70% of professionals making more than $40,000 a year say they dream of taking a year off. Yet only a tiny fraction of them ever will. Why? Because they let some obstacle—or a whole, obstinate obstacle course—stand in their way. Those barriers can come from your employer, family, or friends, and rest assured they will. But they can also come from your own head, which may host obstructions so big they can overshadow your best intentions.
Here’s a look at some of those obstacles, plus some quick retorts to help you get around them.
Ouch. That’s a hard one. Money is such a touchy subject, and most of us possess various financial dysfunctionalities and talk about fiscal fitness way more than we exercise it. So only you really know whether or not you can afford a Getaway—in money or time.
But you may be richer than you think. Just for perspective, remember that you live in the richest country on the planet, during periods of unprecedented economic and lifestyle expansion. If you’re reading this, you’re probably educated and curious and solvent. So maybe you’re halfway there—at least compared to a peasant (although they may have more freedom).
For most people, scheming a Sabbatical will force a face-off with your priorities—and demand a closer look at how your money is being spent. Consider a recent financial-planning commercial that disguises itself as a car ad. After getting you excited about a sexy luxury vehicle, the voice states that a lifetime of driving fancy cars can keep $325,000 from reaching your retirement account. Heck, even those daily doses of Starbucks add up to multiple digits fast. There are so many choices we make each day that have financial consequences.
So what are your money pits? Cars? Clothes? Hobbies? Dining out? Home improvement? Vegas visits? Examine your priorities (and your spending) a bit, and see if you’re putting your money where your values are. If you discover that you agree, in principal, with the bumper sticker that says
The most important things in life aren’t things
you may be ready to shift your spending toward a profoundly enriching experience like a Big Break.
You may also be ready to take a more critical look at our rabid consumer culture. Let’s face it, most discretionary U.S. dollars are being used to score stuff in malls rather than buy freedom in Maui, Malaysia, or the mountains of Montana.
Heck, America has a stuff problem so severe that charities routinely turn down clothing and other donations, and one of the fastest-growing business sectors is storage lockers and “pods.” Indeed, many people seek larger homes simply because the one they’re in is “stuffed.” Ish!
Which do you need more: a life-changing Getaway or more nifty new possessions? You get to decide.
Who are you kidding? They’ll love it. Especially if you involve them in the process. Like any of us, kids can be resistant to change. But the time you spend talking about the idea and allaying their fears can go a long way toward building excitement—and getting help with all the tasks you’ll need to do before you get on your way.
If it’s education you value, might not a Sabbatical as a family hold more learning potential than same old same old in the classroom? Many around-the-worlders home school along the way, working out a curriculum beforehand. Principals and teachers try to be flexible about these things, so just ask. And as for soccer and piano and Cub Scouts, it may be unfortunate to miss out. But those things will always be there, so you need not salute (and sacrifice to) them from here to eternity.
It’s true, some times may be better than others for carting the kids. But that’s probably more about personal taste than steadfast rules. Some people love to travel with immobile infants who sleep a lot. Others prefer the company of youngsters who can communicate and carry their own weight. Remember, it can take years to make a Getaway happen. So if you think your twins will be ready at age 8, start scheming a take-off when they turn five.
Oh sure, you could just wait until you actually retire, and then spend lots of time with your children. But they won’t be children then, will they. So why not set the precedent now? Restore family values. Run away together.
It’s true, taking a leave of absence could be a backward career move at some point, for somebody, somewhere. It’s also possible that time off is exactly what your career needs (even if you don’t).
Could it also be possible that you are one of those workers who is convinced the world will stop turning if you’re not on duty from now until death do you part? If so, get over yourself. Or at least begin to work on getting over your largest obstacle: You are either too indispensable, or too delusional. Or you’re addicted to your work: You’re a workaholic, and the best treatment is temporary abstinence.
Elsewhere in this site, we take on the topic of how one defines “life’s work.” For now, consider that some people truly do define their identity by what they do for a living; they are (apparently) happy with unrelenting responsibility, intense stress, and long hours. They are convinced their exertion is essential.
As for the rest of us, we’re equally convinced that jobs are essential only to buy our essentials and, of course, our freedom. We view ourselves as contract laborers, really, eager to expedite our duties, pick up the paycheck, and get on to better things. Our job title says only so much about how we see ourselves.
These aren’t black and white images. And we may find ourselves at various places on the commitment spectrum at different times throughout our careers. Fortunately, BreakAways are vital to our long-term vitality in either case.
Unfortunately, burnout can happen both to those driven by performance and those driven by paycheck. So if you’re feeling frayed around the edges, maybe that break you’ve been waiting for is, indeed, a Big Break.
As mentioned earlier, half of “Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work for in America” now include Sabbaticals in their basic benefits package—according to the Wall Street Journal. So there’s a chance that your employer is already ready to accommodate you, or will be soon. Moreover, the definition of retirement is changing fast as the Baby Boomers enter that club; many plan to work later in life, but also intermittently and in new fields. In the context of a 40-50 year career, six months off simply isn’t the ridiculous idea it once was. Revolutionary? Let’s hope so. Radical? Heavens, no.
