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Sabbatical Reflection: The first 90 Days

I’ve traversed an ocean, a desert, and a mountain in the last three months. The funny thing is I’m not even winded – just completely relaxed. Crossing and exploring so much territory is the stuff of true adventure and I am drinking in every last experience, conversation, and feeling – some existential, some utterly benign and others quite disruptive.

In all these metaphorical expeditions, I am seeing and learning and the biggest reflections are being imprinted onto me like a new tattoo…

  1. Be small. Really small. On purpose.

  2. Mama always said to look people in the eye.

  3. Put your wallet away.

  4. If you love what you do, why would you retire?

  5. Spread the sabbatical message.

Being small

It is in my DNA to live big and seek achievement. My mother is seriously a badass of life and has crafted a living for herself out of strength and determination. She has a uniquely strong sense of her power and if you need her, she will show up with her Big Badass Cape on.

If you are hungry and homeless and need a meal, she will prepare you a Thanksgiving dinner. If you ask her to walk a mile in your shoes, she will buy you a new pair and walk a marathon with you. If you put a mountain in front of her, she will leap it in one bound. She is one of the biggest influences in my life and I grew up wanting to be BIG like her.

Big was always in my sights but over the last few months I have been intentionally living small. I have been setting small goals and each day I establish a small purpose…

Maybe it is to call someone I haven’t talked to in years or prepare a new meal I pinned on Pinterest last week. Maybe it is to walk 30 minutes more than the day before or invite a new friend to lunch. Maybe it is to do something small with my mother or notice all the small ways she teaches me about the world still today.

And a funny thing has happened. I feel bigger than ever before. By being small.

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Look people in the eye

Email, text message, social media – it’s better than being locked in a bunker but it’s a poor substitute for real interaction. I want to see your face, hear your laughter, watch your eyes light up with a memory from long ago.

Intentionally and mindfully making connections is a big part of my sabbatical days. Hikes with friends from long ago, loud cheering on the sidelines with our family as we watch our high school senior complete her last soccer season, early morning walks with my husband as we debate the best college majors for a new generation, yoga with women who participate in a community of love and faith, car rides with our sweet daughter as she navigates 10th grade, getting into a groove with our Girlfriend’s Supper Club, spirited competition with our son to determine the Parcheesi champion in the house…

Real meaningful contact is on the priority list. Meet me for a walk, come over for dinner, call me to tell me the hilarious thing your daughter said today – P.S. phones still allow us to hear each other‘s voices not just send cartoon emojis back and forth. Try it – it works.

Leave your wallet at home 

When I decided to go on sabbatical, the thought of giving up a steady paycheck was terrifying. I’ve had a job since I was 14. So to make my mind calm down, I came up with the idea of not buying anything for myself – expectations to this rule are books and travel because I haven’t lost touch with all reality – I am not going into hiding just hiatus.

I’ve realized two things – zero tolerance is best for me and my email is a wasteland.

Some people like to set budgets by giving themselves goals or allowances but I found that having a budget of $0.00 was much better for me. If I had $5 or $100 to spend, it would likely occupy space that I wanted to focus elsewhere. By taking the distraction off the table, I never had to think about personal purchases.

My personal email should all be on automatic delete status. I realized that all those offers of 40% off and free shipping sucked me into the ‘what if I am missing the greatest deal ever on the thing I don’t really need’ chasm. How many things have I left in the cart after 10 minutes of browsing? Minutes add up to hours that I will never get back. Opening my email and hitting delete has not only kept my wallet fatter but it has given me more time in the day.

Retirement is not mandatory

If the idea of getting away from what I am doing is so appealing that I put a date on the calendar (circling it in red marker and telling everyone when the blessed day will arrive) and saving diligently to obtain my freedom (pouring over the quarterly status statement hoping to always see a ‘green light’ for my progress and retreating into mild depression when the market performance gives me the dreaded ‘yellow light’ – because extending the date is not an option since it’s already circled in red ink), conceivably I am not in the best place to spend the next few decades of my life. Perhaps I should re-evaluate the position and not the portfolio?

And then there is the whole debate about what happens to us when we retire. For many people the lack of mental stimulation and activity is a death sentence. When all you have known is contributing and belonging and interacting with others who have a shared purpose, I am beginning to believe it is counterintuitive to just cut that off. Some people excel at retirement and it is a glorious season for them but I am now wondering if it is a part best cast for someone else as long as I am well suited in my role.

I realize being on sabbatical and opining that “ceasing work would be detrimental” has an air of irony but I believe there is a difference between an intermission and an ending. I don’t know if I want my show to end – encores are truly the best part of most productions and I am hoping that each act will only inspire me to keep going not cancel the show.

‘You get a sabbatical, you get a sabbatical, YOU ALL GET A SABBITICAL’ (Insert Oprah’s voice here)

All I can say about taking a sabbatical is this; if you think it is great, well it is. If you think you would enjoy it, well you would. If you don’t know what you would do, well you would figure it out and then enjoy the heck out of it.

If you think it would benefit you today or sometime down the road, I would say do it. Or call Oprah and she will tell you to do. And who can ignore Oprah?

While I don’t know what the next 90 days will hold, I know one important event that will occur in the next 30 days…

I added the Camino de Santiago to my sabbatical ‘to-do’ list at the very beginning and I am excited to complete a portion of the pilgrimage through Spain this month.

Big goals and small steps – oceans, deserts, and mountains are optional.


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