Reflecting On My Sabbatical

I’ve worked since I was 9 years old, earning $7.50 a week doing a paper round in Christchurch, and I’ve had a job ever since. The longest holiday I’ve taken over these 30 odd years is a month, and that only a couple of times. You see, my parents instilled in me a trait I’ll always be very grateful for - a work ethic. I think it’s actually more of a personal value and it’s still one of the things I find most impressive in other people when I see it. But it comes at a cost.

If you’re reading this and you know what i’m talking about, you probably have this trait too. You get wired for work ethic - your priorities, beat-rate, attitude, and rewards align to make it happen. It always feels ‘essential’ and for a long time it feels good. But as you get older and the longer you sustain it, the more it starts to take a toll. What served you starts to consume you. Your tolerances to the effects of an overactive work ethic get lower - both physically and mentally. They manifest in ways that can become hard to manage, feeling like they’ve appeared out of nowhere. It’s happened to lots of people I know. And it’s happened to me.

We get wired for our lives - tuned to sustain them, hoping we and our families will prosper from our efforts. But the very nature of this tuning is totally at odds with the free spirited, agenda-less, relaxed state our mind and bodies need. And crave. What most of us fall short of is living in a mindful way (more on that later). It’s hard to make everyday life choices that consider all of our needs and wants in a balanced way so most of us fall on one side of life productivity - skewed to be over or under productive. The question is: what are we missing out on?

Two years ago I decided that when I turned 40 I would take a sabbatical. I couldn’t think of a better reward for all of my years of hard work than not working at all! In the end I planned a 10 week trip to Europe with my family, residing in France and Italy and with minimal travel.

So, what was I hoping it would achieve? In the months leading up to my departure it was a revealing topic of conversation. I found myself talking about a range of goals. Slowing down to a crawl. Unplugging. Switching off my inner metronome. Synchronising with my family. Healing. And perhaps the most common topic of all - then what? What would happen once I reached this enlightened state? Honestly, I didn’t know. And what’s more I didn’t want to try and plan it. Instead I was keen to find out what happens when you rewire your life, if only for a short time.

What did I discover? Did it work? What did I learn and what epiphanies did I experience?

In short, it worked. And I discovered so much more than I could have expected. I’ll share my findings with you in my next blog.