The Importance of Taking a Pause: Lessons From a Year-Long Sabbatical

It’s good to reconnect! As you may remember, I took a year-long sabbatical in 2019 from work. It was an amazing gift and I am truly so very grateful for it. People have asked how I spent my time, and I thought I’d share a bit about my experience.  While the time could have unfolded in many ways, for me and my style, I thought a lot about how I would know if I used this time well.  I created an intention “to feast on the wonder and love in life”. From here I identified several areas of focus that included:

1. Slow down and reset to be more present rather than reactive

2. Cultivate a daily personal relationship with spirit

3. Deepen important relationships

4. Feed my strength of curiosity and interest in the world

5. Reflect on the past, assess the present, and plan for future.

As someone who prefers structure, from here I reviewed my sabbatical list of things I could do (see the reflection exercise) and starting prioritizing actions in my calendar while trying to be careful of being no more than 80 percent full, and holding a balance of planning and space for spontaneity.  I had a daily journaling practice and a weekly sabbatical check-in with myself to help keep my priorities in focus. I’m now on the other end of it, and entering the new phase of transition and integration. How do I process and carry forward the important learning I received to inform my life going forward?

Personal Lessons From a Year-long Sabbatical

Taking a break is important, and I get that not everyone can take significant time off from work. But with the belief we can learn through others- I thought I’d share some reflections. To try to keep it brief, I’m just bulleting out some major thoughts, each which has a whole story behind it. Perhaps something will spark you to reflect on what a pause of some sort might offer you.

1.I shaved my head bald. (It was something I have always been curious to do- and a bit afraid). I felt strong, vulnerable, and curious about the positive reaction I had from so many people (especially women)

2. I was often told I looked younger- I attribute this to lower stress levels. This got me thinking about what would we all be like with less stress in our lives?

3. Even though I had no work challenges to deal with, my mind still got hooked by stuff, which made me realize the nature of the mind is to be a meaning-making machine. Keep with meditation.

4. I’m a “doer,” and I’m inclined toward filling the calendar regardless of what I have to do, so I need to be mindful that “just because I can, doesn’t mean I should”.

5. De-cluttering my physical environment created calm and space for new to come in. I love opening my drawers and seeing organized shirts.

6. As an extrovert, while I was initially nervous to spend so much of my day alone, I learned to really cherish the quiet. A five-day solo backpacking trip on the Long Trail was a highlight.

7. It was actually a gift to have a finite amount of time- it helped me sort what was important to attend to now versus in the future. There is more in life than I will ever experience, and checking in with my head, heart and gut was essential to my discernment of how to spend my time.

8. Relationships take time- and if my head is filled with too much stuff it’s harder for me to be present. The next challenge for me is how to maintain presence when the workload increases.

9. I am joyful in my body and love to move. I’m in the best shape I’ve been in since my gymnastics days and was thrilled to experience my body’s strength and ability with training. (One of my goals was to ride 100 miles in a day which Jon and I completed in September in NYC.)

10. When I am quiet there is more space to connect with spirit. Having a life grounded in spirit is essential to me. Sharing this about me with others is vulnerable and authentic.

11. It is rare to have quality time with each of my daughters separately, and so planning a trip to travel individually with each of them helped us relate in new ways, and created amazing memories to look back on.

12. Novelty is energizing to me and helps me feel alive. I gave the gift of a “novel date night” to Jon once a month- and it was fun to get out of our regular routine. I had the space to follow my nose a bit in topics that I became interested in (for example: learning some Spanish before traveling, trauma and epigenetics, how to keep backpacking food bear-proof).

13. Thinking about my own death is also a way to feel alive and present to the wonder of life. I wrote down my wishes for my funeral, and wrote letters to Jon and my daughters in the event I should die unexpectedly with no time for goodbyes.

What would you be curious to learn about yourself in a pause?  

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