It’s increasingly rare for people to be fully “logged off” anymore. Even if we’re out of office, the proliferation of cell phones makes it easier than ever to check and reply to emails, catch up on news via social media, and keep up with professional chatter through services like Slack.
As our society becomes more and more technologically connected, this omnipresence of information is the new norm. As people move towards flexible work arrangements, we’re able to work when, and where, we feel most productive. Sometimes, this period lands outside of the normal 9-5 window. That could mean a Sunday evening spent at a local coffee shop, or working away in the early hours of a Friday morning.
However, flexibility has a flipside: a lack of boundaries. Even on vacation, we’re tuned into what’s happening back at work, worried that we might miss something important or that we’ll be needed even when we’re supposed to be taking time off.
As leaders in the movement toward work-life flexibility, that kind of constant connectivity just doesn’t sit right with us.
But what are you supposed to do about it? In the past, some of us relied on the reward of a sabbatical to keep us motivated, looking seven years into the future to see the life that we actually wanted to be living. We’re in need of sabbaticals now more than ever, but, unfortunately, they’re no longer the norm.
In the traditional sense, sabbaticals were seen as a way to take a break from a job that you’ve been in for quite some time, a way to disconnect for an entire year before heading back to the grind. We saw sabbaticals as a temporary relief from the stresses of modern life, not an attainable consistent lifestyle.
The good news: there’s a new definition of sabbatical in town.
Embrace the modern sabbatical. Join a work and travel program to experience what life could be like if you were in control.
First things first: what is a sabbatical leave? And why do people take sabbaticals?
Traditionally, a sabbatical is a period of paid or unpaid leave that is granted to an employee so that they may study or travel. This type of time off is common in higher education settings and in larger organizations, and is usually granted after seven years of services. A conventional sabbatical is a year long, though they can be shorter or longer depending on the reason for taking a professional break.
Today, we’re offering a new explanation. Sabbaticals are no longer defined by the absence of work - in fact they are defined by the presence of it. People who are taking advantage of sabbaticals today aren’t taking time off from work for the sake of relaxation, they’re engaged in another type of personal or professional pursuit. They’re using this set period of time to follow their dreams, to create something that they’ve been dreaming about for years, or to reignite a passion that’s been sitting dormant.
Sabbaticals aren’t just another word for vacation. They’re the new word for an active pursuit of purpose.
People are searching for this type of modern day sabbatical and savvy employers are listening. Some companies are getting behind the trend and encouraging their employees to think outside of the box when it comes to their time spent outside of the office. For example, Patagonia offers its workers a two-month paid sabbatical to volunteer for an environmental company of their choosing. Boston Consulting Group employees have used their sabbaticals to teach classes in higher education. Others may ask employees to use their sabbaticals to pursue advanced education, or to travel the world in order to gain global perspective.
Programs like Patagonia’s point to a greater lesson that companies are starting to pick up on: if you invest in the personal and professional growth of your employees, you’ll reap the rewards both in a better workplace culture and in your bottom line.
6 Modern Sabbatical Ideas
First, consider the circumstances under which you’re going to set out on your modern sabbatical.
Does your employer offer a sabbatical? Lucky you!
Are you going to seek out remote work so that you can still make an income while enjoying a flexible lifestyle that allows you to your passions on your terms? Great!
Have you saved up enough from a past career to take some dedicated time off from the hustle and bustle of modern life? Congrats!
No matter your situation, there are a lot of different ways that you could spend your time wisely while on sabbatical. These six ideas will allow you to set out on your personal or professional pursuit - and help you grow in a meaningful way.
1. Write a novel
You’re going to have a lot of time on your hands now that you’re not reporting to a 9-5, and that creative idea’s been taking up space inside your mind for awhile.
Get it out on paper! Use this extended leave from work to share your knowledge and your narrative with the world. You now have the time to stew over plot points and character qualities while sipping your morning coffee. You can adjust sentence structure and internally debate the use cases of an oxford comma. You can organize meetings with other local writers and build a community through your skillset.
Put it this way: when else do you have the time to devote this much energy and focus to a creative passion project? Certainly not when you’re working 40+ fixed hours a week in a traditional office environment.
