fter 5 intense years in China, I was ready to move to Europe. My long time goal was on its way. However, before the final step, I decided to take a break and get some rest to make a fresh start. That decision ended up being essential to my health, self-growth, and life in general.
# What is a sabbatical leave?
A sabbatical is a Biblical practice according to which people had to take a break from work every 7 years. The modern concept is similar. People take an extended leave from a career to fulfill a goal, study, or travel. The current approach is no longer about the absence from work, which many people consider as a slowdown of their career development.
Taking a sabbatical to have a rest is not a bad reason. If you feel tired and stressed, having a break should be one of the reasons for a sabbatical but not the only one. A long break allows you not only to reload but also have time and energy for long due aspirations. It is the time where you can explore things you have always wanted. For instance, I always wanted to learn to code but it was hard to make an effort after work. Taking a sabbatical allowed me to pursue my long-overdue goals and make a progress.
There are many things one can do during a sabbatical. Each person is different and I think giving specific suggestions like to write or to travel is not that useful. Instead, focus on the state of your life. Is there anything that you would like to change or improve? If everything is going the way you want, have you wanted to try something else?
When I started my sabbatical I did not plan to make it productive. All I had in mind was to get some rest, fix a few health issues, and prepare for my relocation to Germany. However, it ended up life-changing because I started to think about the state of my life. I quickly found what I was missing and what could be improved. These findings led to significant improvement in the quality of my life. I suddenly had a direction, goals, a system, and knowledge. I think the next sabbatical can be a bit better planned, however, giving yourself the freedom of choice can lead you to unexpected places. The only small ingredient required is to start small and develop from there.
# Why sabbatical is beneficial
When life is busy and the work is intense, there is not much time or energy to dedicate yourself to something else. Something that you have not yet discovered and learned. All the years I had not thought why I felt fatigued, why I had not planned my life or set goals, and why I am the way I am. My life was mainly about working in the office and coming back home to get some rest. Those thoughts did not come to my mind even when I was at the beginning of my sabbatical.
If you have a lot of free time, on the other hand, your brain tries to fill it with thoughts. You start to think about your life, the direction it takes, and what can be improved. It can lead to profound changes if developed correctly. Thoughts turn into actions, which turn into real changes.
Taking a break puts you out of the stream and lets you decided where to go. It gives you a different 3rd-person perspective for your life. The first two months I took a rest and allowed myself to do nothing. It was hard as I always like to keep my mind busy, but it let me explore a few things. I remembered what I always wanted to do but lacked time or motivation. I started to code again, took a few courses, and started to develop my first iOS app.
When I started to work on the app, I came up with the idea of creating a habit tracker. The idea was inspired by the book I read earlier, the Atomic Habits by James Clear. Those who read this blog often might know that I mention the book quite often. The reason is it is one of the best books I have ever read because all the information is on point and valuable. Since then, it helps me to build my small habits using the framework and the helpful tricks I learned. However, I might add, the change to my habits and life did not come immediately. It started once I learned about Notion and how it can help me.
I have always been a fan of systems and order. A system allowed me to weave the digital tools and knowledge about habits and life together. Separately they were not actionable as they are together. Knowing how habits work without a system is as useless as an online tool that lacks the theory. Taking my life in control and alignment with my life goals has been a tremendous change. I used to drift by the current without knowing where to go, but now I set my short and long-term goals, projects and actions, habits and aspirations.
Another benefit I had is time to analyze my emotions and feelings. I looked at the experience from another angle, and I saw that I used to be very stressed. I tried to find the reasons and work with them. I now feel more mindful of my emotions and the reasons behind them. I have had enough time to self-reflect and act on the discovered knowledge. It would have been nearly impossible for me to do it after a stressful day or week at work.
I also started this blog, and I have been writing consistently for 3 months. I had always struggled to be consistent when it comes to my hobbies or habits. This experience showed that I am capable of starting up something of my own. It might have been possible outside of my sabbatical, but it just made it easier to prove myself.
All of the above-mentioned achievements became a reality because I took an extended leave. I went step by step building up a productive sabbatical. The compound effects of small changes are not visible at first, but in the long run, they sum up in substantial growth.
# Steps to a productive sabbatical
To make the most out of a sabbatical, there are several things to consider.
Make sure you have enough cash to sustain yourself for an extended period, most of the companies offer only unpaid leaves. Take a good rest to reset your mind and have a fresh view of your life and perspectives. Self-reflect to discover new directions and problems you might have. Make a list of your long due goals and take action.
First, make sure you have enough cash to sustain yourself during your time off. You can consider a part-time freelance job if money is an issue. One thing to remember is that you will spend the money for a worthy cause. The investment in your well-being and self-growth will pay off several folds in the future.
Second, If you value your current job, make sure you can come back to it after the time off. Taking a sabbatical is officially allowed in many countries, although unpaid. Research to find out the conditions. I was on unpaid leave during my transition from Beijing to Berlin.
Third, take a good rest if it's one of the reasons you consider a time off. There is nothing wasteful when it comes to health and well-being. Your productivity is always low when you are not feeling well. The rest of your sabbatical will depend on it.
Fourth, make a list of what you have always wanted to try but could not find enough time for. Start exploring and find out if it is something you enjoy or not. Be open and see where it can lead you. Every action I took led me to a more exciting discovery.
Reflect on your past and your future. Make a system to track your goals, habits, and life. Set those goals. Think about where you want to be in 2-5-10 years. Shift your career in another direction if you find out that you might be happier somewhere else. Use the self-reflection knowledge to align your life with your true self.
# Was it a good idea to take a sabbatical?
In hindsight, it is quite unbelievable to see all the links connecting. The way my rest and free time led me to information consumption, which led me to different knowledge pieces, which when woven together produced wondrous results. I improved almost all aspects of my life. I became more self-sufficient, more mindful, and more self-acknowledged. I learned and tried many things I have always wanted. Although globally 2020 was not the best year, it was certainly one of the better ones in my life. I hope my experience was valuable and you learned something new!