Purposeful wandering: planning a sabbatical

| November 23, 2018

If you’re a busy professional with a stressful and demanding job, you may find yourself asking what it’s all for. The pressure of a corporate position takes a mental and physical toll – wondering whether it’s all worthwhile can make it worse. No matter how you earn a living, achieving a healthy physical/psychological/spiritual balance in life is essential. It’s difficult to feel fulfilled and personally rewarded if your life is out of balance.

Some people opt for a sabbatical from work, a period of extended leave during which they seek to know themselves better and discover what they really expect from life. It’s a spiritual “deep dive” that can be physically invigorating and life-transforming and can even boost your career. But a sabbatical requires considerable planning, funding, and an abundant spirit of adventure.

When and how

Timing is an important factor, particularly if your intention is to return to your former role. The same is true of a spouse or partner, whose life will be deeply impacted by your absence or by joining you. Consider going at a time when things aren’t as busy or demanding at work, and when your partner is better-positioned to deal with this change. Ensure there’s enough security with your job situation before committing to a sabbatical or try negotiating with your employer (you may have to if you’re seeking paid leave).

Of course, if you’ve decided this is something you really need to do, that recharging your spiritual batteries comes first, you may be prepared to make a new start when you return, so job security might not be your first concern. In a way, that’s ideal for someone seeking deeper meaning in their life than the demands of a 9 to 5 job. Once you’ve made the decision and all’s clear at work and at home, it’s time to start planning.

Financial planning

People go on sabbatical for many reasons, some of them personal, some professional … or both. Whatever your rationale, having sufficient funds is crucial if you’re to reap the benefits of this experience. Meet with a financial advisor to map out your plans and what’s needed to make it happen financially, especially if it means getting by on a reduced (or no) income. A professional can help you make the most of your financial assets and use them as the tools they are: a means to a larger end.

Consider carefully how to manage debtwhile you’re away. You may need to pay it off ahead of time, or perhaps set up a system of automatic payments so nothing falls behind and leaves you in a negative cash and credit position, which could undo much of the good you intended to achieve. Be sure you have an emergency fund in place and shop around for traveler’s insurance.

If you’re planning to hike through the Pyrenees or backpack your way around Australia, you’ll need to spend time doing both financial and logistical planning, identifying hotels, hostels, and campgrounds so you can keep things as flexible as possible. If you’re headed for a remote location that lacks public transportation, it may be necessary to purchase a vehicle, which will save you money in the long run over renting or continually hiring Lyft or Uber drivers. You’ll need to consider carefully what kind of vehicle to buy depending on the terrain (i.e. heavily wooded, mountainous, etc.).

Keep it flexible

A journey of personal discovery is different than a two-week vacation to the beach or Europe, where timetables and flight schedules predominate. A sabbatical is your opportunity to transform your life and your perspective, so build in as much flexibility wherever you go.

Be prepared to change things up if circumstances dictate, and don’t get discouraged if all doesn’t go as planned. Some of your most rewarding experiences may come from having to improvise and go in directions you’d never expected.

If you just can’t get out of a rut in your career or your life in general, a sabbatical could be the best way to get in touch with yourself and could be what you need to feel fulfilled. Do your research to see if it’s something you can do without upending your marriage or family, make sure you can afford it, and be prepared to stay flexible. This could be the opportunity of a lifetime.