A hammock slung between two trees on a beach

What is a Sabbatical?

At the end of last summer, I was pretty close to burnout. It was the same old story for most modern-day women- the mental load of running the home, a business, and caring for the children. (All of which I LOVE to do. And I do have help cleaning the house, lol). 

On top of this, we live abroad, and if you’re an expat yourself, I’m sure you get it too- no matter how long you live in your host country, there always exists an extra layer of stress from life living cross-culturally.

Most of the time, it’s a double-edged sword in my life- the very element of living in a different culture and language makes me thrive, but when I don’t get a change of scenery regularly, I spiral into survival mode.

I have always heard the word sabbatical throughout the years, both in a professional and personal context. In this blog, I’ll explain what a sabbatical is; I’ll tell you how and why my family and I took a one this summer and how you can take one for yourself. 

What is a Sabbatical?

In its simplest form, a sabbatical is when an employee or worker takes extended paid leave to rest, travel, study, or do something they wouldn’t usually get the chance to do, such as focus on their self-development or volunteer for a project.

Traditionally, academics took sabbaticals to take a break from the classroom and conduct. A sabbatical is generally granted as one year for every seven years worked.

I grew up in the church where leaders would also be encouraged to take a sabbatical. The concept of a sabbatical comes from the Bible. The word has its roots in the word ‘sabbath,’ where God told the Israelites to rest after every six years of work. Pastors and friends would take paid three-month sabbaticals every seven years of service for rest, spiritual renewal, and study. 

And to be honest, If God made the world in 6 days and rested on the seventh, it’s good enough for me! 

What about modern day professional sabbaticals?

Well, that’s all good for Biblical peeps, I hear you say. What about us slogging away at life in the 21st Century? 

You’ll be happy to know that many companies offer employees the option of a paid (or reduced pay) sabbatical after they have completed a specified number of years of service (usually at least five). A sabbatical can last anywhere from a month to a year, benefiting both you and your employer.

But it ain’t no holiday! Most of us use our vacay days for fun and family or travel. Although a sabbatical CAN include those things (mine defo did!), it’s a more extended period of leave, so you can do something you couldn’t do with a typical amount of annual leave, like go on retreat, study, take a course or undertake some professional development.

Research shows that individuals who take an extended break away from work in the form of a sabbatical can benefit from:

– Time to fully decompress and put work down means you regain perspective on life and the world (something you can’t do with a few days of annual leave dotted about here and there)

– Better mental health and less risk of burnout

– Time to enjoy hobbies or learn new skills

– A renewed sense of meaning and purpose 

– Time to focus on inner healing/therapy

– Time to focus on being with your family

– Time to rest and exercise resulting in better physical health and immunity

Paid sabbaticals have bennies galore for your employer too:

– They get a refreshed, motivated, and happy team member back

– It’s more cost-effective to fund a sabbatical than to have to recruit after an employee had to leave from burnout

– They welcome back an up-skilled worker bursting with renewed creativity and vision.

What did my sabbatical looked like?

So, our sabbatical was 3.5 weeks long. And some might say that it was a vacay- and thats OK, there were many elements of vacay-ing to it. But we were also very intentional about taking the time to re-fill our cups.

It was our seventh year living in Turkey, and I felt close to burnout. 

It was also our 15-year wedding anniversary, and for our honeymoon, we visited Thailand. Since then, I had been dreaming about returning (and my boys had been begging me to go). My husband was about to take on a big promotion, so we thought, ‘It’s now or never; let’s do it.’ 

You might be reading this and thinking, ‘Whoa, Thailand, that’s extravagant.’ But as expats, we use our annual leave and budget every summer to go ‘home’ and see friends and family, which we love to do. But this time we desperately needed a change of scene and to hide away for a while.

How did we implement the principles of Sabbatical into our trip?

– We stayed in a retreat centre in nature instead of a hotel for the first two weeks in basic but spacious accommodation (Being on the GROUND is important to me as we live on the 6th floor in Istanbul).

– No social media, no screens (my kids did not ask for tablets once. That’s unheard of).

– We read books and gave each other time for journaling, prayer, meditation, and massages (a Thai massage was six bucks!)

– My husband and I didn’t work AT ALL. We both put on our email responders. We completely disconnected, and I also did not cook a single meal for 3.5 weeks! 

We intentionally made a big deal of our 15-year anniversary and celebrated it with our kids and took loads of photos.

– We made memories for LIFE.

I truly believed filling our cups with this trip was necessary for my family and me during this season. We dug wells of memories that we will be able to drink from for years to come, and I feel so grateful to have had this experience and been able to give these memories to my children. I do know that it’s not a possibility for everyone. 

Coaches, Entrepreneurs and Online Business Owners- is it your turn for a sabbatical?

It’s because I work for myself that I could do this trip. That’s the beauty of running your own business, right? You fit it around your life and YOUR dreams. 

If you’re an entrepreneur, you probably hear a lot of noise about the freedom it brings because you can work remotely. But this is only true if you can take the time to stop and put your biz down for a bit. 

And if you’re scared to step away from your biz for a period, I get it; so was I. But I planned ahead and told my lovely clients in plenty of time, and everyone was supportive. I have come back with a broader perspective and am ready for the next seven years – believe me, I have some serious GOALZ lol.

If you’ve run your biz for five or more years, have you ever considered a professional or personal sabbatical? Remember: you are in a unique position where you don’t have to apply for a sabbatical or get permission from your boss. It’s your biz, and YOU make the rules. And if you’re feeling weary or a bit jaded…

Maybe a sabbatical is just what you need. So, would you ever consider it for yourself?

Comment and let me know, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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