On sabbaticals

When I decided to step back from the startup I was working on and take a sabbatical earlier this year, I didn't know what to expect. Although excited to get a much-needed reset, I initially felt anxious about the uncertainty of what was next and a sense of guilt about leaving something unfinished.

I've made big career changes in the past, but they've always been with a specific goal in mind. This time is much more nebulous, and the truth is, I'm still grappling with the ambiguity. Despite this, I feel justified in my decision two months into my sabbatical.

I’m somewhere between the recovery and exploration phase of my sabbatical. While I still have much to figure out, I'm taking steps toward achieving more balance in my life and learning more about myself, both of which are important to me. My hope is that decluttering my mind, deprogramming myself from unreasonable expectations (both external and internal), and following my curiosities will lead me in the right general direction.

One clear benefit right now is that my days are a lot simpler and free-flowing. Other than a Mindful Values course I’m taking once a week, I’m trying to leave much of my time unplanned. This was uncomfortable at first but it’s been an effective way to let my day fill up with things that I’d do regardless of whether I planned them or not. In other words, things I actually care about. Right now, that’s a combination of spending time with my wife and pup, reading, writing, practicing mindfulness, working out, learning how to DJ (because why not), and participating in a couple of communities of awesome people: Find The Others and Interintellect.

A more surprising benefit is the noticeable difference in my desire for mindless procrastination. When I was in startup-building mode and things were particularly stressful, I would have bouts of scrolling through my Twitter and YouTube feeds, fooling myself into thinking that I was learning something. Although I still spend time on these platforms, it’s without the desperate need to escape discomfort and stress.

As a whole, I'd argue that millennials have looked to work for meaning and purpose more than any previous generation. But with this comes the potential for disappointment and existential anxiety, particularly in a rocky economic environment and often poorly-handled layoffs from the very companies whose missions we've bought into and made a part of our collective identities.

If one can afford it, taking an extended leave from work is well worth the investment. When considering the bigger picture, taking 6 to 12 months to recharge and reflect across a 40-year career is less than 3% of the total time. This is especially important when the stakes involve ensuring that we are living lives of our choosing.

I don’t know what’s next for me, but I’m not trying to come to a decision yet. Doing so will simply lead me to the path of least resistance. Instead, I’ve set myself a reverse deadline*, before which I plan not to choose what to focus on next in my career, affording myself the space to explore freely without pressure. More to come!

*I learned about this concept from Casey Rosengren, creator of the Mindful Values course I’m currently taking.