top of page

Deciding to take a sabbatical? Follow these 5 steps first.

Updated: Nov 20, 2019

The decision to take a sabbatical can be big and daunting. It can be difficult to get over the initial hurdles that stop you from committing to the plan and making it happen. But it doesn't have to be that way...

I’ve taken 10 sabbaticals and spoken to many people about their sabbatical journeys. One thing is clear – taking a sabbatical is not something you’ll ever regret. A sabbatical is an extended break from work to recharge and pursue another dream. It’s longer than a vacation, most commonly 3-6 months and it can be a life defining, transforming experience.

But… you have to decide you will go on sabbatical first! And that’s where the majority of people stumble and falter… before they’ve even started. If you’re considering a sabbatical, here are 5 steps to help you through the decision process and kickstart your sabbatical dream.

STEP 1. Know your 'Why'

Be honest with yourself about the reasons for taking some time out. Is there a dream your longing to pursue? Are you heading towards burnout? Have you lost the passion for your work and need a reset?

Needing to recharge - mentally, emotionally and physically - is one of the top reasons for people taking a sabbatical. And it works! 70% of people returning from a sabbatical report improvement in physical health and confidence. Admitting that you need a break can be hard. We want to be the “do-it-all” superhero. The real super power is knowing when it’s time to take off the red cape and recharge… so you can go back to saving the world when you return!

Your body is also a wondrous sabbatical messenger… if you listen. So many people have told me that the trigger for them finally taking a break was a health issue. Too often it’s sadly cancer. Sometimes it’s a burnout breakdown. What would it take for you to take a break before a health scare? Think of a sabbatical as preventative healthcare - a multivitamin for your life!

Sabbaticals also happen when the burning desire to do something big in your life becomes a raging fire. Climbing Everest, traveling the world, writing a book – these dreams can’t be ignored. If that’s your ‘why’, then go for it. Live your dream. Love your big life.

Is opportunity knocking at your door? I was speaking to an expat family in Amsterdam about their reasons for taking a family sabbatical. They want to move back to New Zealand. In the Netherlands, their eldest child will have to be out of child care by the time he turns four, but he can’t start school in New Zealand until he’s 5. As two working parents, this gap could be a huge problem… or an opportunity! They’re going to take a year to travel the world as a family before settling back in NZ. Perfect! Transitions from one thing to the next can be the perfect time for a sabbatical. What’s the dream that needs to be lived and the opportunity you can’t say no to?

Be honest with yourself about what’s driving your decision to take a sabbatical. Find your ‘why’ and get excited about it. It will help you immensely further down the track when you are designing your sabbatical experience, planning it and explaining it to other people.

STEP 2. Give yourself permission

Putting yourself first can be challenging and uncomfortable. In order to live your sabbatical dream, you have to give yourself permission to do it. This is one of the biggest hurdles people face. I often hear a lot of logistical reasons for not taking a sabbatical – money, work, family. With persistence and creativity these can be overcome. But these excuses often mask the real reason for not taking a break, which is rooted in guilt or shame.

The key to giving yourself permission is to understand what’s really driving the excuses you’re telling yourself and focus on the bigger picture. Ask yourself “what is the cost to my life of not taking the sabbatical?” and “when I look back in 10 years, if I didn’t take the sabbatical, what would I feel?

Don’t regret the sabbatical you didn’t take.

STEP 3. Defeat the Detail Devil

It’s often said, “the devil is in the details”. This is also true with sabbaticals but for quite a different reason. When you’re first deciding to take a sabbatical it’s easy think of a million reasons why its not possible. It’s also easy to get into a vortex of the details of how, when, where… then get completely overwhelmed and give up before you’ve even started.

Kill the detail devil!

There will be plenty of time to work out the details. Trust that you’ll find a way. Because, after all, don’t you always figure things out?

Spend more time on working out your ‘Why’ and getting excited about what it will do for your life. This excitement will carry you past the Detail Devil wanting to tell you why you can’t.

STEP 4. Commit

“Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but not plans” Peter Drucker

Commit to your sabbatical. You don’t have to know all the details (refer to Step 3 above!) but make a commitment to yourself that you’ll do it. It can be a broad commitment like “in 2021, I’ll take a sabbatical” or “I’ll take a sabbatical at the end of my Masters”.

Draw a line in the sand that gives you something to work towards, dream about and plan for. Your sabbatical can’t happen unless you commit to it.

STEP 5. Tell someone

Wouldn’t it be great if we always did everything we said we would do? There are so many promises we make to ourselves, with the best intentions, that never eventuate (hello New Years Resolutions!). The best way to make a goal stick is to tell someone about your wonderful sabbatical idea. It makes it more real and gives you some accountability. It’s even better if you can ask them to be your accountability buddy. Ask someone who can get excited with you and keep checking in to see how you’re progressing with the plan.

It can also help to talk to someone who’s been there before, who will help you overcome the barriers. Check our coaching packages designed specifically help you navigate every step of the sabbatical journey. You can schedule your free consultation to kickstart your sabbatical dream.

The decision to take a sabbatical could be one of the best decisions of your life. Yet, the decision itself is a barrier many people don’t manage to surpass. Work out what you need and give yourself permission to have it. Resist the urge to get stuck on the details. Then commit to it and get the support you need to make it happen. Then go and live your big life!

So… What’s your sabbatical dream?


This is the first part in a series “The ultimate guide to taking a sabbatical”. Check our blog for more articles in the series or follow us on facebook to get updates as we post more articles in the series.

Beyond a Break – Recharging sabbaticals for a thriving world


bottom of page