When you dream about going on a sabbatical, I’m going to guess one of the first pictures that comes to mind is you relaxing on a tropical beach or going on some wild adventure halfway around the world.
“Sabbaticals aren’t just about travel—that's a kind of a misconception,” shared Lyndall Farley, who has taken 11 sabbaticals herself and is now the founder of Beyond a Break, where she coaches others on taking effective sabbaticals.
In reality, your personal sabbatical meaning may encompass any number of a wide range of experiences, from traveling to a dream destination to exploring new career opportunities to sleeping for 12 hours a day to cure your burnout. The worst thing you can do, said Lyndall, is fill your time with “shoulds” based on what you see other people doing or what you think a sabbatical needs to look like. “On sabbatical, it’s about doing things that you’re genuinely feeling a pull toward. When people fill their agenda up with ‘shoulds,’ they discover that there’s no enjoyment in their sabbatical.”
Figuring out your ideal personalized sabbatical involves a little introspection and planning—and to help you do that, we chatted with Lyndall and Laura to learn how they guide clients through designing effective sabbaticals.
Understand what you need out of your sabbatical
When thinking about what to do with your time off, Lyndall warned against setting sabbatical goals. “In a productivity-addicted society, having goals or measures of success against your sabbatical just feels counterintuitive,” she said. “Sometimes, what somebody actually needs from a sabbatical is to be unproductive.”
Instead, she likes to walk her clients through a process of understanding their sabbatical purpose—what would be most beneficial for them to get out of this time based on how burnt out they are and how fulfilled they’re feeling in their current career.
For instance, if you’re generally feeling happy with your work and energetic day to day, you may want to use your time to check off some wild bucket list items. If you love your job but are just feeling burnt out, focusing on rest is probably more important.
High energy, but low career satisfaction means some career exploration may be in order. And people who are low on both fronts? “They first need to focus their sabbatical on regaining their energy and confidence, and then they can think about what they want to do next.”
Figure out how much time you need (and can afford)
If you are being given paid time off by your employer, the answer to this may be pretty straightforward. (Though, if you want more time than is offered, you could consider asking for additional unpaid time off.)
“In a productivity-addicted society, having goals or measures of success against your sabbatical just feels counterintuitive. Sometimes, what somebody actually needs from a sabbatical is to be unproductive.”
If you are quitting your job (or capitalizing on a job loss) to take more of a career break, you have more flexibility in building the best sabbatical for your situation.
Lyndall feels like two-to-three months is the minimum amount of time people need to see extended benefits from a sabbatical, and six months is a real sweet spot. When it comes to finances, Laura recommends mapping out how far your savings will take you based on your average monthly expenses, and adding a 30% buffer to account for extra time it might take to secure your next gig.
Let your purpose inform a loose plan, but keep it agile
Next, it’s helpful to map out generally what you’re going to actually do each day or week in support of your purpose.
Laura shared that a lot of folks come to her saying, “I’m just going to take some time and rest and reset.” When she pushes them on what that means on a daily basis, they can usually plan until about lunch before they struggle to think how to fill their time. Most then either resort to panic applying to jobs before they're ready, or just letting their calendar fill up with things “without any thought or rhyme or reason.”
Laura avoided this problem in her own sabbatical by giving a theme to each month, and letting that guide her activities. Her first month was all about “play” to help her get some of her professional mojo back. As part of this, she went on a cruise with her daughter that had no Internet access to break the habit of being on her phone. The second month was focused on “pause” to reset from her burnout, and she went on a meditation retreat. Finally, she moved into a “plan” phase where she explored different job opportunities to understand what she wanted to do next.
Time considerations, flexibility matter
Lyndall guides her clients through a similar process of creating pillars of how they want to spend their time. “Those themes become an important anchor to come back to when the road gets a bit confusing or rocky on sabbatical, which it always does,” she shared.
“In corporate careers we’re not necessarily allowed to experiment and fail and try things quickly—a sabbatical is a great opportunity to do that.”
But she also encourages people to be flexible with their vision as they learn more about themselves. She shared a story of a client who planned to use his sabbatical to make a career change, but quickly realized he hated the new field after trying a course so allowed himself to pivot. “In corporate careers we’re not necessarily allowed to experiment and fail and try things quickly—a sabbatical is a great opportunity to do that.”
Finally, she said, make sure you’re realistic with how much you can squeeze into the time you have off. “Doing too much is the number one sabbatical killer.” Instead, let a sabbatical be your chance to tap into a slower pace of life.