What’s a sabbatical?
The origin comes from the Biblical Sabbath where the seventh day is set aside as a day of rest. In modern times it refers to a rest from work, or a break, often lasting from two months to a year.
Dictionary.com defines it as:
“any extended period of leave from one's customary work, especially for rest, to acquire new skills or training, etc.”
Taking a sabbatical can also give you a good sense of what retirement life would be like. We enjoyed our sabbatical so much we just turned it into early retirement.
My “Unplanned” Sabbatical
Sometimes a sabbatical is unplanned and just materializes, which is what happened to me.
After my last job went through some major changes in management and direction, I decided to step back and take some time to myself.
I realized that I’d been going from one startup to the next back-to-back for the past 13 years. The last time I had a real “break” was for 10 months from 2001 - 2002 (and I was actually running a home business during that time).
I wasn’t sure how long this break would be. I didn’t think of it as a sabbatical when it started. My initial thought was that I’d spend 3 months working on some business ideas and doing some travel, and then I’d “get back in the game.”
My 3-month plan turned into a 6-month plan, which turned into a 9-month plan, and is now basically just an early retirement.
To top it off, my wife Allison, also got laid off from her job at the same time. While that might have been really worrisome for a lot of couples, we totally embraced the opportunity to spend more quality time together.
It can be a little daunting at first, but if you plan it right, taking a sabbatical from your normal everyday grind can be one of the best things you’ll ever do.
Here are 7 reasons why….
1- You’ll Get into Shape
I’ve always been in pretty good shape, making sure to exercise and eat right as often as I could. But when you’re working full-time and commuting to your job each day, you just don’t have the time to consistently exercise and eat a healthy diet.
I was your typical “weekend warrior” going to yoga classes on Saturday and Sunday. When possible, I would walk or bike to work, but the rest of my day involved sitting at a desk inside an office.
Now that I’m on sabbatical, I have a much more active routine. I typically lift weights or practice yoga, go swimming, and enjoy a walk every single day. The change has been noticeable in my muscle tone, body fat, endurance, and overall feeling of strength and vitality.
Additionally, Allison has been spending much of her sabbatical going to local farmer’s markets and creating delicious and healthy meals for us each day. The healthy eating, combined with daily physical activity, combine for a much healthier lifestyle.
2- You’ll Clear Your Mind & Reduce Stress
When I was working full-time, I was constantly in meetings, under deadlines, and concerned about ROI and performance measurements. Even in the more “chill” startups, there was always an undercurrent of stress. You just never knew when the money was going to start running out, or when the CEO or Board wanted to change direction.
On my sabbatical, I meditate everyday (in addition to my yoga and swimming), and my only deadlines are the ones I decide to give myself.
Allison and I go to bed whenever we want, wake up whenever we want, and basically do whatever we want throughout the day. It’s so enjoyable and peaceful to not rush around and just enjoy your day. If you’ve ever taken a trip to Hawaii or the Caribbean, you know this feeling of being on “island time” and not having any particular agenda.
3- You’ll Reconnect With Your Partner / Spouse
Allison and I were really fortunate to have our sabbaticals at the same time. If you can time your sabbatical with your partner or spouse, it can really strengthen and improve your relationship.
You might think that spending all day with your partner would cause friction and arguments. But if you look at the main reasons couples fight, many of them can be addressed or alleviated with a sabbatical.
For example in eHarmony’s list of 9 Things Couples Argue About Most, most of them are due to time constraints. The top arguments include not having enough individual free time, time for household chores, time for sex, or time with kids or pets.
If you both have all the time in the world, then you can easily divide up your free time how you please. You’ll have plenty of time and energy to do all the household chores and take care of the kids and pets. With sex, you can spend as much time in bed together as you want. There’s no rush or timetable.
4- You’ll Travel
This is probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think of taking a sabbatical. Allison and I have always done a fair amount of traveling, but it was tough to plan longer trips due to our work schedules.
As soon as we knew we had time off together, we immediately started planning a trip to Europe. We have always wanted to go to Italy and Spain, so we booked an 11-day cruise around the Mediterranean with an extra week in Rome. It was one of the best trips we’ve ever had!
Studies show that planning trips provide a huge boost in happiness. You can always be planning a trip when you’re on sabbatical!
5- You’ll Enjoy a Staycation
In between trips, you can enjoy a staycation. Here’s the definition of a staycation from Urban Dictionary:
“A vacation that is spent at one's home enjoying all that home and one's home environs have to offer.”
Being on sabbatical allows you to do all the things in your area that you haven’t tried. You can go to all the latest restaurants, check out the local coffee shops, and belly up to your local bar. Go to Yelp.com and look for restaurants with 4 stars or more and at least 100 reviews.
