to Inspire.’ 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 started an MA in Creative Writing in DCU. This has pushed my comfort zone, but I’m loving it. As a mature student, my focus is on the pure enjoyment of learning and creativity, both high values of mine. In taking time-out we create the space to allow us to reconnect with what makes our souls sing.
My sabbatical reminded 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.
I hope 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.