I am about to embark on a sabbatical for the next month to get away, enjoy time with family, and do some long-range thinking. Americans typically don’t take all of their vacation days, much less go off on sabbaticals. The idea of an extended period away from work may sound like an exotic concept or, worse, unemployment.
It was pretty foreign to me too the first time I took a 30-day sabbatical after I resigned as CEO of Thomas Nelson. But it was also an eye-opener.
When We Got Away
Gail and I spent 16 days in the mountains of Buena Vista, Colorado, several days in Portland, Oregon, and the rest of the time just putting around our home in Franklin, Tennessee, disconnected from the daily demands of running a company.
That sabbatical was tremendously meaningful to both of us. I regretted that it had taken me 30 years to get there and decided not to miss out in the future. We resolved to go on one month-long sabbatical every year.
This yearly cycle of work and a long break and work again helped to develop my ideas about the purpose of productivity and the radical margin we need to carve out in our lives. Too often, people preach productivity for its own sake, which is not enough. It simply encourages overwork and burnout.
I found I can work harder and more effectively now knowing that a sabbatical is just around the corner. There won’t be gaps in my articles, for instance. That’s already been taken care of.
Now it’s your turn
Taking sabbaticals requires some adjustment in your thinking. It also requires some planning and financial resources. And I realize that, after stepping down from Thomas Nelson, I was in a rare position. But after we did it the first time, it struck me that we could have started sabbaticals years before.
It doesn’t have to be expensive. The biggest challenge is probably working with your employer. Yet, limited thinking may play a role as well. In the more than 30 years I spent in 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 benefitted, I definitely would have entertained it. And if I saw that it worked well, I might have taken my first sabbatical sooner.
So before you rule this out, maybe give it some more thought and ask, “What would it take to make this possible?” Maybe you can’t do it this year, but you might be able to take a sabbatical next year or in two years if you decide it’s something you want and plan ahead.
5 reasons to go for it
In case you’re still not sold, here are 5 benefits of taking a sabbatical that I wrote down during my first sabbatical in 2011. They might not all apply to you but some of them should. That time away could 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 and why God and man rested on the seventh day. We can’t just go, go, go, and expect to function optimally.
2. Slow down and enjoy being. We are human beings, not human doings. Yet 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. We gave ourselves permission not to be productive. It was difficult at first, but eventually we settled into a new rhythm.
3. Feed your spiritual side. We can spend our days, lost in the endless flow of distractions and amusements. Over time, our hearts become disconnected from 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. Get clarity on your 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. I committed to writing, speaking, and mentoring as my vocational priorities. Actually making them part of my calendar helped me to stay focused, and gave me a filter to say no to other opportunities that would distract me. The resulting growth of Michael Hyatt and Company has been wonderful to watch.
5. Get on the same page as your spouse. 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 were definitely some things we did differently in the next sabbatical, and the next, and the next. Taking a sabbatical is like any other activity or skill. You can improve over time. But we got the right start, and our lives have been so much better for it. Yours could, too.