You can also treat yourself to a massage, go to a play, take a tour of your city (walking or bus tours are popular), or take a road trip. Check Groupon to find offers in your area.
For more inspiration, check out our blog post “35 Affordable Bucket List Adventures All Within the US.” You’ll likely find there are a number of amazing things to do right in your own backyard.
6- You’ll Get Outside & Enjoy Nature
Americans spend so much time indoors these days. For many of us, the only time you’re outside is walking to and from your car.
When you’re on sabbatical, you can take the time to get outside, go for walks, get into nature, and enjoy some fresh air and sunshine.
Some of the benefits of getting outside include getting Vitamin D, improving your sleep, improving your psychological health, and breathing cleaner air.
Even if you don’t live near a mountain, lake, or beach, you can still find a park or grassy area to enjoy. There are hundreds of beautiful parks in our country - check out StateParks.com to find the ones closest to you.
7- You’ll Learn
When you’re on sabbatical, you can spend plenty of time learning new things. You may decide to learn a new language, pick up an instrument, or update your technical skills.
Take this time to find what you’re passionate about and learn more about yourself. Maybe it’s starting a home business, volunteering, or writing a blog. You can set up a simple blog on WordPress for free and do a weekly piece on anything that inspires you.
You can also spend more time reading for pleasure or to discover new things. The typical American reads an average of only 19 minutes per day. Reading offers multiple benefits, including reducing stress, enhancing your memory, and boosting your analytical ability.
Do you remember going to the library back in the day? Why not take advantage of all the free books at your local library? Or if you prefer ebooks, Amazon offers a large selection of free ebooks on Kindle.
Check out Goodreads to get book recommendations, see what your friends are reading, and connect with other readers.
How To Pull It Off
Now that you know how awesome it can be to be on sabbatical, the question is how do you actually pull it off effectively.
Here are some tips to set yourself up for a successful sabbatical:
1- Check with your Employer
More and more companies are starting to recognize the benefits of offering their employees a sabbatical. Studies have shown that sabbatical programs can be beneficial for both the workers and the companies.
Many companies are offering sabbatical programs that are either paid, unpaid, or partially paid. YourSabbatical.com provides a list of companies with sabbatical programs and whether they’re paid.
2- Save Up
Even if your employer doesn’t offer a sabbatical program, you may still decide to take one on your own. If you think you might want to take a sabbatical in the next year or two, start making a financial plan now. Probably the biggest hurdle to taking a sabbatical is the concern about finances.
There are some great apps out there to help you save money, such as Mint and BillTracker.
If you can also reduce your costs, that will really help, both financially and psychologically. We were fortunate to be able to pay our mortgage way down, so that gave us peace of mind and allowed us not to stress about getting back to work.
You can reduce costs by just being a bit more frugal - don’t eat out too often, pack a lunch, take public transportation, and walk or bike to work if possible.
3- Supplement your Income
There are a number of ways to make some extra cash on the side these days. My friend and fellow blogger, Ryan Robinson, put together an amazing list of side businesses.
His 65 Best Businesses to Start While Working a Full-Time Job offers ideas and provides resources for a wide variety of side businesses. He writes it from the perspective of earning side revenue while working full-time, but you can do the same thing while being on sabbatical.
The ideas include web design, writing ebooks, Amazon reselling, local business consulting, and much more. Everyone has some set of skills they can put to use to generate a side income to help you maintain your sabbatical without losing too much sleep.
Here are some last pieces of advice to really make your sabbatical amazing:
1- Time it with your Spouse (Partner)
If you can time it so both you and your spouse or partner are on sabbatical together, it’ll give you a chance to really bond. You’ll also have more fun traveling and doing fun things if you have a partner to share the experiences with you.
2- Health Insurance
If you’re taking a sabbatical on your own (outside of a company-sponsored plan), you’ll want to make sure you still have health insurance. You never want to be in a situation where an accident or sudden illness could bankrupt you. Check out the Affordable Care Act site to find a plan that works for you and your family.
3- Give Yourself a Specific Amount of Time
When you do a company-sponsored sabbatical, it’s always designed for a specific amount of time. This way you can plan it out and make the most of it. It also allows you not to stress out about having to get back to the real world. Which leads me to...
4- Give Yourself Permission to Do Nothing
This is probably the most important rule! The whole idea of taking a sabbatical is to destress, relax, and recharge. It’s ok to give yourself some goals, but don’t put extra pressure on yourself to accomplish anything in particular. Just set a timeframe and see what happens.
You’ll be surprised how great you’ll end up feeling physically, mentally, and emotionally after you’ve had some time away from the daily grind. There’s plenty of time to get back to work when you’re ready!