Should You Dare to Think About a Sabbatical?

About a week ago, Gail and I returned from a 30-day sabbatical. It was one of the best things we have ever done. We spent sixteen days in the mountains of Buena Vista, Colorado, several more days in Portland, and the rest of the time at our home outside of Nashville, Tennessee.

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Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/chapin31

In April, I stepped down from my position as CEO of Thomas Nelson. (Though I am no longer in active management, I remain the Chairman of the Board.) I felt God calling me into a new chapter, and I wanted to take time to fully explore what it was going to look like.

The time away was just what the doctor ordered. It was tremendously meaningful. So much so, that Gail and I are planning to spend one month a year doing this. I realize that we are in a unique position. (It takes a certain amount of vocational freedom and financial resources.) However, I regret that it took me more than 30 years to take my first one.

I really think we could have done this long before now if we had just been intentional. I would strongly encourage you to think about building this into your plans. Don’t be too quick to dismiss the idea. Maybe you can’t do it this year, but you might be able to do it next year, or in two years, if you plan ahead.

It doesn’t have to be expensive. The biggest challenge is probably working with your employer. But, amazingly, in more than thirty years of corporate management, I never had a single employee even ask me to take a sabbatical.

If he or she had pitched me the idea and explained how I, as an employer, would have benefited, I definitely would have entertained it. So before you rule it out, maybe you should give it some more thought and ask, “What would it take to make this possible?”

Here are at least five benefits of taking a sabbatical. It will give you the opportunity to:

  1. Recharge physically and emotionally. This is more important than you think. We were made to surge, then rest. It is so important, that it is hard-wired into our biology. This is why we sleep. It is also why God built it into the structure of each week (i.e., six days of work; one day of rest). God even instructed the Israelites to take an entire year off every seven years. We can’t just go, go, go, and expect to function optimally.
  2. Slow down and enjoy being. God made us human beings, not human doings. You would never know it, looking at modern man. So much of our life is defined by our activities. On our sabbatical, Gail and I loved the opportunity to read, reflect, go for long hikes in the mountains, fish, and just sit and do nothing. In fact, we gave ourselves permission not to be productive. It was difficult at first, but eventually we settled into a new rhythm.
  3. Reconnect with God. Everything in contemporary culture conspires against the pursuit of the only One who gives meaning to everything else. We can spend our days, lost in the endless flow of distractions and amusements. Over time, our heart becomes slowly buried, disconnected from God and any sense of True North. It was so healthy for us both to read the Bible and other spiritual literature, and spend time in extended prayer.
  4. Gain clarity on my priorities and goals. I used part of my time away to re-tool my life plan, design a new ideal week, and plan out the next three years. This gave the opportunity to make sure that I was making time for what matters most. In this next season of my life, I am committed to writing, speaking, and mentoring. Those are my three vocational priorities. By actually making them part of my plan—and my calendar—I have a much better chance of staying focused. It also gives me a filter by which to say no to other opportunities that come my way.
  5. To secure alignment with your spouse. As the prophet Amos asks, “How can two walk together unless they are in agreement?” (see Amos 3:3). The older I get, the more important this is. Although I believe my wife and I can have a positive impact on our own, I also believe in the power of synergy. Together, we have the potential for our combined efforts to be greater than the sum of our individual ones. This is why it is so important for us to be in alignment.

There are definitely some things we will do differently next time. Taking a sabbatical is probably like any other activity or skill: you can get better at it over time. But at least we have started. I can’t wait until we do this again next year.

Question: What would a sabbatical make possible for you? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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