This article was originally posted on Forbes.com
The Untold Value Of A Professional Sabbatical
By: Tamara Schwarting
It might seem counterintuitive, but taking a temporary step away from my career might actually be the best step I’ve ever taken.
The professional sabbatical is an unsung hero of the career path. Throughout the course of my professional career, I’ve taken several sabbaticals. Looking back, it’s clear that these intentional times of refocusing have been some of the most significant times of personal and professional advancement.
Why don’t we talk much about the value of professional sabbaticals? We hear about them in academia or in religious vocations, but not much in other industries. In the US, sabbaticals are still seen with skepticism and fear. Many professionals are afraid to even explore the option, lest they put their job security and advancement in jeopardy.
The purpose of a sabbatical is to give an employee a chance to step back from their role at work and focus on personal enrichment and professional development. For some of us, a sabbatical comes after many years with the same company; for others, it comes at a time when we are between careers or considering a big life change. Though it can include times of rest and relaxation, a sabbatical is decidedly different than a vacation and it is not simply “time off.” Some people use the time to study, some to regroup and reconnect with family or friends. Others dig into a neglected hobby or spend time volunteering with a beloved organization.
A few years ago, a colleague of mine spent his month-long sabbatical as an intern at a winery in the Pacific Northwest. Winemaking had been a hobby of his for a few years and, when he knew he needed a professional “re-boot,” digging deeper into winemaking seemed like a good way to make it happen. In addition to learning more about making wine, he learned the value of relationships and making connections in new, unfamiliar scenarios. Or maybe your situation is similar to Amanda’s, who after suddenly finding herself being downsized from a large corporation, decided to use the time to focus on herself and her family.
Whether the sabbatical is a few weeks or a year, the goal is to return to work with more focus and energy. Judging by how many employers are warming up to the idea of offering a sabbatical to their employees, we can assume these breaks deliver on their promise. Even the Harvard Business Review reports on their positive effect.
How can you make it happen for you?
Maybe you’re thinking of pursuing a sabbatical for yourself but the task seems daunting. Planning one will require a lot of preparation, but it’s not a lost cause. With plenty of forethought and communication with your employer, even those in entry-level positions can make the dream of a sabbatical a reality.
Before you get too far in the process, take some time for introspection. Consider what is motivating you to want to take a sabbatical and what you are hoping to achieve. Ask yourself what parts of your personal and professional development have been the most neglected.
Spend time brainstorming how to pay for your sabbatical. Some companies offer formal programs (see this Fortune article) and other employers may entertain the idea of helping cover some costs or subsidizing professional development.
This phase can vary greatly depending on your career situation and the length of your sabbatical. It may take far longer to plan your sabbatical than to execute it, but formalizing the logistical details of your time off will ensure it’s a success.
Consider how to budget your money during your time off, decide where you will stay, plan your travel routes, and schedule time with family and friends. Delegate work responsibilities while you are gone and have a plan for the transition back to work when you return.
This is the time to reap the benefit of the first two steps. As with anything in life and work, things won’t go exactly as planned, even with the best plan in place. But if you have built-in flexible time and money during your sabbatical, you can make a quick pivot to still achieve your goals.
Document your sabbatical experience and be prepared to share it when you return to work. What did you learn about yourself? What did you learn about the world? What new skills have you acquired that will help in your next season of life? How did you make it happen and how did it all come together?
Sharing your sabbatical experience with others will help to normalize the experience in your workplace and among your peers. And your budgets, schedules, etc., will all be beneficial for friends and colleagues who need help planning their own sabbatical.
During my sabbatical periods, I have traveled to experience new cultures and spent time reconnecting with myself, family, and friends. Most recently, I used a sabbatical to help a local nonprofit with their organizational restructuring. Each time, I have come back to work recharged and with a better sense of myself. I am able to contribute more fully in my workplace and feel more confident of the direction of my career.
Tamara Schwarting is the CEO of 1628 LTD., a curated coworking community of independent professionals and the professionally independent in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is also an executive level consultant in business processes and supply chain purchasing.
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