The Gift of Taking a Sabbatical in Your Twenties

I’m currently on a sabbatical. Essentially I’m in early retirement.

It. Is. Wonderful.

I would have thought, “wow, I’m going to be bored,” or “wow, I’m going to be stressed about what’s next,” but I was wrong. Retirement sabbatical is fabulous.

Here’s the story:

Last Spring I graduated with my MBA. I was was working full time at the same company I had been at since forever. Well, at this point it had been 4.5 years. They had just promoted me to manage all the operations and I got a fancy new title. I felt like I had everything going my way. That is true in a way. After a bit of distance, I can see now that I didn’t really get much more control over the ops than what I had before. This lack of change stressed me out. Then all of a sudden my bosses presented a sabbatical for employees who had stayed at the company for 5 years. I was the only one within even a close range with 5 years. So I made the decision to stay for that.

Getting a sabbatical in your twenties is a gift, an earned gift, but still, a gift. By staying at the company where I wasn’t happy, I became even more unhappy. This affected my personal life too. Finally I had a review with my bosses and they agreed to let me finish out the busy season, take my sabbatical and leave. It wasn’t the company or the people that made me unhappy, its that I wasn’t learning anything new or seeing anything to strive for there. I’m too young for stagnation and I love learning too much to accept it.

What sabbatical is like:

Its not like a weekend day every day. On weekends you try to squeeze out all the fun or relaxation or binge-watching you can. There’s only a 48 hour period of time to do these things before you have to get back to the grind. On sabbatical, each day is long and unstructured and lovely. When I think about sabbaticals, I usually think of people taking time to dig into some big project that they never felt they had time to do. Maybe they want to write a novel (or at least start), or study European castles or learn how to surf. I’m using my sabbatical to rest, breathe, and find something new to do. I want my 35-60 hours of working hours per week to be filled with learning, problem solving, and passion for the work.

My day to day schedule changes based on my every whim. I have to tell you, it’s a pretty excellent feeling. I’ve read a lot on the internet about what to do because I like getting suggestions from others. One thing that everyone recommends is to set an alarm in the morning and get ready for the day. Everyone agrees that you need to exercise every day too. These I fully agree with. Then I simmered down the other ideas into setting a few goals for the day that are practical but to always make time for some kind of personal growth whether that’s by reading, writing, painting, or something else creative. I also make time for socializing.

What’s going on now:

The first thing I did was book a solo trip to Mexico (I’ll link to that future-post soon). Next I did things that I didn’t want to spend my precious weekend time (when I was working) doing like cleaning my apartment from top to bottom. Have you looked on top of your refrigerator lately? Ever? Let me tell you, it’s gross. I am so much happier to be living in an ultra clean space.

Now I’m in the “okay, let’s really start looking and applying for new jobs” phase. I was looking and applying before but my actual output was pretty low. I say “look and apply” because it is easy to open tabs in my browser of 10 jobs I’d like but it is a lot harder to then sit down, research the companies and write a fresh cover letter explaining why I’m best for this one job at this one company. Certainly I use past cover letters as templates but I end up re-writing quite a bit for each application. It is time-consuming and, more importantly when time isn’t an issue, it gets your hopes up. Now I am going to put a bit more effort into finding a new job.

I thought that not having a job would be incredibly stressful. Last time I was unemployed I spent a month snowboarding every day followed by lots of outdoor activities because I lived in the mountains. Then I threw myself into my volunteering with CISV. I became a summer camp leader for 3.5 weeks and I traveled to Bali for 3 weeks for conferences. Once I got back from Indonesia I was stressed about finding a new job. From what I remember, it wasn’t so much about the money, it was more about pride.

This time I’m not stressed partially because I’m still on sabbatical. There’s a difference you see. One gets paid to be on sabbatical, one does not get paid to be unemployed. Since I’ve been planning to leave my job after the sabbatical anyway, I’ve been saving for months so that when I did leave, I wouldn’t be worried about money. I am also privileged in that I don’t have to take care of anyone but myself and I come from the type of background that has made everything in my life easier. But I would still like to think that I’ve made good choices in my adulthood to keep the trains on track– one being living below my means. When you do that, and suddenly things change, you can shift to take care of them without much worry at least about that aspect. I highly recommend it.

If you get the time, and can put together the resources, I highly recommend you take some time off between jobs. I’m at about 2 weeks off right now. I plan on writing updates here on my blog. Have any of you taken time off or taken a sabbatical? What were your experiences? Write in the comments below or send me a tweet @traveloutloud!