Sabbatical Reflections Part II: My Learnings

Earlier this year I took a sabbatical and a few weeks back I wrote the first part of my blog to share my journey. I finished it by saying that the sabbatical worked, bringing rewards beyond my expectations. So what exactly happened? My hope in sharing this is that even if it’s not for everyone it will help someone, somewhere experience what I did. Apologies in advance, this one’s a little long and it gets pretty personal.

There’s a certain challenge with doing a sabbatical on the other side of the world, with young kids: planes and timezones. Like any holiday spent far away there’s a bit of up-front pain that confuses the body and slides you into coping mode, so I just had to write-off the first part of my sabbatical. As I adjusted I began to crave a holiday. I mean, you’re amid a kick ass european summer, right? So it’s all cocktails, food and wine, consumed frantically like it’s all going to run out if you don’t drink and eat fast enough! Then came the unwinding and some actual rest. The days seemed to get longer, we stopped trying to do so much (big tip - young kids don’t like sightseeing in the heat!) and just surrendered to the void. It was bliss. That’s when we really started to fall in step as a family, very content in each other’s company, and it became a highlight of the trip. But when it came to having any kind of job to do, like reflecting, finding answers, planning etc I had zero interest. After all, that would just be the metronome ticking away madly, making me do something productive. Sshhh…

For the next few weeks a bunch of friends joined us and we had a hell of good time travelling around France and onto Greece and Italy.

Then, at about the four week mark, with time flying by, I realised that unless I actually put my mind to it I may not enjoy the spiritual enlightenment I was hoping for. So I brought some structure to the process. I set up an Asana board (an awesome task management platform) and drafted an outline of things to ponder, addressing pain points I was aware of as well as points of clarity and direction I was seeking. I committed to spending the first 20 mins of each morning to exploring these ideas and capturing notes. I’ll call this the conscious part of my sabbatical. It was a great way to progress my journey and I never felt in a rush to complete it, through taking small daily bites (more on this approach in my next blog). I found this process calming and reassuring, like I was starting to join some dots. It helped rejuvenate me and I started to feel a sense of emotional and physical healing.

What started happening next surprised me - and brought some unwelcome feelings. It happened unconsciously and, in all honesty, kind of bugged me right up until the end of the trip, when I realised what was going on. It’s best described like this: I was a foreigner with minimal grasp of the local languages, which made me feel stupid, like a small child. I had no work or business related activities or relevance. I had no schedule, I wasn’t busy with anything and I had no direction. On reflection, much later, this became clear: I am not my work. I am not my routine. So who am I?

And there it is; the most profound question I had consciously pondered. Disarmed and feeling purposeless I didn’t actually like myself that much. Devoid of my powers I didn’t know if I had any powers. So, with a wiggly tooth exposed after weeks of enduring the pain I dug in, wrestling it for all I was worth, and tore it free! It was a metamorphosis that bore to the very heart of who I am, what I stand for, and who I want to be, embracing both my strengths and my vulnerabilities. For want of a more fitting description, it was f****g liberating and I’m a changed man as a result. I am now proud of who I am and accept myself completely.

There were three critical threads to my journey - the physical holiday, the conscious, structured reflection and the unconscious isolation - and together they have equipped me to determine my identity and to live my life by design. If I can help shed some light on your own journey please reach out to me at [email protected] - I’d love to hear from you.