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The paradox of free time on sabbatical

Updated: Apr 16

You’ve planned this amazing sabbatical. You’ve been working towards it for years. You’ll finally get the free time you’ve been desperately craving. You’re finally at day one. Now your sabbatical starts, and you’ve got all the time in the world.

Total freedom.

Nothing to do.

Nowhere to be.

A blank calendar.

And panic sets in!

“What the hell am I going to do with all this free time?!?”

Photo by cottonbro studio

Your whole world has been work for so long, how do you navigate your days when there’s no work and nothing to do?

What can you do?

What should you do?

What do you even like doing? (you actually can’t remember)

How are you going to make the most of this time?

This is the paradox of free time.

In our busy lives, we crave more free time, but as soon as we get all the free time we thought we wanted, it can also start to feel suffocating and overwhelming.

Believe it or not, this is one of the most common reactions to the first few weeks on a sabbatical...feeling lost and overwhelmed. It takes time to settle into the sabbatical rhythm and find your new pace of life. It takes time to decompress and get stress levels down. It takes time to shed the identities that we’ve become so attached to that give us our status and success

Then, it’s time to find a new way to navigate your free time. One that’s focused on doing things you love, that feel purposeful and give you energy. That’s the time to drop the things you’re doing because you think you “should” (but don’t actually want to). That’s the time to reorient yourself away from the cult of productivity and towards joy, curiosity, and play.

I use this analogy with clients: Your sabbatical is like a painting.

You need to have the major brush strokes in place to form the outline of your painting. That’s the structure that will guide your time on sabbatical. But you need to leave enough freedom to be able to fill in the detailed strokes and colours of the painting on a daily basis. This is your daily freedom to follow your intuition, explore, experiment, play, relax.

Finding this new balance in your sabbatical life is all part of the process of decompression which is the first psychological phase of a sabbatical. It’s the first step towards a rejuvenating and illuminating sabbatical.

So, if you’re taking a sabbatical or a long break from work and you’re feeling the panic set in, relax knowing that it’s all part of the sabbatical journey. Start to experiment with finding the right balance of structure for you and follow your curiosity.

What’s ahead of you is even more amazing than you could dream.


Beyond a Break exists to support people to take career sustaining, life illuminating sabbaticals. Our coaching program helps people use a sabbatical to recharge and redesign their life and work so they return thriving and ready for the next chapter.


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