A while back, I discussed the virtues of a gap year — a common practice in Europe in which students take a year off between high school and university to travel. While I think the benefits of travel (personal growth, confidence, learning about the world, etc) are especially important in the formative young adult years, travel is valuable at all ages.
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine
I’ve always held onto the hope that we’d live abroad again at some point — not forever, but for an extended stay. Luckily, my husband agrees, and we’ve discussed this more and more as a real plan. The adult version of the gap year? The Sabbatical.
Sabbaticals are not just for university professors. Recently, Mike stumbled upon an excellent TED talk by New York graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister, who shuts down his studio for 1 year, every 7 years. Sagmeister determined that instead of following the traditional learn-work-retire life model, he could take 5 years from his retirement and intersperse those years into the working period of his lifespan. What a clever way to visualize this!
The benefits of sabbatical:
- Renewed sense of purpose in life and work. It’s an excellent tool against burnout, and a way to renew a passion for your career.
- Finding inspiration in new places, cultures, forms of art, etc. One of the coolest aspects of Sagmeister’s talk is how he shares the results of his sabbaticals — projects that came directly from thinking done during the course of the preceding sabbatical.
- Financial gain. Sagmeister determines that because so many ideas for his work come from his time away, and because the quality of his work improves after sabbatical, he ultimately makes more money.
- Resume-building. In today’s highly-competitive job market, a well-spent sabbatical is exactly the sort of thing that will set you apart.
- Learning. Aside from the experiential learning, you can complete a course or study a language.
- Networking opportunities. If you go with an aim to do work that relates to your career, you can make interesting connections you would not have been able to make in the course of your “normal” job.
- Valuable experience for your children. If you have children, living abroad is an incredible experience to give them.
Despite the potential benefits, I realize taking a year off sounds impractical for all of us “regular folk” who aren’t working for ourselves in a successful design firm in NYC. How does a normal person accomplish this?
How to make it happen:
- Prioritize. Maybe you need to put other dreams on layaway, if taking a sabbatical is a priority. We live in a very high cost of living city. It is likely that we will take a sabbatical before we are able to buy a house here. And that’s ok — we think it’s worth it!
- Plan and save. A sabbatical can’t happen overnight, and in order to have value, it shouldn’t just be an extended vacation. It might take years of saving and planning to make it happen. But with determination and strict budgeting, you can very possibly take a portion of your income and put it aside for your sabbatical year.
- Go somewhere cheap. There are some very affordable countries around the world. In a place where you can get a full (and delicious) meal for less than the cost of a timbit here in North America, you can live on a lot less than you can in your home country.
- Work while abroad. Make an income during your time off. When I lived in Thailand, my salary as an English teacher gave me a very comfortable lifestyle there.
- Recognize the value of the experience. It will be difficult to pack up and leave normal life for an extended period of time. I get nervous just thinking about it — what could go wrong, how my child(ren) will respond, etc. But I believe the value of the experience will outweigh the difficulties and possible issues. To teach my children about other cultures and let them experience the world, to have adventures that inform my writing, to work toward a long-term goal of a happy, successful life — to me the value of these things is immeasurable.
- For more thoughts on the logistics of taking sabbatical from your work, check out this article on Forbes.
Of course, not everyone will feel that the possible sacrifices are worth it, and that’s fine. But I feel that many people who would dismiss this idea as impossible could probably make it work. And for people who tend to feel restless, I think this is an artful middle ground between living entirely outside of the box and working within the traditional career system — a true self-styled life solution.
Stefan Sagmeister’s TED talk is about 17 minutes long and I urge you to watch — it’s fantastic!
How about you? Have you or would you take a sabbatical? Where would you go and what would you do?