I couldn’t believe it had happened to me.
I had chased my dream job all the way to San Francisco, California – the job I had been dreaming about FOR YEARS. I had found success, as I had always defined it – getting paid full time to do coaching.
My dream came true!
Something wasn’t right.
Symptoms of a Need for Sabbatical
Only one year after taking this job, leaving behind everything I knew, including my husband, I found myself feeling the same way I’d felt in my corporate job:
- Burned out.
What’s a girl to do?
Luckily I had the support of a great coach. I knew I couldn’t stay any longer in the job, and wanted to return home to Michigan.
But return to what?
You see, I was always raised to believe that you never quit one job before you lined up the next one. I remember my high school job as a grocery store cashier, which I hated, but I stayed there until I lined up the next job at McDonald’s. And then, when I left for college, I lined up my summer job working at a loading facility for plastic gas pipe, which I REALLY hated. And so on.
As it turned out, my work life since age 16 had been a series of one job after another, with little to no breaks in between. Even when I graduated college, I only had a 2 week break before I started my corporate life as a chemical engineer!
So, I was struggling to grasp WHAT I WOULD DO NEXT, when my coach whispered, “Take a sabbatical.”
What WAS that? What would I do?
Heeding the Call
Even though I had no idea what she was suggesting, something inside me resonated with what she said. Somehow I just knew I needed some time off to re-group, to gain clarity, and to process my dis-disillusionment.
But what would I DO with time off?
Again she whispered, “Nothing.”
Nothing? Do nothing? This went against everything I’d been raised to believe. I shared this with her.
And, wise woman that she was, said to me, “Something always comes from nothing. But you have to be willing to do nothing.”
I could feel the truth of what she was saying, although it made me uncomfortable. It just sounded so irresponsible.
But I decided to heed my intuition, which said that this was a good risk, and agreed to give myself one whole year of nothing. My husband agreed to support me – financially and emotionally.
I quit my job and moved home to Michigan in March 2007.
That’s when things got REALLY interesting.
At first, it felt more like a vacation than a sabbatical. But after a few weeks of relaxation, and re-connecting with old friends, things got pretty quiet.
No one needed anything from me. No one emailed me.
It felt SO strange to open Outlook and not see 100’s of emails waiting for my response.
And, at night I would wake up anxiously, wondering if I had forgotten to take out the trash. That was the biggest thing that kept me up at night.
It took me about 3 months to detox from corporate life, from the insanity that we call normal life. I went through periods of relief, followed by anxiety, followed by confusion. My mind was begging for activity.
Then summer came. It was easier to give myself “a summer off” and so, having detoxed from corporate life, I invested the next couple of months really relaxing. And I say I “invested” because I really believed that I was investing my time vs. spending it. Investing in my future clarity and purpose.
I rediscovered the joy of my own company. I read books by the lake. I began to let go of all my previous ideas and beliefs about what my life should look like. Essentially, I turned inward. Without an agenda to “figure out” what was next for me. My only agenda was to follow my joy with curiosity.
As the fall began, I was invited to participate in two things that would change my life: An Artists’ Way Group and a mentoring program for at-risk teenage girls. I felt an inner “yes” with both of them, and so began my journey back to a “normal” life. The Artists’ Way showed me how to revive my creative self, that part of me that was squashed by trying to fit into the corporate world, and the mentoring program showed me how to re-connect with being a contribution.
I was grateful to have both of these things in my life, and grateful to have the time to do them mindfully and wholeheartedly. After completing both of these commitments, I felt more grounded, rejuvenated, and ready for whatever was next.
And instead of focusing on what was next, I continued to trust that something would come from nothing.
And it did.
The director of the mentoring program decided to retire and told me I was the best person to take it over for her. She asked me to continue it, and because I had invested the time to cultivate a strong connection to my inner voice and my creative self, I immediately felt a strong inner “yes” to her proposal.
I accepted the part-time job which also ended up leading me to certify to teach Nia and since then I have started my own business, which continues to evolve in its contribution and reach.
So, what can you learn from my experience?
I have used my experience to help others design, create, and survive their sabbaticals. And over time, I have seen universal lessons emerge from their experiences as well:
- Most of the time we are not aware of how the beliefs we grew up with are limiting us as adults. As I could not see that my pattern of always working was holding me back from seeing the more meaningful options I had, so too do most people not realize the filters that prevent them from seeing all the possibilities available to them. We don’t know what we don’t know. Therefore, it is REALLY helpful to have the support of someone with a different perspective if you are effecting change in your life. Someone who can help you see and challenge your limiting beliefs.
- There is definitely an inner voice inside each of us that needs to be cultivated to be heard. I needed some structure, a program, some guidance to re-connect with my inner GPS to be able to recognize the best options when they came. When we are dis-connected from our own wisdom, we need some kind of support to find our way back. I used the Artists’ Way, but there are many other options available that can help give structure to your path.
- Something always comes from nothing. As it turns out, my coach was right. Rather than filling my sabbatical with experiences, or designing it to “figure out” what was next, the best choice for me was to turn inward and get still. And I discovered that if you get really still, life will show you what’s next for you and you can just step into it.
Do you need a sabbatical? Before you answer with “I can’t afford it” or “They won’t let me,” check out this great article on how to turn your fantasy into a reality. It could be that these questions themselves are your limiting beliefs preventing you from finding your best path.
Have you ever taken a sabbatical? Leave a comment below and share your experience.