What if life could be a Permanent Sabbatical?


noun noun: sabbatical; plural noun: sabbaticals

a period of paid leave granted to a university teacher or other worker for study or travel, traditionally one year for every seven years worked.

Recently I was at an event and met someone I hadn’t seen for nearly three years. As we enthusiastically greeted each other, they asked: “So, what have you been up to?!”. Wow. So much has happened for/with/to me in the last three years, yet the words that came out of my mouth were: “I guess I’ve been on a quasi-sabbatical”.

On a personal level, friends and family know a lot has changed, including moving to London in mid-2017. On a business level, by nature I am a “business builder”, and through 2016 I was both CEO of a global business coaching company and also leading my own coaching business based in Cayman as part of that overall business. Since mid-2017, though, I’ve shifted focus to working independently and predominantly as a Sounding Board to Leaders. I’ve also committed well over half of my time to NOT being client work, both focussed on learning, partnering on impact projects, as well as mentoring and other ways of supporting others.

Put another way, I’ve been on quasi sabbatical!

Shortly after that conversation, I was chatting to Chip Conley and shared this story with him. The wise and sage friend that he is, after a smile and a laugh at the “quasi-sabbatical” line, he then mused: “what if life could be a permanent sabbatical?”, which got me thinking…..

What if life could be a Permanent Sabbatical?

So, the traditional idea of a sabbatical is one year off in seven, derived from the term Sabbath, the one day of rest each week, with that year off being paid.

This sits upon two paradigms (unconscious beliefs). I am musing today on the idea that if we smash both those paradigms, an increasing number of us in this digital age may actually be able to choose to be on “Permanent Sabbatical”

Paradigm One: Sabbaticals are for us to Rest

The concept of a sabbatical is still based on is that working tires and drains us and, every so often, whether one year out of seven, or one or a few months every few years, we want, we crave, we need a full rest from work.

Even in the shorter term, the first business book I read, back in 1991, was “Moments of Truth” by Carlzon, in which he notes he insisted all the people in his business took one vacation of three weeks every year. One of the key reasons for this was that if the vacation was any shorter, one simply would not fully rest and recharge.

So, one paradigm around the idea of a Sabbatical is that we need it to rest, to recharge, to recover from work.

What if, instead, we consciously created a working life that actually gave us energy rather than drained us? Would we need a sabbatical to rest, recover, recharge? I would say no, as instead our work actually constantly charges out battery rather than draining it.

Paradigm Two: I can’t afford a Sabbatical

Leading on from the idea that a Sabbatical doesn’t have to be a total break from work, but instead could be doing less work, then wouldn’t it be interesting to see if we could construct a life where we do enough work to “pay the bills”, yet are not striving for more income for material things?

Personally, this is where the phrase “quasi-sabbatical” came for me. I have continued to work over the past three years, simply that I have only worked a relatively (compared to most) small percentage of o time. Yes, I’m still certainly “paying the bills”, but I am optimising rather than maximising my income.

(Now, as an aside, over the last few months I’ve gradually shifted gears and am very much ready to increase my own impact, something that is often best achieved by working with more clients, so rather than actively turning down clients (as I have been sometimes over recent times!), am now open to taking on new ones. The key here, though, is that my driver is “Purpose, not Profit”. Yes, I earn more if I have more clients, but my driver is to make more impact)

Back to the idea of rethinking earnings, though, I certainly understand that this idea of reducing income is clearly only a privileged relative few who can consider this. If I perhaps focus on an audience who are mid-40s upwards with either no children or children beyond high school, I’m meeting and hearing from a growing number who are consciously downshifting, perhaps working 3 or 4 days per week in the same job as one option, or perhaps changing roles or constructing a self-employed life where they do not retire, but instead (as Chip would put it) “rewire”, earning what they need now that the kids are “off the payroll” etc.

Steps you can take to go on Permanent Sabbatical

So, whether or not you choose this path, I encourage you to think about these elements and consider both your own beliefs around them and your own situation. You may react positively or negatively to these, all of that is excellent. My intention here is simply to provoke innovative thinking for readers, and for that, thanks again to Chip for the question!

  • Love your work. If you love your work you will look forward to it, it will charge your battery. I Love my work as sounding board and coach, I am always energised by being with my clients, listening to them, reflecting and bouncing ideas around, drawing out insights etc
  • Embrace Minimalism. The ability to do this will vary by individual, but at essence, it is typical that as our earnings increase throughout our careers, we add to our material possessions and what we spend money on. Our outgoings grow to match our income, so we often feel a sense of “I have to work really hard to pay the bills”. What if, at least to some extent, we embrace minimalism, we are happy with what we have rather than striving and “working hard” for more. Do we need that fancy car, that bigger house etc?
  • Optimise don’t Maximise your Income. Again always different for each person. I recognise my own privilege in that at least twenty years ago I stepped off the “fast track” to focus on what I truly loved, including finding balance in life in and outside work. The privilege is that I was able to consciously choose not to maximise my income but to optimise it. I have always still earned well over the decades, though far less than if I’d given all my focus to maximising it. Instead, I have chosen to be more balanced.

As Viktor Frankl said (and I paraphrase), the ultimate freedom is choice.

So many people I meet tell me “I have no choice, I have to keep working in this job for the next x years, then I can look at different options”. Philosophically, we always have a choice, simply that each choice comes with consequences.

My choice is to be on Permanent Sabbatical. I’d love to hear others who relate to life the same way!

Also published on Medium.