I usually refrain from giving easy answers and offering one-size-fits-all solutions. But somehow this is a format that seems to work well for blogs (and hey, you clicked on it – Q.E.D.). And to be honest – I just enjoyed writing this and so I hope you can get some out of it as well!
This said, please regard the following words as guidelines and general inspiration to navigate your own path, not as a magic pill prescription that changes your life in 30 seconds or less.
From my personal experience and what I get from friends, a sabbatical leave has always been a rewarding experience in multiple ways – be it just a month off in between jobs or an intentional prolonged period of time to really get away from everyday-life and the thought patterns that come with it. However, this article is not intended to convince you of this concept but rather addressing those already on their journey through this unscripted or at least self-scripted episode of their life.
Obviously traveling the world is the option of choice when it comes to leaving your daily routing behind. Steven Kotler, author of “The Rise of Superman", identified a “Rich Environment” as one of the key triggers for the in many ways beneficial flow state. He defines it as
"an environment with lots of novelty, unpredictabilty and complexity."
And while not limited to times of the consciously created freedom of a sabbatical, more than anything this frame opens the possibility to create a flow-supporting and adventurous environment for you.
Emerging – The Journey Back To Everyday-Life
No matter if you’re sipping cocktails at a beach in Thailand after having travels half the worlds countries, reading dozens of books in a cabin in a remote forest or meditating in a monastery, at one point the thought of returning to your everyday-life may arise – and be it just because you run out of funds or your boss expects you back at the office. But from my experience, something within you may have changed and you realize you cannot quite go back to to the life you used to live. Somehow you have gotten used to a level of freedom, a sense of being yourself that you just don’t want to be restricted by a 9-5 corporate job anymore.
So you have a certain degree of clarity what you don’t want. Good! But navigating from here, how do you make use of your remaining free time to develop a lifestyle, that is more aligned with who you are now and what you are longing for?
Here are a few starting points that will hopefully trigger some inspiration in you:
1. Be Still – Only An Empty Cup Can Be Filled
I like to compare the search for a new job or what to do with your life with the image of a child sitting in a paddling pool trying to make the waves go away by hitting them. The result is obviously just more waves. Likewise, many people looking for a new direction get into a state of actionism where they are just creating new waves but don’t notice when actually something new and inspiring comes their way. So the practice is to allow for some silence and stillness in your life. Be it meditation, going for a walk, enjoying nature. Whatever floats your boat, you will notice how just a few moments of stillness on a regular basis can affect your life.
2. Surround Yourself With Inspiring People
Scott Dinsmore sums it up beautifully in his TED-Talk:
"You are the average of the five people you spend most of your time with."
So the question that follows is: How can you create an environment where you surround yourself with people who are inspiring to you? Who is it that you might even be a little scared to talk to because they are so great at what they are doing? Who is living the kind of life that you would like to live already? And who is someone who might be challenging you in the way you do things, who doesn’t let you get away with mediocracy? These are the people to surround yourself with!
This can be a mentor or a coach, but also a group of peers, colleagues working in a field you’re excited about. Going to meetups, other local events our workshops are a great way to get to know people (obviously). But also contacting people who spark your curiosity directly over LinkedIn or Xing is a promising source for new contacts.
And if you think you are the only one looking for something beyond the mainstream career, check out networks (like tbd*!) for likeminded people.
3. Let Go Of Thoughts About Money
One of the number one creativity killers in this arena is the topic of money. How can I possibly make a living from my passion?
I’d suggest to take a different angle. Allow yourself to really identify what excites you and what it is you would like to do with your life regardless of money. Once you have found something – and only then – ask yourself the following questions:
- What do I want to contribute?
- How do I want to serve others?
- And who is receiving value from what I am doing?
This will lead you to someone who will be willing to give something back to you.
Here’s a great video from Alan Watts on this topic:
4. Life Your Life – Not That Of Your Ancestors
Rich Litvin, a coach whose work I deeply admire said:
"Two things are for certain fore everyone: You are going to die and you don’t know when it’s going to happen."
Recently Steve Jobs’ supposedly last words went viral on facebook. Regardless of the authenticity of the source, they are a call to everyone still having the opportunity to change the course of their lives in front of them:
"At this moment, lying on the sick bed and recalling my whole life, I realize that all the recognition and wealth that I took so much pride in, have paled and become meaningless in the face of impending death."
Death is a constant reminder of how precious our lives are. But many of us live in the limited conditionings of our parents, who again often took the narrative from their ancestors without challenging it much. More and more people wake up to the fact that life is not about being successful in the traditional, calvinistic sense.
In her book “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying” the author Bronnie Ware identifies as the number one regret:
"I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me."
You only have one life to live. Become conscious about what you value most and don’t settle for a life that is representing any less than that. Think outside the box and let go of old believes on how things or you are supposed to be to be loved, connected and worthy. This will lead you to the source from which you can truly live a congruent life where you contribute with your gifts and what you are called to do in this world. And this world desperately needs conscious men and women who live and give from an inner place of excitement – not shame or obligation.
5. Send A Questionnaire To Your Friends
This is a wonderful way to get some direct feedback (another trigger of flow – according to Steven Kotler). Send a short questionnaire about you to people who know you well and whose opinion you value. Ask them to answer it for you. You can come up with your own questions, but here are a few examples to get you started:
- What are my greatest gifts?
- When do you experience me most happy?
- Where do you see me in five years?
- Where am I holding back? What do I refuse to look at in my life?
This questionnaire can also be a starting point for a deeper dialogue with your friends and family. How often do we have these meaningful conversations that could bring so much value and connection in our lives? Maybe you want to answer these questions for your friends in return?
6. Start Now – Take One Step At A Time
Even though you might still have six months until your employer expects the old you back at the desk, now is the time to focus on what to do with your life and what truly excites you.
One key change in your life is to get into the habit of creating. Obviously by taking a sabbatical you proactively created your life already, i.e. not following the beaten path. But really making it a daily habit to choose consciously how you create your life – and be it just small things – will strengthen your creativity muscle and build a reinforcing feedback loop for the experience of actually being in charge of your life. This in turn will change your inner state tremendously. For me, this sense of proactively approaching my life is best captured by the sage Lao Tse:
"Bring things in order before they exist."
One way to do this is to set yourself the goal to become 1% better each week on a physical, emotional and mental level and to document and measure it. What small action can you do today to improve your body (health, eating, movement, …), your emotions (nurturing relationships, space/stillness, self care, …) and your mind (creative exercise, problem solving, concentration, …)?
Consistency trumps intensity so try to take small steps that don’t overwhelm you but make them a regular practice.
Going Beyond – The Idea Of The Great Escape
"Evils which are patiently endured when they seem inevitable become intolerable once the idea of escape from them is suggested." - Alexis de Tocqueville
To me, a sabbatical is more than an outer journey to exotic countries. It is much more about the inner state, the sense of freedom and aliveness.
Maybe this inner feeling, the connection with yourself that you enjoy so much about your travels can extend way beyond this limited time frame of the sabbatical.
What if this could last for the rest of your life? What if you never had to “work” again? What if this feeling was an inner place to come from while contributing to the world with your gifts?
About the Author
I am a professional coach and my passion is to support people in times of change! I have a degree in business studies, run start ups, worked for international NGOs and attended and hosted numerous coaching and facilitation trainings.
Originally published January 15, 2016