Life Sabbaticals

Life Sabbaticals, Career Breaks, or Mini-Retirements

A sabbatical has traditionally been a time of contemplation or a means of reinvigorating oneself. The custom of a work or academic sabbatical is meant to give individuals time off from the everyday rigors of a job in order to rest and reflect, or to conduct research, so they can return to work with renewed energy and ideas.

This is actually an ancient idea, since the term sabbatical derives from the word sabbath. In religious and spiritual practice, every seventh day was meant to be devoted to rest, family time and spiritual reflection. Likewise, it was traditionally applied to the practice of resting agricultural fields every seventh year, giving the land a chance to restore itself and return to greater productivity.

Although most people associate sabbaticals with the academic world, in fact it has become a more common activity among the population in general, with individuals taking anywhere from a month to a year away from work. More than 20 percent of companies today offer a sabbatical or career break policy for employees, and many younger workers see extended time off as a valuable component of their work-life balance. Some individuals now go so far as to schedule “mini-retirements” periodically through life, rather than banking on being able to fulfill all of their travel or other dreams during the traditional retirement years.

Many people who have never contemplated this idea could benefit from a life sabbatical – whether to travel, do volunteer work, learn a new skill, or spend more time with family. At the very least, extended time off from a job enables one to return to work with new enthusiasm, added confidence or more varied knowledge and interests. In some cases, it gives individuals a chance to redefine themselves.

Here is a bit more information on life sabbaticals, as well as a few ideas and resources to get you going.

Who is taking sabbaticals?

Sure, college professors have always been able to take a sabbatical, but what about the rest of us? You’d be surprised at the number and types of people who are taking extended time off from work these days. Such as:

*          Workers who can take a leave of absence from their job. One out of every four or five companies offer some sort of sabbatical policy for their employees, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, a statistic that has remained remarkably steady since the mid-1990’s. About two-thirds of these policies are for unpaid absences and one-third provide for a paid leave. Even if you’re not lucky enough to work for one of these companies, individuals who have been at the same job for several years can often negotiate individually for time off.

*          People who are between jobs. If you are leaving one job and have another one lined up for some weeks or months down the road, or if you don’t mind the uncertainty of being between jobs, this is a good opportunity to take some time to relax and recharge before beginning the next chapter in your life. Some individuals, in fact, plan a series of “mini-retirements” throughout life.

*          Students who are on a “gap year.” This has always been popular with Europeans and Australians and is becoming more common among U.S. university students. This year off may take place prior to starting a college career, after graduating, or sometime in between. The point is to take some time away from studies in order to have a more diverse educational or life maturing experience.

What are the personal benefits?

– We all get tired and stressed from the challenges of work and life. This time away gives us a chance to rest and recharge for the next chapter in our lives.

– Everyone can benefit from having extended time to reflect and, if desired, to redefine who we are or what we want to do.

– Many people dream of traveling, but these adventures usually require a period of time that is longer than an average vacation. A sabbatical, however, provides the time necessary for an extended trip.

– Our families often lose out to the urgency of daily life and to-do lists. Time away from a job can give us an opportunity to reconnect with children, spouses and parents, whether we take this time at home or on a joint adventure together.

– Often, we’d like to focus on a new skill or hobby, but the thought of fitting this into our already crowded lives usually means that we just never get around to it. A sabbatical gives us the freedom to grow and develop in new ways.

What are the benefits to a company?

– Regardless of what one does during a sabbatical, most everyone returns to work rested and re-energized. This alleviates burn-out and results in happier and more productive employees.

– Many people return with new skills, new confidence, new ideas, or more of a sense of who they are and what they’d like to accomplish. This makes them a more valuable employee.

– The chance to have an extended period of time away from work at periodic intervals is a valuable benefit and builds employee loyalty and morale.

– From a financial perspective, it is considered less expensive to retain an employee during a few months off than to hire and train a replacement. It is often a manageable absence, not unlike a maternity leave.

What do people do on a sabbatical?

Almost anything, depending on your goals, interests and the amount of time you have available. Travel. Volunteer. Spend time with family. Develop new skills and hobbies. Or even just relax and rejuvenate. Here are just a few from a limitless pool of ideas:

– Take a round-the-world trip.

– Hike the Appalachian Trail.

– Rent a beach house, take long walks and ponder what you want to do next in life.

– Drive a camper van around New Zealand.

– Volunteer to lend your skills to a nonprofit organization.

– Teach English in China.

– Stay home and spend some quality time with your family.

– Take a Spanish language immersion course in Guatemala.

– Rent an apartment in Buenos Aires and take tango lessons.

– Immerse yourself in yoga or meditation.

– Take a cooking class.

– Remodel your kitchen.

– Drive around the United States and visit all the national parks.

What is it that you want to do?

Books and websites

Books – Personal experiences

Two Laps Around the World: Tales and Insights from a Life Sabbatical,” by Bob Riel

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia,” by Elizabeth Gilbert

Take Me With You: A Round-the-World Journey to Invite a Stranger Home,” by Brad Newsham

Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World,” by Rita Golden Gelman

Books – How-To

Escape 101: The Four Secrets to Taking a Sabbatical or Career Break Without Losing Your Money or Your Mind,” by Dan Clements and Tara Gignac

The Gap Year for Grown Ups,” by Susan Griffith

Lonely Planet Career Break Book,” by Joe Bindloss and Andrew Dean Nystrom

Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel,” by Rolf Potts

Books – Traveling with children

The Family Sabbatical Handbook: The Budget Guide to Living Abroad with Your Family,” by Elisa Bernick

Bring Your Own Children: South America! A Family Sabbatical Handbook,” by Robin Malinosky-Rummell and Christopher Malinosky

One Year Off: Leaving It All Behind for a Round-the-World Journey with Our Children,” by David Elliot Cohen

WorldTrek: A Family Odyssey,” by Russell and Carla Fisher


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    Meet Bob Riel

    Bob Riel is a writer and a traveler. Go here to read more about Bob, his work and the Travels in the Riel World blog.

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