The pandemic gave many of us a chance to re-evaluate our lives. Elle Redman looks at the benefits of taking a break and whether it’s time to take a sabbatical.
Picture this. It’s a late Monday morning in spring and you’re sat, barefoot, in a wide-open field. With your hands placed to heart centre, you take a deep breath and close your eyes. A wave of contentment, warm as the sun, washes over you. The clouds are moving slowly, as you do too.
Touching the dewy grass with your fingertips, you reach for your favourite reusable cup for a sip of hot coffee – the source that faithfully served and fuelled you during those frightfully early commutes to work.
After a few months away from your nine to five, you’re relishing in the simple joy of your sabbatical. And this morning, as you sit in the quietness of the field, you’re drinking the same blend of coffee, from the very same cup. But everything feels different. You feel different.
“Sabbaticals can have an enormous effect on the body, as our minds have room to detox and rejuvenate,” explains burnout and career coach, Bhavya Arora.
“By taking a break from your regular routine, pausing, breathing and just being still, you create more space to evaluate your life and career path. You might even tap into talents you didn’t know you had,” she suggests.
Since the pandemic, more people are considering the possibility of taking a sabbatical, and this comes as we grow in awareness of the long-term benefits of self-care.
According to a report by The Times, pre-pandemic, wellness sabbaticals were set to become a widespread phenomenon, with many people taking breaks from their careers to recharge their batteries and embrace a lifestyle in favour of a healthy work-life balance.
Since remote working has re-shaped both the present and future of how many of us work, along with rolled-over annual leave and quarantine hassles, extended breaks are predicted to continue growing in popularity post-Covid.
A different kind of work
Though seemingly a new and emerging trend, sabbaticals have been around for some time. The rich history of the word traces back to Biblical times and originally comes from the Latin sabbaticus, meaning ‘sabbath’. Sabbaticals traditionally occurred every seven years and provided people with a year of rest while they let their fields replenish.
Today, sabbaticals can take a myriad of forms but are generally characterised by a lengthy and intentional break from a career. While mostly used for travel and relaxation, others engage in personal or professional pursuits, reignite old passions, develop new interests, take courses, volunteer, or finally kickstart the projects they’ve been dreaming of for years.
Rather than an absence of work, many see sabbaticals as an active pursuit of purpose. Put simply, it’s a different kind of work.
Prioritising mental and physical wellbeing are often key driving forces when it comes to taking a sabbatical. And according to travel agency Opodo, they’re often used as a solution for relieving burnout.
In a survey of 2,000 UK employees, the company found half of respondents reported they take sabbaticals in order to escape the stress of their careers.
“Our addiction to hurry, which ultimately causes burnout and stress, has been part of the human
experience for centuries, as we strive to keep up in a fast-paced and postmodern society,” explains Geir Berthelsen, founder and CEO of The World Institute of Slowness. However, the fastest way to live a good life is to slow down, he affirmed.
Balance and perspective
For programme manager and mum of two Faye Hilborne – whose adventures you can follow at
@mysupersabbatical on Instagram – her sabbatical has been a precious opportunity to do just that – to slow down and gain fresh perspective.
“The pandemic definitely had an impact on my decision to take a sabbatical,” said Faye.
When home-schooling her two boys while balancing her career during lockdown began to feel like an impossible task, she realised it was time to take a step back. This was a struggle that eventually led to her
feeling burnt out, she noted.
Faye continued, “As a working mum, we often spend so much of our time looking after others. But I realised I was losing track of who I really am and what makes me happy.”
After speaking to her employer and requesting an extended period of leave, Faye explained she immediately felt seen, understood, and supported.
Behind every company, there’s real people who will listen and understand, she tells us. “It’s given me a deeper connection to my role and to the company – I know I’ll go back feeling more energised, motivated, passionate and enthusiastic,” Faye added.
When it comes to the practicalities of taking a sabbatical, she explained that lots of organisations have clauses around extended leave in their terms and conditions, so it’s worth looking into these. For example, after five or 10 years of service, you can gain a number of weeks back.
In terms of finances, she also recommends finding a way to save and put aside money in order to make the experience possible.
One month of her sabbatical was annual leave that she’d accrued during lockdown, then the remaining three months were unpaid leave. So, she grouped together her holidays in order to be paid for some of her time off, she said.
Drawing on the most valuable lessons she’s learnt so far, Faye recollected, “It’s given me a sense of balance, opened my world out, and helped me to see what’s important and what’s not.”
“I’ve loved stepping outside of my comfort zone and trying new things such as horse-riding, rock climbing, writing, learning the piano, and taking lots of big walks in the Peak District,” Faye concluded.
Travelling a terrific distance
While it’s difficult to describe or even measure the peace that rest can bring, there’s something to be said about the way it changes us.
In fact, a much-needed break can empower us to approach our daily lives with a richer sense of purpose.
Whether you’re sitting in the stillness of a local park or setting sail to the other side of the world, a sabbatical can work wonders within.
As the poet and Pulitzer Prize winner, Mary Oliver, once wrote, “I’m taking the day off. Quiet as a feather. I hardly move, though really I’m travelling a terrific distance.”
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