Previously on the Timetastic blog, we answered some common questions about sabbaticals - what they are, when to take them, and how long they should be.
Here, we’ll dive into the why - why you should take them, and what it means to become a career explorer. We’ll also share some top tips for travelling during your time off, and some ideas about what you can do once you’ve decided to take the plunge.
Be a Career Explorer
In their book The 100-Year Life, Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott argue that governments, individuals and businesses must start expecting and preparing for the numerous challenges that increasing life expectancy will bring.
They reckon changes in education are hugely important for everyone - rather than ‘front-loading’ people with a massive amount of schooling in their early years, designed to see them all the way through life - we should instead encourage lifelong learning and experimentation. This will be crucial for us to cope with the ever-changing pace of technology, culture and economics that our crazy future is going to bring.
They state that companies will have to change in order to stay competitive:
“Companies will reach out to the explorers; they will provide learning opportunities throughout a career; they will encourage sabbaticals and help fathers be involved parents; they will enable employees to stay longer and build in pathways that create more varied work.”
What do they mean by explorers? Explorers “investigate the world around them, discover what is out there, how it works, what they like and what they are good at.”
This seems like a great approach to both life and career.
And so the best way to make use of time off, Gratton & Scott argue, is to seek out crucible experiences:
“Rather than simply reading a book or visiting a website, these are real, face-to-face, visceral events. At such times, people are able to glimpse the totality of human existence; the life that got these people to this place, the pressures they are under, and the opportunities they face."
These are the episodes in life where you walk in the shoes of others - feel their joy, pain, anguish and exhilaration. They can take many forms, from simply living in another city for a while, to spending time in a different context - like volunteering in a refugee camp, working on a medical ship, or doing agricultural work out in the sunshine.
Taking a sabbatical is a superb opportunity to gain such fulfilling experiences, and come back stronger and wiser. Travelling is one of the best ways to be an explorer, of course - here's a few things to bear in mind.
Advice on travelling for a career break
Earlier this year, I took a career break and decided to go freelance and go travelling, at the same time! After three years in London, my marketing career hit a crossroads, and it was time for a change. I packed my bags, told my landlord I was moving out, and bought a one-way plane ticket to Helsinki.
I had about 4 months of funds I could safely burn, and no major commitments. I thought I might never have the chance again, so why not? If it didn’t work out, I’d go back to Manchester and look for regular employment again. If it did work out, I’d be laughing.
I spent most of my summer backpacking around Scandinavia and the Baltics, covering Finland, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, finishing in Austria, where I flew home from Vienna. Most of the time I stayed in hostels, and didn’t plan more than a few days in advance.
Having had time and space out there on the road, I was able to renew my creativity, reignite my passion for business and marketing, and fire up my desire to come back and build the next step in my career.
While I absolutely loved it, and don’t regret a thing, I did learn a fair bit about what works and what doesn’t on the road. Here are my tips for exploring well:
1) Don’t travel for the sake of travelling.
The feeling of freedom when you set out on an adventure can be intoxicating, especially if you’ve been feeling restrained for a while.
But if you’re not going places with a purpose, it’s easy to lose focus and just drift. I met people who were constantly travelling, hopping hostel-to-hostel for years at a time. To be honest, they seemed a bit boring, and not particularly happy!
I'd suggest picking a specific place or route, deciding why you want to do it, and thinking about what you might see and learn there, before buying your ticket.
2) Constantly making decisions is exhausting
Not having a plan means that you’re faced with the paradox of choice - the exhaustion of having to decide every day what you should do, and second-guessing yourself if it doesn’t feel right.
You can constantly wonder if you should have done more, seen more sights, met more people. This make it difficult to know when to relax and when to adventure - both are important on a big trip. Making decisions up front and sticking to them can really help.
3) Working from coffee shops can be a grind
I reckon that building a business while going on a big adventure can’t really be done. Travelling is mentally exhausting - especially if you’re in a place where you don’t speak the native language. Every time you change places, you’ve got to figure out how things work and where things are.
I never found a hostel that was comfortable to work in for long stretches either - same with coffee shops. I could manage a good 2 - 4 hours in a café before feeling like I was overstaying my welcome - and often that’s not enough, especially when freelancing involves both doing client work and finding it in the first place.
4) European cities start to look the same after a while
Beautiful places can be stunning. Your seventh beautiful place in two weeks, though, might not have the same effect - avoiding the tourist traps is a must. This comic from Itchy Feet says it better than I could:
5) The best part is often the people
I was lucky enough to have a friend in Tampere, a few hours north of Helsinki. I wouldn’t have gone there otherwise, but I was delighted to spend a couple of days cycling around the small Finnish city, surrounded by lakes and greenery. They call it ‘The Manchester of Finland’ - a compliment, I assure you.
This came about by me sending a message - “I’ll be vaguely nearby soon, wanna meet up?” - and going from there. It made for one of my favourite memories of the trip, and other friends I met along the way made my solo travel a much more rewarding experience. If you can use the magic of the internet to find people that share your interests, your trip can become something really memorable.
6) Don’t do it for Instagram - do it for you.
Remember the reason you’re going. Be an explorer. Seek out 'crucible' experiences. It’s tempting to photograph everything and share it on social media - a great way to keep in touch with your friends & fam, letting them know you’re having a good time. But remember, you’re not doing this to make others jealous - you’re doing it for you.
Take regular downtime to relax and recover, and maybe write in a private journal to reflect on your experiences. Keep your focus at the front of your mind and remember why you started travelling in the first place.
Sabbatical ideas for the adventurous
Still tempted to get out there? Here's a few ideas:
- Volunteer - we’ve mentioned travel, but this could just as easily be on your doorstep. Find out which charities and nonprofits are nearby, and close to your heart. If your skills match their needs, go for it!
- Go WWOOFing - a scheme where you live on a farm in exchange for helping out with agricultural tasks. Imagine doing that in a valley in the Swiss Alps!
- Take a ‘jobbatical’ - a Work and Travel program is halfway between a sabbatical and employment, and involves remotely working while on the move, in an organized experience, free from the travel challenges mentioned above.
- Work on a project - is it time to write that novel? Record that album? Start that side business you’ve been dreaming about? Now might be your chance.
- Get physical - fan of the outdoors? Some time out of work means you can finally run that ultramarathon, or sail around the world in a rubber dinghy.
- Go on a psychedelic journey - visit an Ayahuasca shaman in the Peruvian Jungle, eat psychedelic mushrooms in Amsterdam, or ingest edibles in Edmonton (this one might be difficult to explain on the CV, though... do these at your own risk!)
The future of your career
As we’ve seen, it’s likely companies will increase their commitment to sabbatical programs in future. It’s a great way to refresh your career, learn new things, and see life from a different angle, and employers are wising up to the benefits it can bring their businesses in the long run.
Why not give it a go? Make sure to send us a postcard!