If you’ve got benefits while you’re gone and a job to come home to, you’ve got it better than most Temporary Retirees. But if your firm firmly won’t go for it, and they don’t even welcome the conversation, maybe a better match is a firm that’s more flexible. Take a breather between positions.
Naturally, there will be times when it simply wouldn’t work to leave your job for a while. That’s fine, since a BreakAway only happens every several years anyway. But it’s never too early to start opening windows of opportunity.
And remember, we’re going to be willing to work five years longer later—to pay back the five years we took for Temporary Retirement. So in the end, the difference to the bottom line is negligible. Meanwhile, the difference to the top line—what you receive—is inestimable.
If you’re self-employed, and are your own boss, then just give yourself approval. Set some ground rules, of course. And treat your clients well. But don’t delay: Start planning an adventure every five or ten years as your primary company perk.
Should you bring your work on your Sabbatical? That’s your call, but less is usually more. One notable exception to that notion is if you want to test the mobility of your business. Another is if you absolutely need the cash flow to go. It’s relatively easy to be interconnected, if you must. So you may well find that working on the run allows you to be anywhere, anytime. For some, a PermaSabbatical is within reach.
Having said that, however, you do deserve a break. The self-employed may be the hardest-working people in America. So stay as plugged in as you need to—especially if that’s what gives you the courage to go. But try life unplugged now and then. Your batteries will recharge better, and likely last longer.
Yes, we all have too many commitments. And we treat them ever-so reverently. But must they determine the past, present, and future now and forever? Will we even remember them in ten years? No. But would we remember our BreakAway to Costa Rica in thirty years? Absolutely!
Again, there will be times in life when a BreakAway is out of the question. Wouldn’t be prudent. Not during the first year of a new job. Not the same year you become PTA president. Not during football season if your son’s a quarterback. And so on.
But chances are, at some point, your responsibilities will serendipitously lighten. Especially if you begin to consciously shed them in order to get serious about your Big Break. And you know what? Your obligations really can and will wait.
Your stuff will be fine. More to the point, you’ll be fine without your stuff. And when you get home, you may wonder how you ever acquired so much stuff that you didn’t need or miss for months on end. If you can’t leave it, you’re a slave to your stuff. Ish! (You may love your old bed more than ever, though.)
As for your house, you might be surprised at how easy it is to walk away. Most bills can be paid automatically. Most services (lawn, snow removal) can be prepaid and written off. Your neighbors—and your security system—will likely keep watch for you. And if you think you want someone renting or living there, just look around. You may have an acquaintance who’s looking to move and could use the time between dwellings. And colleges are a great place to post an ad, since temporary faculty is common, and students often need housing. Your church may have ideas. Or your workplace. Or you may want to just let it sit empty for a while; professional house-checkers are available.
Admittedly, this is a tricky detail—especially for people who believe their home is their castle. But even kings and queens get to get away. Otherwise, they’re stuck inside their own moat. So try not to lock yourself in. A larger world awaits outside your own walls.
Embarking on a sabbatical without family approval is risky territory. Proceed only if you’ve got a good family therapist (who moonlights as a travel agent).
If nobody’s on board with your idea, you could go alone. And many relationships in this day and age allow such independence, but only you and your honey know for sure. Or maybe there will come a time when your mate is needed elsewhere, and you’d be apart anyway. Watch for such possibilities, if you’re open to going solo.
But chances are, your significant other is just caught up in his or her own obstacle course (or too comfortable sitting on their Big Buts). They can’t imagine how it would all work, or who would do the planning. They may fear something they can’t even explain. It’s your job to describe the rosy picture—and lay out a way to color in the numbered shapes. Somebody is going to have to champion and sell this idea, and it looks like it’s going to be you. But if you truly believe in it, your passion should be infectious.
Then again, you may lose. The good news: Life is long (with any luck). Patience and persistence almost always pay off. Give it time. And remember to repeat one of our favorite five-word mantras: Everything is right on schedule.
If you have pets, and you love them, good for you. Pets are a proven stress reducer, and make great friends.
If they are such great friends, however, they will understand. If it makes no sense to bring them, they’ll accommodate your journey by visiting someone else for a while. This enables Fido or Kitty to take a “Pet Sabbatical.” (They too need to get away now and then, you know.) There’s probably a friend or neighbor who’d love to share some time with them. You’ve found a win-win-win.
If you want to go, you’ll unleash yourself from your animals. If your animals’ bite is worse than their bark, and they simply won’t let you, well, maybe they’ll retire themselves any year now. Use that window to wander.
If that’s the case, then perhaps you need to get to work at how you see yourself. By the time you finish your mental makeover, you may be motivated and mobile enough to go.
Of course, you may be a dreamer, and not a doer. Someone who reads about hobbies rather than does them. Who collects exercise equipment rather than uses it. You may never take the steps, or the time, it takes to make a Sabbatical happen. And that’s okay. Dreaming is fun too (and beats doubting any day).
The truth is, most anyone who sets his or her mind to it can achieve some sort of a BreakAway somehow, somewhere, someday. Are you one of them? Just do it.
All you have is time—one lifetime. What you do with it is completely your pleasure, or your regret.