The accidental sabbatical
Just before I migrated to the UK in 2004 I had an amazing experience; six months off.
It wasn’t planned.
My business partner and I had fallen out about the future direction of the business. We’d worked brilliantly together for 14 years at that stage and in the final two years we’d been trying to get to grips with how to take things further, in a way that suited our respective views, needs and wants.
It all ended one afternoon with two sentences. Gary, my partner and the majority shareholder said words to the effect of, “I don’t want to continue in this direction”, and I said, “Then I don’t want to work here anymore.” That was it. All over, red rover.
If I’m honest, I should have called it quits two years earlier, but I’d ignored that feeling in the pit of my stomach. However, that’s a blog for another time.
Suddenly I was unemployed, but we agreed terms to buy out the equity I had built in the business.
I had no idea what I would do with myself, but I was free. That was pretty exciting in itself.
The short version of what happened next is that I decided to take some time off (6-12 months in my mind) to just regroup and maybe travel a bit. As it turned out, after a few months of relaxing and doing some fun stuff, like taking cooking lessons and doing a course on writing screenplays, Deb wanted to move back to the UK. I’d always wanted to go, and so we made the decision, sold our stuff and splashed out on a First Class flight which left for London three weeks later. Start as you mean to go on, we said.
Something amazing happened in that time off that I never expected. I realise now that in that six-month period, I somehow processed everything we’d ever done in my old business. I could see exactly what worked and why, as well as what didn’t work and why some ideas had failed.
The insights came in very short, sharp bursts. I won’t lie to you, mostly I just had fun and did whatever took my fancy. However, when I was struck by one of these insights, it was clear and immediate and I just wrote it down. A lot of those insights later became the core materials that I used to create FP Advance.
That’s all well and good, but how does this help you in your business?
Learning from leisure
I’ve referred to this idea of filling the creative well and prioritising fun in your life over work. However, I believe that scheduling in some sabbatical time for yourself is a fantastic business- and life-enhancing idea.
So how could you do it?
If you work in a larger business with you and another partner (or multiple partners), why not discuss the idea of taking a longer extended break and see what sort of cover you can get from the rest of the team.
It might be as simple as taking the whole of August off and that cover issue isn’t a big deal. Or you might fancy taking three months off all at once, and then you might need a bit more support and buy-in. But it’s doable. Maybe the other partners would like the same opportunity in the future and so you can cover for each other at various stages.
The aim is to think about how you might relax and pursue some other hobbies or projects during that period. You could just go and live on a Caribbean island for three months, or you might structure some other learning that you’ve always wanted to do, in among your quiet time.
Disconnecting from the office and from your electronic gadgets is also part of that process. I don’t think I watched TV for the first four months of my time off. I didn’t miss anything.
What are the benefits?
Here’s a quote from a senior executive at John Lewis, which was in an article by Jo Faragher on the Personnel Today website, called The Benefits Of Taking A Sabbatical:
Kevin Rogers, personnel projects manager (new branches) at John Lewis, took his long leave after two years in which his professional life had been particularly intense. “My immediate plan for my leave was to re-work my garden. But I also had the chance to do some manual work, play some more golf, go cycling and do an off-road driving course,” he says. He also enjoyed trips to Rome, Marrakech and Delhi. “I had time to get out in the open air and reflect, and spend more time with my family.”
He believes that he returned to John Lewis with “a more open mind and a different perspective on things”.
My experience was the same. I don’t know what happened exactly, but something major shifted and it was all good. Perhaps you’ve had the same experience after a holiday or some travel. I always return from a holiday thinking nothing much has happened, only to discover that I’m somehow different. It happens every time, yet still takes me by surprise.
If you’ve had that same experience after your own holidays, just multiply it by 100. That’s the sort of transformation I’m talking about.
Space to restart your success
Giving yourself time and space is a lot scarier than it sounds and it’s important to acknowledge that. Lots of people fantasize about this sort of thing but in reality they prefer it as a fantasy; it’s safer to never attempt it.
I believe most people don’t make the jump and take a sabbatical because they’re scared witless about what might come up for them. They’ll blame work and family commitments, but often that’s just a convenient excuse.
Check out some of the stories on www.nomadtopia.com. These are people living as global nomads, many with children firmly in tow. I realise that’s not for everyone, however, there are no excuses if you want to do something bad enough, there are only issues to work your way through.
If this is something you’ve been considering, my advice is to go for it. What you will learn is completely unknown, but I know for a fact that amazing stuff will happen for you if you can give it the space. It’s all part of your business and life journey. Grab it with both hands.
It’s much better to regret the things you tried than the things you didn’t.