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How to Create High Return on Your Sabbatical

A sabbatical is an extraordinary adventure with the potential to be a return on investment like no other.  Time, energy and money all converge to create a possible life-changing event. We know individuals who improve their leadership game, careers, lifestyles, approach to conflict, work/life balance and relationships after they return.

But in the planning stages as well as during the sabbatical, there’s ample opportunity to sabotage positive outcomes. Once you negotiate your sabbatical, arrange for your work to be covered or the company to continue being profitable, rent the house and/or buy new fly fishing gear, then you’ll turn to your time ahead and begin to plan.

How do  individuals ruin their chances of a high return?

They create lists….lots of lists. Places to see, experiences, people to meet, pictures to take, restaurant musts, monuments and vistas not to be missed. Completely unstructured sabbaticals never work well for most individuals. Time is lost, frittered away and boom – it’s over.

But sabbaticals with detailed plans for busy itineraries or numerous goals are just as bad.

Our careers and work revolve around meeting goals and setting objectives. But if you are goal obsessed about your sabbatical, you’ll lessen your chances of  receiving a long-lasting benefit.

For instance if you are planning a six-months sailing sabbatical, mapping out exciting night crossings, counting miles under the keel, a list of exotic island stopovers or ports of call will be part of your time away from the life you’re living now.

These make great log entries, intriguing cocktail talk, and blog posts. But a year after you are back functioning in the real world, you’ll want more back from your time away. While you should have a couple of clear overall objectives for your sabbatical, much of your time away should allow for serendipity and reflection.

The best return on your sabbatical comes when you live the questions.

I bet you want to know, “What questions?”

Live Your Sabbatical

This experience of time away holds great potential in increased creativity, rejuvenation, and clarity for living a better future life. Don’t just go on sabbatical to see, do and experience. Reflect, think, and synthesize to gain clarity on living better once you return. Each experience during the sabbatical provides opportunity to change, grow, recommit or tweak your life and work.

Ask yourself

  • What new dimensions can this experience (the one you just had today or this week) add to my work and life?
  • What did I learn or am learning that has application to my work, career, or life?
  • How can I change my life and be happier?

Debrief Your Sabbatical Often

A purposeful time away from work can generate a deep reservoir of renewable energy and a sense of wellbeing for a long period of time. Yet while some sabbatical experiences become a mere bucket-list event (as in – check, I did it), others live on.

The difference? If you engage in activities that connect to a high level of positive emotions, you up the ante that you will receive the benefit of renewable energy.  In other words, be careful with how you plan your upcoming sabbatical – the entire experience as well as each leg.

  • Is it goal obsessed?
  • Does it involve too many or not enough opportunities to engage with others?
  • Is it shared with the right people?
  • Does the journey unfold too aggressively? Too slowly?
  • Is it challenging enough?
  • Is your time overbooked?

Let’s say you have a couple of ideas for how you want the journey to unfold. Take a moment and rate each of those ideas using a 1-10 scale (1= Generates a tiny level of feeling; 10=Generates a heap of feeling) on these positive emotions:

Joy                         1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10

Interest          1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10

Enthusiasm       1   2   3  4   5   6   7   8   9   10

Pride         1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10

Courage               1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10

Inspiration          1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10

If your goal is renewable energy and a sense of well-being, pay attention to the ideas that scored high.  If an idea has a lower score, you can try expanding the experience or adding elements that move it up the scale.  Otherwise, dump it.

As you live your sabbatical experience, debrief often. Revisit experiences using these factors. Find better ways to ensure you are engaging with all of these factors.

What you learn and experience during your time out, can result in lasting changes as well as memories. Careers, work and life can gain traction with measurable improvements.  That’s a ‘wow’ of a return.


All Photos: B. Pagano

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