Escape the Daily Grind: Take a Radical Sabbatical
Are you ready to run screaming from a party the next time someone asks you what you do? Would you prefer to stab yourself in the eye with a fork than sit in your cubicle for one more minute? Do you ever feel like Free Willy before he escaped to freedom?
You’ve come to the right place! It’s time to take a seat in our Do Good Jobs canoe as we escape the daily grind and paddle the distant horizons of ‘radical sabbaticals’.
So, what is a radical sabbatical exactly?
Your regular vanilla “sabbatical” can be defined as ‘a period of time during which someone does not work at his or her regular job and is able to rest, travel, do research’. A “radical sabbatical” is an extreme and unconventional version of this, a double-chocolate-flake-shake-with-extra-sprinkles version, if you will. It’s a specific period of time in which you do utterly different things from your ordinary life with the intention of exploring new ways of living and working. It is, roughly put, an epic experiment of life and work.
How can a radical sabbatical help you in your career?
When we’re unhappy in our work, it can be all too easy to spend your time imagining what we would like to be doing. But how do we know what kind of work we’d enjoy if we have never experienced it? A radical sabbatical allows you to experiment with different ways of working and actually experience possibilities in action. It can stop you from being caught in a ‘what if’ mindset, and can give you the information you need to make an informed decision about which career(s) will work best for you.
If you’re bored, unhappy or vaguely restless, the decision to take a radical sabbatical can result in an overhaul of your perspective and create life-changing results.
But what do you DO on a radical sabbatical? Give me some actual examples.
You could do almost anything on a radical sabbatical, as long as it helps you explore new career possibilities. Online, you can find dozens of tales describing Microsoft veterans and management consultants who traveled, volunteered and wrote books while on their radical sabbaticals. This Guardian article features a woman who tried out 30 different jobs in one year by shadowing and volunteering each position.
A radical sabbatical is an experiment, and ideally should be linked to a hypothesis. For example, if your hypothesis is “I want to be a Doctor” your radical sabbatical may include one or more of the following:
- volunteering at a community health facility;
- shadowing a GP for a week; and/or
- arranging to sit in on medical school lectures.
Most radical sabbaticals involve one or more of the following: volunteering, travel, pursuing creative dreams (like writing a novel), shadowing a professional, interning or short-term roles that are radically different from your current employment. Some people save up and don’t earn while they’re taking their radical sabbatical, others need to work while they go.
A radical sabbatical can take five weeks or a year, it can take place in the ocean around Costa Rica, or in your Grandmother’s attic. It’s all up to you.
A case study: My own radical sabbatical
In late 2013 I felt restless and burnt-out. I had worked at seven ‘do good’ jobs over three years, mostly two or three at the same time. What did I really want to do? I wanted to see if I could write more. I imagined that working in a routine and hands-on job, such as gardening or waitressing, would allow me time and head space to focus on writing.
In early 2014 I took a six-month trip. I traveled in Vietnam and Thailand, worked at a tearoom in Glasgow for three months, wwoofed in northern England and spent a month walking as a pilgrim in the South of France. I learnt a lot. I learnt that working in a tearoom is really stressful, that I didn’t enjoy gardening as a job, that I am happiest spending a lot of time alone. But most importantly, I realised that (a) I missed doing ‘good’ work, and (b) spending time with loved ones was the most important thing.
When I returned to New Zealand I knew I wanted to apply for part-time low-stress roles and concentrate on writing in my free-time. So although the results were unexpected, if I hadn’t experimented with writing while working in a coffee shop, I might still be wondering ‘what if’.
Words of caution
While a radical sabbatical can help you figure out a new perspective, less radical methods of exploration may work better for you, depending on your lifestyle, loved ones and finances. As author Roman Krznaric suggests, another technique is to keep your regular job while experimenting with new projects and passions on the side:
You don’t need to dramatically resign from your job on Monday morning and step out into the unknown. Instead you can pursue what are called branching projects or temporary assignments on the side of your existing job.
A radical sabbatical can be stressful, time-consuming and costly. It can also be a breath of fresh air that may change your life forever.
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