Don’t have a publishing contract? Not a problem. Self-publishing is not as scary as it used to be and it can actually be a profitable endeavor. Amazon Kindle Direct Self Publishing is an easy-to-use platform and allows you to sell your book both as an ebook and as a physical paper copy on Amazon.
2. Start a side hustle
We’re not saying that you should use your sabbatical to replace your full-time profession (though, if that is what you want to use it for, then go for it!). However, if you have a skill that you’ve been wanting to improve, or a bit of your resume that you’d like to enhance, a sabbatical could be the perfect time to do it.
if you are a marketing professional that has aspirations to specialize in, say, product launches, you could use your sabbatical to drum up a client base for consulting work and build your portfolio, all while making a profit. When you head back to your marketing job you’ll return with industry insights and a better bargaining chip for upcoming promotion negotiations.
Pro-tip: Before you take the leap and start conducting business during your sabbatical make sure that you look into your company’s non-compete clause to ensure that you’re not breaking any rules. You don’t want to put your career in danger because you didn’t take the time to do a little research.
If your interests lie in making the world a better place to live - for people, for animals, for the sake of the environment - volunteering could be a good use of your sabbatical. Much like the Patagonia example mentioned above, you could spend your time helping a worthy cause while learning a lot about yourself, and others, along the way.
There are plenty of opportunities to use your specific skill set to impact the world. If you’re great with people, you could host fundraisers, knock on doors, or man a phone bank to raise money for the cause you’re most inspired by. If you’re better behind a computer screen, you could donate your coding and design skills to nonprofits who may not be able to afford a website or CRM tool that will help them accomplish their goals.
Giving back during your sabbatical is not only good for the organization that you’re helping out, it’s good for your soul. You can look back at this time and see the ways in which you’ve made an impact and use those positive feelings to inspire your next move.
4. Seek Next-Level Education
A sabbatical may be the perfect time to pursue a higher level of education, or perhaps a second degree in a different concentration. Perhaps you want to enroll in an accelerated MBA program or make a smaller investment and take a few classes at a local college. Whatever the route, using this time away from your profession to learn is a great choice.
Don’t stop at traditional education avenues either - invest in e-courses, head to a yoga studio to attain your teacher training certification, ask the people that you admire to teach you the thing that they’re an expert in, set aside time to read more books, listen to podcasts (or start your own) - the educational possibilities are endless.
5. Set An “Unreachable” Goal
A great way to use your sabbatical is to set an “unreachable goal”, something that you would never have done because it would require too much time, too much effort, and maybe too much money.
Tell yourself that by the end of your time away from work you will climb to the top of each of the five tallest mountains on your continent. Make a pact with yourself to train for a triathlon and set a goal for your finish time. Pick a handful of rundown houses in your community and renovate them, then resell them. Find homes for 100 animals from your local shelter. Master every recipe in your favorite chef’s cookbook.
These goals don’t have to be something that would land you in a record book - they should just be in pursuit of something that makes you feel like you’re growing into the person that you want to be. They should leave you feeling accomplished and ready to take on anything that your career throws at you when you return.
6. Join a Work and Travel Program
Want to make one of the above ideas your reality, but don’t want to do it on your own in your current city? Work and travel programs are the perfect outlet for your sabbatical hopes and dreams. You can join a community of people who are working, or in the midst of their professional pursuit, and travel to a different city every month together for either 4 or 12 months.
Work and travel programs are perfectly aligned with the modern definition of a sabbatical - this is not a yearlong vacation. It is your chance to expand your perspective to include the stories, challenges, and optimism of people from around the world. As globalization continues to influence our society, experiencing other cultures will only help you grow.
To harken back to an earlier point: at what other time in your life would a work and travel program be a better fit? This is your opportunity to see the world, open your eyes to new ways of life, and embrace a lifestyle of intentional discomfort and infinite curiosity.
It’s safe to say that the way that we think about sabbaticals today is far different than the way we viewed them in the past. Connectivity and individual ambition have combined to create a new opportunity to pursue the passions that get put on the backburner when we enter the “real world”. By taking time away from work to recalibrate and take action toward a goal that has been eluding us, we tell ourselves we are worth more than the rat race, more than the conventional Game of Life. We owe it to ourselves, and to those that we may inspire, to use our time on Earth in a way that lights us up. The modern sabbatical is just the beginning of that quest.