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The real truth about why you want a sabbatical

You say you want a sabbatical, but the truth is, you're probably just running away.

Most of the time, I'm the caring, supporting encouraging coach who's telling people they can absolutely navigate their way to a sabbatical have an amazing time. But today, I'm the no holds barred, honest version. The truth is, you're probably just running from your problems.

What I see is people taking an extended break from work - a sabbatical - Just to run away from their problems. They don’t actually address any of those problems while they’re on sabbatical, then they come back to life wondering why those problems still exist. The sabbatical has just been a bandaid for their disillusionment.

I've seen all the variations of this theme. I've heard all the excuses. I’ve seen lives remain painfully unchanged. How do I know this? I’ve heard this from the hundreds of people I’ve spoken to about their sabbaticals. But mostly because done this myself. Many times. I've taken 10 sabbaticals. And the honest truth is that for seven of those, I did exactly the same thing. I was running away from some kind of problem in my life. Problems with my career, problems in relationships, or just general dissatisfaction. Whilst I had an amazing time, on my escapist sabbatical, I stayed in that escapist world. I stayed in this far off dreamland, immersed in travel, distracted by all of the different things that were surrounding me. When the big questions came up like: what's wrong with my life? What do I need to change? I pushed those questions down, push them away and filled up my Facebook feed with pretty pictures of my amazing adventures.

This is me on sabbatical seven. Smiling and happy in India.... deeply unhappy in reality. I was running.

I know what it's like. It's actually pretty scary to be confronted with the fact that you have to change something in your life. It is much easier to run away and take sunset selfies and drink cocktails on the beach. But, what is the point if we don't actually use our time to find a better version of ourselves? What is the point if we don't use our sabbatical as a catalyst for something bigger, something better.

So, for seven of my 10 sabbaticals, I did it all wrong. But, that means there were three where I did do it, right. Perhaps those were the sabbaticals where I was at my lowest and so couldn't push the big questions away. Or perhaps I was just ready to answer them. But one thing is for sure. When I actually took the time to answer those questions, that's when changes really happened in my life. That's when I got the courage to step into the unknown. The courage to do the thing that I was afraid of, or the courage to demand a better life for myself.

Now, here’s the tough part.

Answering those questions on sabbatical, finding the space and time to investigate what needs to change for you is not even half of the challenge.

The real challenge happens when you get home, once the glow of your sabbatical is fading away.

You've told all the stories.

You've shown all the photos.

You're back to the daily grind.

That's when the real work begins.

That's when you actually have to put what you've learned about yourself into practice.

They only way to make a change is to use your sabbatical to not only investigate the big questions, but also make a plan. While you're in that glorious sabbatical energy filled with motivation, filled with commitment to making a change, that's the time to make a plan. I’m not talking about just setting some lofty goals that you know you're not actually going to deliver on. I’m talking about making a real, hard, concrete, actionable plan. Little actions that you take every single day to get you to your next step. That is the stuff that's hard.

Now here’s the even scarier truth about what worked for me. I had a spreadsheet! Yes, a spreadsheet. Yes I know, terrifying! But it's what it took to stick to my plan when I got home. It was a weekly checklist of little things that I needed to be doing to stay happy, healthy and stay on my path. Meditation, exercise, making new business contacts, learning new skills. There were about 10 things I had to be doing weekly to be moving forward with getting to my best life. I called it my happy life tracker. Every week, I would tick off those boxes. And every week, it was there staring me right in the face if I wasn't actually moving forward. That's the only way that I was able to make a real change. And that life transformation only started after my eighth sabbatical.

Here’s the even harder truth.

You’ll fail. You’ll falter. You’ll quit. Most people do.

That’s why you have to tell someone about your plan as well. For me, I had a coach. I call her my unicorn. She was the one that held the space for me to explore the fear of moving forward and she held me accountable for staying on that path. But it was me that had to make it happen. I had to do the work.

If you’re considering a sabbatical and you need support, I suggest you talk to me tomorrow. You’ll get the encouraging, supportive, patient Lyndall.

But today, in the words of A Few Good Men, “You can’t handle the truth!”

Today, you get the no holds barred Lyndall. Today, I'm telling you that it's really about understanding what it is that you're running from and I won’t let up until you admit what that is. I actually dare you to call me today! I dare you to face your fears.

If you’re just running away, don't bother going on sabbatical. You're going to come back and your life will be exactly the same as it is today. You'll completely waste the power that a sabbatical can bring to turning your life around. And to me, there’s nothing more tragic than that.


Lyndall Farley is the founder of Beyond a Break, coaching people as they navigate their sabbaticals and helping organisations implement sabbatical programs to improve employee wellbeing. Check out the services for people and organisations or simply get in touch!


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