I’ve been on sabbatical from work since mid-August. Today was my first day back. What did I learn in that time?
No single moment of truth achieved
I did not have that quintessential “aha” moment of clarity that I thought might come during this unique time off. This experience was a huge shift for me living a life of priorities only set by myself. I had the ability to do whatever I wanted every day (somewhat) and it took some time to embrace that.
The stars aligned for the timeframe I chose
I had severe angst when I chose the timeframe I did to take my sabbatical. I knew I’d miss our annual all-staff onsite meetup (the Grand Meetup) but I wanted to take the time off during mostly warmer weather this year. Even though I had a list of things I wanted to try to do during my sabbatical, I was giving it room to be whatever it was going to be. It turned out this room was needed.
Our older dog, Burkley, stopped eating regularly and over the course of a month stopped eating entirely. At the end it was clear he was ready to go but his body was holding on even without drinking water. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life was putting Burkley down. I’ve had pets die in my arms before but I’ve never had to help them move along. My soul was crushed. It still aches.
Burkley died the day before the Grand Meetup started. Had I not taken the sabbatical I would haven’t been in a place to travel. I was meant to not be at the GM this year. I was meant to spend the weeks with him before his death knowing what was coming. I got to hang out with B on the floor in the living room for hours at a time just being there for him. I got to go for long runs, cry, feel sad, and recover. That little guy meant more to me than I really understood.
I missed the social aspect of work
My husband got to take a couple weeks off at the beginning of my sabbatical. When he went back to work most of the time I spent alone working projects and playing outside. It wasn’t until the last month or so that I realized I really missed the social interactions of work. The time I spend with coworkers, even with being remote, is meaningful.
Most of what I enjoyed doing doesn’t have to stop
Work at Automattic is extremely flexible and mostly asynchronous depending on what you work on. The things I really did enjoy doing – baking, biking, running, visiting family, home improvements – I can keep doing them. If I need the time during the day I can shift my work schedule. Baking bread can be done during the workday since there’s a lot of time waiting for dough to rise. I can visit my parents too and work from their house if I want to just hang out with them.
It’s okay to not do anything
Mindful meditation teaches you to be okay with doing nothing. Focusing on something singular like breathing is the basis of the practice. It’s okay to be bored. I had to pull from this experience during my sabbatical to tell myself it’s okay to not have to be doing something all the time. I did have lists of things I could do around the house and kept myself busy most days. When I started to notice myself being stressed out with picking the next thing to work on, I stepped back and did something simple like reading or playing with a dog. I feel like I was successful with letting the sabbatical be what is was rather than forcing it to be what I thought it should be like.
I am grateful for the time off of work. I have a better understanding of how my mind works. I value the small moments in life and see them with a more mindful eye.
I also realize I really like what I do and the people I work with. I can’t wait for the next sabbatical!