I broke the hamster wheel and the sky didn’t fall

Do you are find that you seem to be working harder with an ever growing to-do list, more pressures thrown your way because you do good work or making up for other people’s failings? Do you find that when your head hits the pillow late at night you can’t sleep for all the thoughts running through your brain, or worse you dream about your work (and not in a good way)? And joining meetings at 1AM with your global counterparts becomes the norm? And your relationship(s) start to suffer? You know it’s time for some self-evaluation… but it’s hard to do when you’re on the wheel, for all the momentum you keep creating all you seem to do is accelerate.

It really is not enough to go for a one week break to a retreat, or quick weekend away, or even a mental health day. The anxiety that sits like a pit in your stomach, an ache in your chest or a pounding in your head, yep you know what I mean, it comes back pretty quickly once on the wheel again. Breaking this kind of cycle takes months, or like me twelve months to truly feel free enough to think differently about life and work.

Sabbaticals I argue are a necessary part of life. Some may think it’s a luxury, that it can’t be afforded because of the big mortgages, kids schooling, break in routine, or that it may affect your career prospects. I know because I heard people tell me, “I wish I could do what you are doing, but I can’t”. Well you can, but it requires big changes, a bit of courage and a perceived big risk. But the minute you start moving in the direction of making the change, you start to feel lighter, less encumbered and the minute you take the plunge, well you never look back. Even just a few months out of regular life and you start to see that maybe it’s not the only way to live your life or indeed work.

With fresh perspective comes the ability to see new opportunities, to create a different way to work and also become a better worker with all your creative energy reinvigorated. So even if you go back to what you were doing, you have hopefully had enough time to consider the bigger picture and the big questions. What do you want in life? Is this really it? Is there a bigger end goal that I am working towards? What am I really passionate about? Having a break away helps to give you the clarity to answer these questions.

My Aha! moment came about 13 months into our trip around Australia when I started to ask myself what was I really passionate about as a child and teen? For me it was the love of writing. I have a long journey to take with it, but I have a plan now that was impossible to see when I was on the hamster wheel and after such a long time I feel excited!

I am an extreme example, we planned our break from life for three years, sold off all assets, saved and then saved again. That’s almost two years we spent as a family sharing an experience of a lifetime and I highly recommend it to anyone. But you don’t need to take it that far, make a plan and build contingency to allow you to take a break. If you are good at what you do and have built credibility in your organisation and industry, well, you would be surprised at how open your employer may be.

And I would encourage organisations out there to include and encourage paid sabbaticals as part of your offering and you will be rewarded with even more loyalty, wisdom and creativity from people who truly care about your business.

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