One of the benefits of working for an awesome company like Planning Center is every five years you get to take a whole month off, in addition to your other paid vacation. How fantastic is that?!
Having passed the five year mark back in February, I’ve been thinking about what Sabbatical might mean for me. From what I could gather from academia, it was usually a chance to work harder, to pursue some big project outside of the scope of normal responsibilities, to go abroad and study with enlightened colleagues.
But what would I do?
Step 1: Set a Goal
I decided that what I really needed was rest and that I wanted my family to be a part of it. I’ve been doing this work thing for quite a long time and I’ve only had one other occasion to take extended time off. On that occasion I doubled-down on building more websites and didn’t get to relax much, so I knew I wanted this to be different.
In addition, having just published my first book, I was ready for a creative recharge so I could decide where I wanted to take my writing next. I felt this could be best accomplished over fine wine and tropical locales. Seems about right.
Step 2: Plan for Success
I’m a contemplative. My wife is an adventurer. And my son? Well, he’s two and a half. Needless to say, we all have slightly different criteria for our rest and relaxation. While watching Fireman Sam endlessly might satisfy the littlest one, my wife and I wanted more, and we knew that if we did it right, he would have memories for a lifetime. That said, there were some basic questions to answer.
Note: In all of this, my wife was amazing at planning our grand adventure. Just about everything below that worked was due to her foresight, phone calls, and spreadsheets. She’s incredible.
Rest, for me, looks like a beautiful setting, without a care in the world, enjoying long days of reading and adventure. Great food. Wine. Daily excursions doing fun things. Carefree.
Basically, like this:
In order to get this level of serenity, I realized early on that I couldn’t “maintain” an online identity and still relax. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter would fill my day with notifications, alerts, and distractions from the present I wanted to experience. Staying abreast on current events would also send me into fits of despair, which is the last thing I wanted during this unique opportunity.
So I deleted all my social network apps and decided not to read any news. In fact, I took a break from almost the entire internet (except for Google Maps).
It. Was. Magical.
If you’d like more of my words on this, read my post on social media. Anyhow, let’s get back to the process we took in planning our Sabbatical.
Life is tricky with young children. The prospect of flying any longer than a couple hours definitely felt like a non-starter. Others have braved those waters, but I put a limit on the distance from home to work within the “include family” principle of the adventure. That said, Jack actually did quite amazing on the flights, so we might increase the range a bit as he gets a little older.
The legs of the adventure with Jack would be within two hours by plane or car. The one leg without him could be any duration travel-time, but we didn’t want to be away from him longer than a few days. We knew we’d really miss him, but also knew we wanted a little breather in the middle. That was a good decision, as the time in Hawaii was some of the most relaxing I’ve ever had.
A month is a long time though, so we put the time without him in the middle, book-ended it with family trips, and then had a few days of buffer in between the adventures back at our home base in Seattle. This fixed some of the tricky bits with packing for extended durations and gave us ample opportunity to fix mistakes with each outing.
So we had three possible trip windows and decided on Napa/Sonoma, Hawaii, and Sun Valley. Sun. Rest. Relaxation. Food and Wine. The only few days without our little buddy were those in Hawaii.
On the first leg of the adventure, we stayed on top of a mountain. 360 degree views like this one. It was so wonderful and exactly what we had in mind for recharging:
We went wine tasting, had incredible food, invited friends to join in our adventure. It was fantastic.
Off-season made sense for us, after all, if you can travel while school is still in session, it’s that much easier to do the things you want to do. We had very little difficulty booking restaurants and hotels, but we also locked those down many months before. Again, thanks Julie!
As we got closer, we filled out the daily schedules with more activities, until every day at least had a few options that we could take or leave as desired. Each day generally only had a few fixed points, which were captured in my Field Notes memo book and in the Google spreadsheet. Since I didn’t want to use a computer the whole time, I opted for the lower tech solutions and dumber devices.
Technically there are other interrogatives in the English language, but I’m ready to move on to the next step.
Step 3: Prepare to Depart
My thoughts at the time were basically some frenetic version of the following, all the while assuming that I was forgetting something.
Book all the things that are absolute must-haves. Do everything in your power to leave your virtual work-site in as good a shape as possible. Now is the time to get co-workers up to speed on everything you’re working on. Hand things off smoothly!
Hold the mail. Talk to neighbors. Get a house-sitter. Install home security. Whatever it takes to not waste one second worrying about whatever you’ve left behind. Empty the garbages and the fridge of perishables. Make sure your reading list is long! Think about how this can be more than just the sum of its parts.
Step 4: Leave it all Behind
The day finally came at last, I packed my computer into the closet (not to be touched), and said goodbye to friends and co-workers. It was time for family time.
While on sabbatical, my life was all about making memories with my family. I carried around my camera (Fuji X70) and a Field Notes memo book to record what we did. I left my phone in the camera bag and checked email/voicemail less than once a day. I was fully present to experience this unique season of our lives.
What was it like? I felt like I was a good dad and husband, being right there for my family in everything we were doing. I read a huge book in two sittings (as well as four others) and felt focused and invigorated. New ideas seemed to come from everywhere.
I got to know my son so much better that I thought I had before. He’s really quite a goof ball and as adventurous as his mother. Reliving our honeymoon in Hawaii was a really special time.
Basically, we made each day special. We made so many memories that I can’t wait to capture them in a fabulous coffee table book. Rainy days in Seattle are made for such reminiscing.
Like the time we were on top of Sonoma:
Or re-living our honeymoon, twelve and a half years later:
Now that it’s over, we’ve spent a good bit of time capturing the unexpected learnings that came out of the experience for us. There were about a dozen and they fill the final pages of that Field Notes memo book, written in real ink in a real book to remind me of what we learned.
As more time passes, these thoughts will lead to other changes (like the social network stuff).
All I know right now is that it was worth it, life-changing, and a month I will always cherish with fondness.
Recently I described my experience in taking a whole month off of work and the entire process that went into making that a “success” (by the definition I had established for it). Rather than clog that post with a massive digression, allow me to expound on the “experiment” I mentioned there.
After a successful experiment with Social Media Abstinence, I knew I wasn’t going to return to Facebook and Twitter, but how could I solve the problems caused by not being on them?